Tag Archives: Justus Teo

24 March, Tuesday – What a dumb question!

24 March 2020

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Ezekiel 47:1-9,12

The angel brought me to the entrance of the Temple, where a stream came out from under the Temple threshold and flowed eastwards, since the Temple faced east. The water flowed from under the right side of the Temple, south of the altar. He took me out by the north gate and led me right round outside as far as the outer east gate where the water flowed out on the right-hand side. The man went to the east holding his measuring line and measured off a thousand cubits; he then made me wade across the stream; the water reached my ankles. He measured off another thousand and made me wade across the stream again; the water reached my knees. He measured off another thousand and made me wade across again; the water reached my waist. He measured off another thousand; it was now a river which I could not cross; the stream had swollen and was now deep water, a river impossible to cross.

He then said, ‘Do you see, son of man?’ He took me further, then brought me back to the bank of the river. When I got back, there were many trees on each bank of the river.

He said, ‘This water flows east down to the Arabah and to the sea; and flowing into the sea it makes its waters wholesome. Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows. Along the river, on either bank, will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails; they will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.’

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John 5:1-3,5-16

There was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem there is a building, called Bethzatha in Hebrew, consisting of five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralysed – waiting for the water to move. One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in this condition for a long time, he said, ‘Do you want to be well again?’ ‘Sir,’ replied the sick man ‘I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.’ Jesus said, ‘Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk.’ The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and walked away.

Now that day happened to be the sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; you are not allowed to carry your sleeping-mat.’ He replied, ‘But the man who cured me told me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’ They asked, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Pick up your mat and walk”?’ The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled the place. After a while Jesus met him in the Temple and said, ‘Now you are well again, be sure not to sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.’ The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him. It was because he did things like this on the sabbath that the Jews began to persecute Jesus.

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“Do you want to be well?”

I was in a pensive and reflective mood as I sat quietly by myself in front of Our Blessed Mother’s statue at the Cathedral one morning. For those of you familiar with the place, the statue stands amidst a shallow pool of water surrounding it. A disturbance in the water catches my eye. A beetle (a rather large one actually), had fallen in and was struggling for its life. As I stepped towards it to try to rescue it, something happens, the beetle despite its size, suddenly started walking on the water. It was able to move about with its feet on the surface of the water and eventually got itself to safety. Hmm… it seems that God is not the only one able to walk on water.

Jesus asked the blind man in the Gospel, “Do you want to be well?” Kind of a dumb question, right? (No offence, Lord), given that Jesus knew that he had been ill for a long time – 38 years. That’s a long time. Yet, the crippled man was never able to make it into the pool of Bethesda whenever it was stirred. The crippled man is a representation of humanity – our brokenness, our helplessness, our longing to be whole again. And yet, the crippled also embodied the brokenness of humanity in many other ways —  our ineptitude to save ourselves (38 years and he was not able to find a way to reach the pool), our infidelity (by betraying Jesus to the Pharisees in performing the miracle on a Sabbath), our ingratitude (there was no mention of him thanking Jesus for healing him), unrepentant(he was seemingly unresponsive to Jesus’ rebuke to turn away from his sinful ways). Yes – the cripple was in a really sorry state. Much like humanity. Much like us.

I did a bit of background reading on this passage and it seems that back in the day, the stirring of the water in the pool was done by none other than the Holy Spirit himself. Hence, the point is made that it is only God himself, through His Holy Spirit, that can bring about our healing, restoration and renewal. Not man’s piety nor his dutiful performance of religious rituals nor his wealth, nor his ‘connections’ nor his ‘science’.

You see, God needed to ask the question, “Do you want to be well?”, of all of us. Why? Because He has promised us freedom of our wills. God is faithful to all his promises. He promised we could have our free will and that He would respect that (I do wonder if He ever regretted this). The second reason for asking is because He knows a “yes” from us needs to come with a conscious commitment to allow God to do His work of healing and restoration in us. Often, such healing will come with a willingness on our part to let go, to surrender our will, to trust in Him no matter how demanding, painful and senseless that path can often appear to be, to change from our sinful ways and to die to self, to pride, to unforgiveness, to self-righteousness. Hence, maybe the question Jesus asked was not really that dumb after all? As the saying goes — be careful what you ask for – you might just get it.

In closing, let me get back to the saga of the beetle. You see, a few things needed to happen for it to be saved. Firstly, it needed to stop struggling, which would then allow the water molecules to re-form themselves and to create sufficient surface-tension to hold the weight of the beetle and allow it to ‘walk’. Just as we do. Secondly, it needed to be at the right place at the right time – in this instance, falling not into just any old pool of water but the pool that surrounds Our Blessed Mother’s statue – I can almost hear our dearest Mother, with her infinite love for all of God’s creatures, beetles included, saying “no beetle is ever going to drown – and no child of mine that clings to me and my Son, will ever be lost — not in my pool, not on my watch.”.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us. The pools of our poor lives are stagnant and fester with sin, hurt, regrets, sorrows. We are all wounded and broken. We have been waiting by the cesspool of our souls for your grace to cleanse and heal and restore us once again to the wholeness that you created us to be. Not because you have abandoned us, but because we have turned away from you.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you. For never abandoning us, for never forsaking us despite the countless times we have chosen foolishness, arrogance, pride and sin instead of your loving will for us.

23 March, Monday – Fearing the Painted Devil

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 65:17-21

Thus says the Lord: Now I create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds. Be glad and rejoice for ever and ever for what I am creating, because I now create Jerusalem ‘Joy’ and her people ‘Gladness.’ I shall rejoice over Jerusalem and exult in my people. No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard in her; in her, no more will be found the infant living a few days only, or the old man not living to the end of his days. To die at the age of a hundred will be dying young; not to live to be a hundred will be the sign of a curse. They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

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John 4:43-54

Jesus left Samaria for Galilee. He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country, but on his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended.

He went again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a court official there whose son was ill at Capernaum and, hearing that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judaea, he went and asked him to come and cure his son as he was at the point of death. Jesus said, ‘So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!’ ‘Sir,’ answered the official ‘come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go home,’ said Jesus ‘your son will live.’ The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way; and while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive. He asked them when the boy had begun to recover. ‘The fever left him yesterday’ they said ‘at the seventh hour.’ The father realised that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’; and he and all his household believed.

This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judaea to Galilee.

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“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe”

I wondered to myself how I would react if Satan himself one day appeared before me and shouted at the top of his voice into my face, “Jesus Christ is the Son of Almighty God!”. After waking up (from fainting from sheer terror upon seeing Satan), would I then accept his proclamation? Or would I reject it, because it was Satan that said it? On the flip side, if an angelic figure of great light, were to appear and said, “Jesus did not rise from the dead but was carried back by angels and laid to eternal rest in the bosom of God.”  Would I then believe that to be the truth?

In Act 2 Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth laments: “It is the mind’s eye that fears the painted devil”. Why is truth of God’s willingness and ability to love and care for us so hard to grapple with? Why are we so fixated with what we can touch, see and feel before we can believe? Why do we usually place the messenger before the message?

And more often than not, evil, pain, sorrow, fear, rejection, injustice, terror (and the list goes on), is ever more present, more visible and more experienced than goodness, justice, plenty, peace, joy and so on.  Wars, poverty, sickness, death, human indifference, when relationships break down and rejection from friends and relatives arise from the most minuscule of reasons. When stability in relationships, in livelihoods, in leadership and even in our values and beliefs are all so transient, fleeting, self-serving and inauthentic. When compassion, understanding, forgiveness, play second-fiddle to anger, judgement, ambition and resentment, how do we see God in all these? Our ‘instincts’ have been conditioned to say, quite literally, “I will believe it when I see it”. We are really telling God, “I will believe in you when I see what you can truly do, and how all that is good that you have come to bring into this world, actually happens”. Till such time, God remains an idea in our heads and the devil it seems, sometimes appears more real, more present.

But perhaps the irony of everything is that even when God gives us clear, undeniable and irrefutable evidence of His presence and graces, of His love and mercy, of His providence and protection, we still find it hard to believe. Consider the countless miracles witnessed by the apostles, yet they cower in fear and cowardice in the upper room. Like the apostles, we too very quickly forget and continue to refuse to believe in God’s love and power in all the difficult circumstances of our lives, despite the times we have seen Him walk on water, multiply the loaves, raise the dead, cast out devils, heal the sick, rebuke the storms, hang on the cross and rise from death. Well, perhaps, it is always that little child in us that says, “well, these things happened to other people, they did not happen to me”. And until and unless it happens to me, God is not real.

When we seek signs to ‘prove’ the existence of God, it simply points to the lack of faith on our part. When God sends us signs and we still choose to doubt, it’s not only a double-whammy for God but more so for us, for it shows even more acutely, the smallness of our minds and how truly pathetic our faith really is. Thank God that God is God, for otherwise, there is no hope for us. I close with this warning of Prophet Jeremiah:

“Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not” (Jeremiah 5:21)

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Forgive our human frailty which makes us unable to trust in that which is unseen and to cling on always to all our deep fears and insecurities. You know how we need your constant assurances and affirmations of your saving presence and sovereignty in our lives. You know how weakly we cling on to our dismal faith in you, if we can even call it that.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for your unfailing patience and understanding to us. Thank you for being a Father that looks not on the frailty of His child, but on his need for a Father’s love and saving grace of Almighty God. Help us to see, to know and to trust in Jesus. Send us your Holy Spirit to set us free from the painted devils that torment us, and stops us from experiencing your love for us.

22 March, Sunday – Who sits on YOUR throne?

22 March

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1 Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen myself a king among his sons.’ When Samuel arrived, he caught sight of Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands there before him,’ but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Take no notice of his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him: God does not see as man sees: man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ He then asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ He answered, ‘There is still one left, the youngest; he is out looking after the sheep.’ Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down to eat until he comes.’ Jesse had him sent for, a boy of fresh complexion, with fine eyes and pleasant bearing. The Lord said, ‘Come, anoint him, for this is the one.’ At this, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him where he stood with his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on.

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Ephesians 5:8-14

You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth. Try to discover what the Lord wants of you, having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them by contrast. The things which are done in secret are things that people are ashamed even to speak of; but anything exposed by the light will be illuminated and anything illuminated turns into light. That is why it is said:

Wake up from your sleep,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.

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John 9:1-41

As Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

‘As long as the day lasts
I must carry out the work of the one who sent me;
the night will soon be here when no one can work.
As long as I am in the world
I am the light of the world.’

Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man, and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (a name that means ‘sent’). So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.

His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one.’ Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ The man himself said, ‘I am the man.’ So they said to him, ‘Then how do your eyes come to be open?’ ‘The man called Jesus’ he answered ‘made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, “Go and wash at Siloam”; so I went, and when I washed I could see.’ They asked, ‘Where is he?’ ‘I don’t know’ he answered.

They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.’ Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them. So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man. However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind and had gained his sight, without first sending for his parents and asking them, ‘Is this man really your son who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but we do not know how it is that he can see now, or who opened his eyes. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, ‘He is old enough; ask him.’
So the Jews again sent for the man and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! For our part, we know that this man is a sinner.’ The man answered, ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He replied, ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’ At this they hurled abuse at him: ‘You can be his disciple,’ they said ‘we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man replied, ‘Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes, and you don’t know where he comes from! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to men who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind; if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.’ ‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.

Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
Jesus said:

‘It is for judgement
that I have come into this world,
so that those without sight may see
and those with sight turn blind.’

Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘We are not blind, surely?’ Jesus replied:

‘Blind? If you were,
you would not be guilty,
but since you say, “We see,”
your guilt remains.’

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“ … so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind…”

There is a particular audio version of the Rosary known as the Healing Rosary. In it, the opening reflection at the start of the 5th Glorious Mystery goes as follows:

“We pray for the wisdom to find healing in doing God’s will. Many are the frustrations of human life, the glittering career that turned to dust, the family that promised so much, the wealth that brought only misery, the poverty that made God into an enemy… teach us again and again and again, how to do God’s will”.

When we choose to treat our colleagues and subordinates as secondary to our ambitions, our self-preservation and our convenience. When we refuse to show patience, understanding and compassion in the midst of their failures and inabilities. When we throw them under the bus in the name of our own good name and worldly success. When keeping our bosses happy and protecting our favour in the boss’ eyes overrides their dignity, justice and humanity — in all these circumstances, who sits on YOUR throne?

In faith, when we use religion to serve our own purposes – for business contacts, for financial gain, for networking. When the church sanctuary is a place not of true worship but a performance stage to show off our Armani suits, or $2000 heels, how well we can sing and dance and dramatize our ‘belief’ in God. Where the prosperity ‘gospel’ comes before the Gospel of mercy, compassion, universal inclusiveness, and of authentic and sincere worship of God, where salvation is premised and ‘guaranteed’ based on worldly manifestations of wealth, success and self-aggrandizing glory. Where the poor are not welcomed to the community because they have nothing of ‘value’ to add to the network of the successful, the powerful, the affluent and the prideful. Where the blood of martyrs, Mary the Mother of God, the grace bestowed upon the Saints, are all ignored and ridiculed in place of man-made philosophy, man-worshipping narcissism and self-anointed leaders with the audacity to claim Divine anointing. Where faith and worship become so inextricably and hopelessly corrupted by worldliness, spiritual arrogance, narcissism and monetization of faith for profit — in these places and circumstances, who sits on YOUR throne?

In our work of ministry, when we despise, ridicule and place the failures of our fellow ministry members ahead of their sacred divine calling by God to serve. When we place our own pride, glory, self-aggrandization, convenience, delusions of power and authority, privilege and reputation, before the glory of God. When our faith is all about what God can do for us and how He ought to ‘reward’ us for our ministry with worldly success and reputation — in such times, who sits on YOUR throne?

When we choose to neglect our loved ones, who have been entrusted to us and placed in our lives by God for our sanctification and sacred vocation, by not choosing to spend time with them, to give of our time, our money, our patience, to love them unconditionally, to understand them more fully, to make sacrifices and die to self for their well-being — in such times, who sits on YOUR throne?

Many times, and in many situations in our lives, we do not know who sits on OUR thrones, but quite likely, again and again and again, the one that sits on that throne is simply, and quite clearly, NOT… God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us, we often find it so difficult to allow you to be our God and to give You sovereignty over our lives, the lives which have come from you in the first place. Often, we have allowed ourselves to be enthroned and in our reign, have caused great suffering, disillusionment, disunity to others and even ourselves.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for showing us the way to true servant leadership. For showing us the power of an Almighty God and King and the unconditional forgiveness, compassion and unfailing love of a Father who loves His own, no matter what, even to allowing us the follow of thinking we could ever be sovereign over you.

21 January, Tuesday – Man’s junk, God’s treasure

21 Jan – Memorial for St. Agnes, virgin and martyr

At the age of 12 or 13, Agnes was ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods and lose her virginity by rape. She was taken to a Roman temple to Minerva (Athena), and when led to the altar, she made the Sign of the Cross. She was threatened, then tortured when she refused to turn against God. Several young men presented themselves, offering to marry her, whether from lust or pity is not known.

She said that to do so would be an insult to her heavenly Spouse, that she would keep her consecrated virginity intact, accept death, and see Christ. She was martyred for her faith.

St. Agnes is mentioned in the first Eucharistic prayer. On her feast day, two lambs are blessed at her church in Rome, and then their wool is woven into the palliumns (bands of white wool) which the pope confers on archbishops as symbol of their jurisdiction.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you go on mourning over Saul when I have rejected him as king of Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go. I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen myself a king among his sons.’ Samuel replied, ‘How can I go? When Saul hears of it he will kill me.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and then I myself will tell you what you must do; you must anoint to me the one I point out to you.’

  Samuel did what the Lord ordered and went to Bethlehem. The elders of the town came trembling to meet him and asked, ‘Seer, have you come with good intentions towards us?’ ‘Yes,’ he replied ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Purify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ He purified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

  When they arrived, he caught sight of Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed one stands there before him’, but the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Take no notice of his appearance or his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.’ Jesse then called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel, who said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’ Jesse then presented Shammah, but Samuel said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.’ Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ He then asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ He answered, ‘There is still one left, the youngest; he is out looking after the sheep.’ Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down to eat until he comes.’ Jesse had him sent for, a boy of fresh complexion, with fine eyes and pleasant bearing. The Lord said, ‘Come, anoint him, for this is the one.’ At this, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him where he stood with his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on. As for Samuel, he rose and went to Ramah.

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Mark 2:23-28

One sabbath day, Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick ears of corn as they went along. And the Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing something on the sabbath day that is forbidden?’ And he replied, ‘Did you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?’
  And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.’

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God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart

There is a lady who ‘hangs out’ at our Lady’s grotto in the front of Church of the Nativity. By all appearances, she seems a homeless destitute for she literally makes her ‘home’ there. She is there practically every day, the whole day, come rain or tropical sun. She has all her belongings with her — her entire material comforts packed up in 2 pieces of luggage and several plastic bags. Some parishioners have remarked, quite insensitively that she is such an eyesore and that having her presence there gives a bad impression of the Church. Several have insisted she should be put into a home. This is “for her own good”. My question back to these ‘Christians’ is a simple one — Really? Are you guys for real?

In this reflection, let me share my own experience and observations of Aileen (her real name – yes, she does have a name! And she is a real person!

Aileen’s presence every day at the shrine has come to mean something very special to me. I make it a point to drop by each day, just to check on her if she is ok. She is one of the most selfless ‘beggars’ I know. Despite her condition and hardship, whenever someone wants to offer her some money, she would politely decline or even suggest a smaller amount (enough for her next meal) and that the person should keep the rest for themselves or their children. I have even witnessed how she took what was offered to her and gave that to another person who happened to be begging for a hand-out that evening (after the initial donor had already left the premises). On another occasion, she showed me a small toy she bought from a nearby shop which she said she was wanted to give to a small child who frequents the shrine with her grandmother every evening. Talk about the pricelessness of the widow’s mite. A ‘beggar’ using what little she has, to buy a toy so that she could bring joy to a child.

I was and still am, deeply moved by such selflessness from Aileen.

Slowly, I made friends with Aileen and now get to converse with her whenever I am at the shrine. She is reserved about sharing her story but I got hints of rejection by family and some trauma in a relationship which caused her to take this path in her life. Out of respect for her, I did not pursue this. Suffice it to say, that after knowing her better, Aileen is in fact, a highly educated person, who is very articulate, is very knowledgeable about a wide array of topics, has a child-like trust in God and a deep love for our Blessed Mother. Aileen, by the way, is/was a medical doctor.

I am reminded of the story of St Lawrence, an Archdeacon of Rome, who, at the time of the persecution of the Church by Emperor Valerian in 258 A.D, was responsible for the treasury of the Church and also of taking care of the poor. Emperor Valerian commanded Lawrence to surrender all the riches of the Church to him. Lawrence complied. However, Lawrence, sold all the material treasure and gave it to the poor. When summoned in front of Emperor Valerian, behind him streamed crowds of poor, crippled, blind and suffering people. “These are the true treasures of the Church’, he boldly proclaimed. St Lawrence, needless too say, paid the ultimate price of discipleship – martyrdom by being grilled on a rack. Just as we also honor another martyr, St Agnes today.

With a heart that is so tender and thoughtful for the poor, I wonder if Aileen is really such an ‘eyesore’ or if she is in fact, a hidden gem, that sits right in front of our eyes. The message of today’s reading and Gospel is simple and direct – what God sees is not what man sees. What God wills is not what man wills. What is thrown aside by the foolishness, arrogance and ingratitude of man, God picks up, embraces and holds dear to Him as precious treasure and brilliant shining gems. Perhaps, like Valerian, we too only cherish what is valued in this world but fail to be like St Lawrence, to know where true treasure lies.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us. Lift us out of the smallness of our hearts and the narrowness of our vision from which we are so quick to condemn others and to inflict suffering upon others. Help us, for our spirits are often in bondage to the spirit of this world instead of to your Holy Spirit. Set us free. Only but by your merciful grace.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you. For the light that your grace keeps bringing to us – the light that leads us out of darkness of sin and of the darkness of our hearts, minds and spirits. Thank you for seeing us as precious in Your eyes, especially when everyone else thinks we are eyesores.

20 January, Monday – The chances we have missed, the graces we resist

20 January

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1 Samuel 15:16-23

Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’ Saul said, ‘Tell me.’ Samuel continued, ‘Small as you may be in your own eyes, are you not head of the tribes of Israel? the Lord has anointed you king over Israel. The Lord sent you on a mission and said to you, “Go, put these sinners, the Amalekites, under the ban and make war on them until they are exterminated.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you fall on the booty and do what is displeasing to the Lord?’ Saul replied to Samuel, ‘But I did obey the voice of the Lord. I went on the mission which the Lord gave me; I brought back Agag king of the Amalekites; I put the Amalekites under the ban. From the booty the people took the best sheep and oxen of what was under the ban to sacrifice them to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’ But Samuel replied:

‘Is the pleasure of the Lord in holocausts and sacrifices or in obedience to the voice of the Lord?

Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness better than the fat of rams.

Rebellion is a sin of sorcery, presumption a crime of teraphim.

‘Since you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.’

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Mark 2:18-22

One day when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of fasting while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they could not think of fasting. But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then, on that day, they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!’

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Obedience is better than sacrifice

A story by Fr Anthony de Mello goes something like this:

Two monks from an austere Catholic order were walking along a dirt road in the forest one day when they came across a river. Although the river was not very wide and was only about waist deep, it had a very strong current. Along the side of the river, they noticed a young lady crying and in great distress because she was unable to cross the river. She was in a desperate hurry to get back to her dying father at home. The lady was extremely beautiful.

The monks, being from a strict order, were forbidden to have undue contact with females. However, suddenly one of the monks, walked towards the lady and asked if she would allow him to carry her across the river. The lady was delighted, relieved and extremely grateful for the offer. In due course, the first monk managed to get the lady safely across the river and she could carry on her journey. The two monks then continued with their own journey.

Throughout the remainder of the journey, of which there was still quite a long ways to go, the second monk kept going on and on about how the first monk did not show more restraint and to refrain from carrying the lady and how he could not believe that the first monk actually carried a beautiful lady in his arms across the river. This went on for another 6 hours. When the monks eventually reached their monastery, the first monk turned and said to the second monk, “My dear brother monk, as soon as I put the lady down at the opposite bank of the river, I had forgotten all about her. But it seems that you have continued to carry her for the last 6 hours, and she had never left your mind, nor your heart.”.

Letting go — this is one of the hardest things for a human being to try to do. We’ve all been there, done that. Most of us are still stuck in that state. Yet it is precisely due to this inability for us to let go, that we often find we are unable to move forward in our lives and in our faith. We cannot and often, simply refuse to let go of our pain, our fears, our addictions, our sins, our insecurities, our pride, our possessions, our other ‘gods’ that rule our lives. Leaving very little space, if any at all, for our true God to come into our lives and our spirits. Like the second monk, in our hearts, our minds and our spirits, we cling on to our pre-conceived notions of what is important, what is pious, what is righteous. We have replaced norms, rules, expectations and bondages for the freedom, the liberation, the deliverance, the providence, the consolation and the restoration that God wants to give to us. We prefer our insecurities and addictions – because we are familiar with them, rather than the discomfort and insecurity when God leads us along unfamiliar paths which eventually lead us back to the only thing that ought to truly matter – back into His arms. Back into the complete union and true joy that can only be attained when the heart is at peace, and free from anxiety — when his soul is able to grasp the truth of the infinite love of God for him, and he abandons himself to His will, with the confidence of a child in his loving Father who looks after his own with the utmost care. Being thus set free from the worries and concerns of what the future may bring, we finally become able to fully experience the joy of returning God’s love.

New skins for new wine is an imagery for the things that are important and which need to start anew – the essence of faith from rules to obey God, to a relationship of love with God; from a spirit of timidity, fear and oppression to one of freedom, progression and assuredness of God’s love for us; from the idolatry of created things to true worship of the living God; from our false sense of security that our whitewashed façade of piety and regulations will earn us our personal righteousness, to true security in total surrender to the mercy and grace of God which is only given, and never earned.

I have a pet poodle at home named Caramel. Caramel loves playing with rubber balls a lot. He goes nuts chasing a tossed ball. And incessantly, he keeps coming back, ball in mouth, long after I stopped counting how many times I keep tossing it. Then one day, I decided to do this – I threw three balls at him, all at the same time. That literally stumped him. And he no longer came running back to me. Instead, he was busy trying to fit all three balls into his mouth. He did not manage to do so. Because he hasn’t quite figured out that he can only take another ball when he lets go of the one already in his mouth. Guess what – neither have we.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We are so disconnected from who we really are inside. We have alienated ourselves from you by so often choosing to cling on to the past, to our sins, to our delusions and to our stubborn ways. We have lost you because we have chosen obedience to rules and laws over a loving, life-giving relationship with you.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for helping us come into the light of your truth. The truth of your unchanging, unfailing and uncompromising love for us. A love which can never be earned or bought but by the blood of your Son.

19 January, Sunday – Only if you know where to look

19 January – Second Sunday In Ordinary Time

The Lamb of God

We celebrate the Servant of God who came to do the Father’s will to perfect obedience. Yet he was more than a servant. John the Baptist calls him the Lamb, the chosen one of God. 

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1 Samuel 9:1-4,17-19,10:1

The Lord said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel,
in whom I shall be glorified’;
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.
And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

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1 Corinthians 1:1-3

I, Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle, together with brother Sosthenes, send greetings to the church of God in Corinth, to the holy people of Jesus Christ, who are called to take their place among all the saints everywhere who pray to our Lord Jesus Christ; for he is their Lord no less than ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.

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John 1:29-34

Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’

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I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven

Some of you may have come across a cartoon depicting a priest and a lay person standing on the rooftop of a skyscraper building. The lay person looks down and has terror on his face – the priest looks up and smiles. No words needed – the message is simple but succinct enough.

I once stood at the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, whilst on holiday some years ago. I am pretty sure most of you have done something similar on holiday – going atop one of these skyscrapers to catch a glimpse of things from up there. From such a vantage point, the very first thing most people would invariably do is to scan the horizon and be wowed. The next thing that will come very naturally is to look down and feel a sense of joyful trepidation. I am confident to conjecture that practically none will bother to look up into the sky. Nothing to see there – the clouds and the sun look the same no matter where you are looking at the sky — nothing exciting, nothing new, nothing worth the time and effort.

Using this as an analogy to life and faith, this sums up the message of today’s scripture readings. How far short we seem to always be when compared to what God has planned for us, how great the potential he sees in us and how glorious His mission and calling is for us. We scan the horizon trying to see into the future, to know what is ahead of us, to try to foresee the problems and to circumvent the crises. We try to identify each step we need to take ahead of us – not just for tomorrow but the tomorrows for the rest of our lives. We also tend to look down. We look at the negative things that have happened in our lives. We look down to see the disappointments, the insecurities, the discouragements, the failures, the hurts, the worries and the terrors. We become filled with despair and despondency.

When we keep our eyes fixed on the past and the future – the hurts, the failures, the illusions and the fears — we lose sight of what truly matters: God in the present. We get bogged down by earth bound things and we get choked by its thorns of worry, of tedium, of its uncertainties, its perils and dangers. We falter, we lose courage, we lose our bearings, we lose hope. We lose sight of God and we lose our faith and trust in Him. When we stand atop and turn our gaze upwards – we sometimes see clouds, we sometimes get the sun in our eyes. But if we push our vision forward, we get to see that heaven lies just beyond those clouds.

It may not be as exciting as scanning an awe-inspiring horizon or the adrenaline of looking 2720 feet down as if floating on air. But looking up heavenwards, we get to see heaven. Therein awaits the light of God which dispels our darkness and points the way forward (and upward) for us, back into His loving embrace. Aurora Borealis aside, the sky looks pretty much the same from wherever in the world you look up at it. And such is the constancy of God – the constancy of His love, His care, His mercy, His fidelity, His providence and protection over us, His love for us. Unchanging and unchangeable. Where the journey of faith mirrors the journey of life. A journey meant to be taken one step at a time, loved in the here and the now. A journey meant not to be taken alone, but with our Shepherd beside and in front of us leading us through each cloud, each valley, each step — one step at a time. Beyond the clouds we get to see our destiny and the place we will one day return to – the only view worth looking at. Looking up, we get to see a vision of home for the rest of eternity. Our eternity.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us, we have lost our vision of You. We are bound to this earth and to the narrowness of what our vision of what our lives on earth are meant to be. We have lost our way when we can no longer see you in our horizon. We see only this world and we realize how far we have strayed from you and how lost we really are.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for all the times you have dispelled the narrowness of our hearts and our minds. And for the times, you have allowed us to see your face and to live. To fully live.

25 December, Wednesday (Mass at Dawn) – In the quiet of the morning

25 December – Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord (Mass at Dawn)

The First Dawn of a New Age

We celebrate the marvellous events of the first morning of a new world, when the kindness and love of God our Saviour made us his holy people, the Lord’s Redeemed, his ‘sought-after’, and his ‘city-not-forsaken’.

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Isaiah 62:11-12

This the Lord proclaims
to the ends of the earth:

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

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Titus 3:4-7

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

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Luke 2:15-20

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

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And you shall be called the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord … a city that is not forsaken

Christmas Midnight Mass is over. Some have partied before mass, most will do so after mass. We look forward to more fellowship with loved ones and friends come Christmas Day. For now, we sleep.

As we slumber, in the quiet serenity of the wee hours of the morning, many miracles of Christmas were taking place…

…God became man

…Mary became the Mother of Man and of God

…Mary, Joseph and Jesus became a family, establishing for us, our own indivisible spiritual bonds of family to God and to the universal Catholic faith – we became brothers and sisters to one another.

…a star points the way to eternal light. And darkness of sin and fear will be forever dispelled.

…Shepherds, the lowly and unworthy ones, were called to recognize Almighty God whilst the ‘high and mighty’ remain in darkness and ignorance

…the Son of God was born in a trough used to feed animals. And God provides for His people, food for their eternal souls through His Son given to us in due time, in the Eucharist.

…in the small, insignificant, hick, backwater town called Bethlehem, God re-established the seat of His Divine Majesty.

…In the birth and life of Jesus, we were given our own divine mission and calling. All of us, are called to fulfill our own divine mission in the footsteps and example of Jesus.

…as we slept, Heaven was being united to earth through the adoption of men by God, in the humanity of Jesus, His Son.

In the quiet of the morning, a multitude of miracles and gifts were being bestowed upon us. In the quiet of the morning, God gave us His Son — a Savior was born. Our Savior.

Three Christmases ago, at Midnight Mass, I was asked to carry the Eucharistic gifts to the Sanctuary. With me were several others including a lady, Bev (not her real name), who had a very interesting story to tell. She shared with me that she was an atheist, but every time she passed by Nativity Church, for a good number of years she felt a longing to come inside and to discover more about the Catholic faith. But, she never had the guts to do so. At this mass, she finally plucked the courage to attend mass for the very first time. And she was asked to bring the gifts. She was clueless as to what was going on of course, but after I explained the significance of the offering of the gifts and what the gifts themselves represented, she was deeply moved and said she felt it was a powerful and undeniable affirmation from God, that she was being called to the faith. That, as she presented the gifts to the priest, she was giving herself to God. She eventually did undergo RCIA and is today a faithful Catholic. A Christmas miracle. In the quiet of that Christmas morning, Jesus was truly born in Bev’s spirit.

In the pre-dawn hours and as first light breaks, between 24 December and Christmas morning, God has placed a present underneath all our pillows – the gift of our salvation. The gift of His Son who was born for one reason alone – to give His life to save us.

Blessed Christmas.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Amidst the din and noise of Christmas night and day, we are so caught up with many other things. We cannot sense the sacredness of this silent night, this holy night. And we cannot see the light of Christ in the midst of all the bright lights and dazzle of this material world. We cannot hear the quiet and peacefulness of this Christmas morning, when the Prince of Peace is born.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for your precious gift of Jesus. Thank you for the precious gift of our eternal salvation through our Savior given to us, this silent and holy night.

16 November, Saturday – The view from the other side of the Cross

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

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

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

  • Patron Saint Index

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

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

  • Patron Saint Index

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Wisdom 18:14-16,19:6-9

When peaceful silence lay over all,
and night had run the half of her swift course,
down from the heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word;
into the heart of a doomed land the stern warrior leapt.
Carrying your unambiguous command like a sharp sword,
he stood, and filled the universe with death;
he touched the sky, yet trod the earth.

For, to keep your children from all harm,
The whole creation, obedient to your commands,
was once more, and newly, fashioned in its nature.
Overshadowing the camp there was the cloud,
where water had been, dry land was seen to rise,
the Red Sea became an unimpeded way,
the tempestuous flood a green plain;
sheltered by your hand, the whole nation passed across,
gazing at these amazing miracles.
They were like horses at pasture,
they skipped like lambs,
singing your praises, Lord, their deliverer.

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Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’

And the Lord said ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

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“ But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”

I cannot recall when I first heard this phrase, but I do know that it has left a deep impression on me and I have cited it often in various circumstances of faith sharing. It goes like this, “Conversion happens from an experience of the mercy of God and not from the judgement of God”. Today’s parable is an interesting one and has various facets to it. From one angle, it alludes to the need for persistent faith. From another perspective (perhaps a slightly confusing one), it suggests our God to be one who finds us pretty much a nuisance which he can’t wait to get off His back.

The perspective I would like to offer in this sharing is for us to see the judge mentioned to be indeed that of an unjust judge which “neither feared God not cared what people thought” – a judge that is self-interested, self-serving, ungodly and indifferent and the only reason for attending to the cause of the widow is nothing more than simply to be rid of her persistent nuisance. However, let us then juxtapose this judge with our God – loving, self-sacrificial, whose justice over us is subjugated under His mercy and compassion for us. A God who sent His Son to die for us, to salvage a relationship that He treasures above all else. This is not a God that finds us to be a nuisance, but a God who can’t get enough of us in spite of all the nuisance we bring before Him … our incessant demands, our arrogance when our prayers are not answered or not answered in our way and in our timing, our unfailing infidelity to Him through sin, our blatant ingratitude and forgetfulness for all the times our prayers have been answered, our selfishness even to those dearest and closest to us, or total selfishness and difference to all others so much further away from our daily consciousness. Incomprehensible – this God of ours and how much He treasures us.

Sometimes when at prayer, especially when I am in front of the shrine of our Blessed Mother carrying baby Jesus, my eyes shift inadvertently to those who come up to pray to her and Jesus. And I wonder to myself, what goes through the mind and the heart of Mother Mary and Jesus when we pray before them. And always without fail, I get moved when I think that their response to us is always that of compassion, understanding, forgiveness, consolation – never judgement. Always accepting us for who we are, always understanding the sins we commit, the hurts we cause to others, our infidelity and ingratitude because of the woundedness within us that makes us hurt others, the bondage within us that leads to our helplessness against sin and addiction, the way the evil one has used the values of this world to keep us so helpless in our greed, our selfishness, our pride, our vanity, our lusts, our indifference to those around us who are hurting and dying and killing. No matter how hard we try, no matter how good our intentions, no matter how many times we keep falling, we need to keep coming before the Cross and before Your Mother.. That is the persistent prayer of the widow.

Compassion, forgiveness and love – that is what it looks like from the other side of the Cross. This is the lens by which Jesus and our Mother look upon us with. And that is why, despite ourselves, God still loves us, Mother Mary still embraces us, the Holy Spirit still fights for us, our Saviour still hangs on the Cross for us. This is the persistent grace of God. The persistent love of God. I am not sure how much faith He will find when the Son of Man comes to earth again; but I do know that when He comes, He will come, as He always has, with compassion, forgiveness and love.

(Today’s Oxygen by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. You know what it is like to come to a place of discouragement so deep that it’s hard to pray any longer, hard to hold out hope. Some of our brothers and sisters are there right now and you are speaking to their hearts. Lift them, today, I pray. Turn their eyes to you afresh. Strengthen their faith, freshen their hope, enliven their prayers — until you come. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you. For the compassion, forgiveness and love which you keep showing to us, our loved ones and this world. Thank you for your insane, incomprehensible love and unbelievable fidelity to us. Thank you for not judging us. Thank you for only loving us.

15 November, Friday – The Cross and the Crucifix

Nov 15 – Memorial for St. Albert the Great, Bishop, Religious, Doctor

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

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

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

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Wisdom 13:1-9

Naturally stupid are all men who have not known God
and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is,
or, by studying the works, have failed to recognise the Artificer.
Fire however, or wind, or the swift air,
the sphere of the stars, impetuous water, heaven’s lamps,
are what they have held to be the gods who govern the world.

If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken things for gods,
let them know how much the Lord of these excels them,
since the very Author of beauty has created them.
And if they have been impressed by their power and energy,
let them deduce from these how much mightier is he that has formed them,
since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures
we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.

Small blame, however, attaches to these men,
for perhaps they only go astray
in their search for God and their eagerness to find him;
living among his works, they strive to comprehend them
and fall victim to appearances, seeing so much beauty.
Even so, they are not to be excused:
if they are capable of acquiring enough knowledge
to be able to investigate the world,
how have they been so slow to find its Master?

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Luke 17:26-37

Jesus said to the disciples:

‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating and drinking, marrying wives and husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It will be the same as it was in Lot’s day: people were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but the day Lot left Sodom, God rained fire and brimstone from heaven and it destroyed them all. It will be the same when the day comes for the Son of Man to be revealed.

‘When that day comes, anyone on the housetop, with his possessions in the house, must not come down to collect them, nor must anyone in the fields turn back either. Remember Lot’s wife. Anyone who tries to preserve his life will lose it; and anyone who loses it will keep it safe. I tell you, on that night two will be in one bed: one will be taken, the other left; two women will be grinding corn together: one will be taken, the other left.’ The disciples interrupted. ‘Where, Lord?’ they asked. He said, ‘Where the body is, there too will the vultures gather.’

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“…nor did they recognize the craftsman while paying heed to his works…”

The coming of Christ at Christmas, and the remembrance of this ever since, is an event looked upon and experienced with much joy, celebration, herald. Secularization and commercialization aside, even to a non-Christian, albeit for the ‘wrong’ reasons, Christmas is nevertheless a time when spirits are lifted, there is celebration in the air and people seem to walk with perhaps a bit more lightness in their step. However, that’s where it ends.

The first reading talks about how man, in his foolishness in paying heed to created things, has lost sight of the more important thing – the Creator. And in the Gospel, God reminds man of the consequences of forgetting Him and turning his back from Him. Much like the tale of the Prodigal Father – where the love of the Father seems almost foolhardy in its over-indulgence of the Prodigal Son. So too, God in His infinite patience and love for His children, continues to accept, to forgive, to redeem and to hope against all hope but for divine hope, that one day His children will abandon their foolishness and begin to finally realize how much they are loved and cherished — and how undeservedly so. Till then, man continues in his sinful, unrepentant, ungrateful, unfaithful and ignorant ways. Brothers and sisters, judgement day WILL come. It’s like taking a roller-coaster zooming towards the peak of an up-climb, however, only to discover that the tracks end there … there are no more tracks for the rest of the journey back down. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah found this out the hard way. Many, if not most of humanity, will also sadly come to this when the end-times come – be it through the individual death of a person or when Christ comes again.

The second coming of Christ, will not be anything like the first. The world will not be converted when Jesus comes again. The earth will not be full of the knowledge of the Lord. The reign of peace will not have been established. The end times will be apocalyptic – any semblance of peace will simply be the calm before the storm. Scripture has said so. And in the midst of this, we are confronted with a cross and a crucifix before us. We have the cross and we have the Crucifix. Between these two, lies man’s eternity. What is the difference between the Cross and the Crucifix? It is simply this – the former is just an empty piece of wood whereas upon the other, hangs the Saviour of the world.

For those who profess the cross and not the Crucifix, theirs is an empty proclamation – empty, devoid of divine focus, nor the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit. One that lacks identity, authority and a common theology that can truly save. Clinging to such a cross is clinging only to the delusion of salvation through the Word and that good works will never bring one to redemption and salvation. It points not to divine wisdom, but the foolishness of man that has allowed deception, pride, vain-glory and disunity in place of what should rightfully belong in its place – a Saviour’s sacrifice, a Redeemer’s justification. An empty cross can never be able to help a Christian understand why a loving God allows suffering in this world, why worldly prosperity is not an affirmation of one’s salvation, but rather in poverty do we find great treasures of divine grace, why giving up one’s life for love of a friend is not salvation from the Word alone but how the Word transforms one into making the ultimate act of sacrifice for the love of another, even for an enemy. Only when we are able to see Christ hung upon that Cross, does one truly embrace Christianity and become a Christian – and Catholic.

The Crucifix is where Christ hangs – a sign of unity of a Faith and a Church that finds its salvation not in the created icon of a cross, but in Jesus Christ — the Creator himself. This is the difference between a piece of wood symbolizing punishment, shame and defeat and a place of sanctification, redemption and salvation. And upon this Creator hangs true authority and a unity of identity, regardless who you and where you are on planet earth. Upon this Crucifix hangs the redemption that can only be won by the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus. Upon this Crucifix hangs a reminder of our need to carry our own crosses as the only way of true discipleship.And on the Crucifix, we choose to find courage and strength and hope of a Saviour who carries our crosses for us –as much today as He did for us 2019 years ago, and since the beginning of time. And upon the Crucifix, we are reminded that we do not save ourselves, but that our salvation comes from allowing Him to save us. It is not the Cross that will save us, it is the one that hangs on the Cross that will do so. Who, or what, hangs on YOUR cross?

(Today’s Oxygen by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. In the midst of the noise and foolishness of this fallen world, we struggle to find our way to you.  In the midst of so much that has been created by man, we can no longer see our Creator. We are lost and the end times bring us terror for we can no longer see you in the midst of all that turmoil.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for your Crucifix which stands strong defiant in the midst of the storms of life and which defiant in the midst of the forces of this world and of evil which wants to snuff you out simply because it knows you are the truth, the light and the way.

 

 

14 November, Thursday – Didn’t see this coming…

14 November 2019

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Wisdom 7:22-8:1

Within Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
active, incisive, unsullied,
lucid, invulnerable, benevolent, sharp,
irresistible, beneficent, loving to man,
steadfast, dependable, unperturbed,
almighty, all-surveying,
penetrating all intelligent, pure
and most subtle spirits;
for Wisdom is quicker to move than any motion;
she is so pure, she pervades and permeates all things.
She is a breath of the power of God,
pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
hence nothing impure can find a way into her.
She is a reflection of the eternal light,
untarnished mirror of God’s active power,
image of his goodness.
Although alone, she can do all;
herself unchanging, she makes all things new.
In each generation she passes into holy souls,
she makes them friends of God and prophets;
for God loves only the man who lives with Wisdom.
She is indeed more splendid than the sun,
she outshines all the constellations;
compared with light, she takes first place,
for light must yield to night,
but over Wisdom evil can never triumph.
She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other,
ordering all things for good.

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Luke 17:20-25

Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was to come, Jesus gave them this answer, ‘The coming of the kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say, “Look here! Look there!” For, you must know, the kingdom of God is among you.’
 
He said to the disciples, ‘A time will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man and will not see it. They will say to you, “Look there!” or, “Look here!” Make no move; do not set off in pursuit; for as the lightning flashing from one part of heaven lights up the other, so will be the Son of Man when his day comes. But first he must suffer grievously and be rejected by this generation.’

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“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed…”

I recently watched a Netflix documentary on the life of Bill Gates. It revealed how Bill, in wanting to give back to humanity, was trying to identify what was the most critical thing that the world is in need of and that he could help in, which would make the world a better place. Eventually, he decided on something which would save millions of lives of those living in underdeveloped countries each year – he decided there was a dire need to provide them with loos. Not just any loo –but one which did not require water nor electricity to function and which could recycle human waste instantaneously. And the loo must cost less than US$500 each. If this solution was not found, many millions more would continue to die –painfully, needlessly and without dignity.

It was surprising, unexpected. Perhaps like many others, I was expecting him to get into something a lot more ‘techy’. In fact, it was the reverse – he was looking for a solution that had to be as ‘un-techy’ as possible. Yet what struck me most was how brilliant Bill was in being able to see beyond the obvious and identifying something so basic and fundamental as a working toilet – and how this would save millions of lives. It was surprising that the richest man in the world, a technical and business genius, would care so deeply about people so far removed from his day-to-day reality and to identify an issue so far away from the world of Apple computers. In my opinion, Bill Gates, showed exceptional wisdom and in his own way, will one day be able to turn the developing world upside down. Thankfully, it will be for the better.

So too when God chooses to turn the world upside down, the power of Wisdom is at its fullest.The greatest revelations of faith, the most poignant moments of truth are the result of the grace when the Wisdom of God chooses to reveal itself to humanity, in the process, revealing just how foolish the ‘wisdom’ of this world really is. Consider this …

  • That it is not the self-professed wise and learned to whom God will reveal His kingdom but to mere children. Those who turn to him and accept Him with child-like faith, trust, dependence and obedience.
  • Not of the rich and the powerful of this secular world but those given the infinite power and wealth of grace from the Holy Spirit that he calls to true discipleship and apostleship. A bunch of fishermen, manual laborers, shepherds, a converted harlot, a 14 year-old maiden from the poorest tribe of Israel, and that odd tax-collector (someone rejected and hated by society) – these He chose to lay and build the unshakeable and unbreakable foundations of the Christian faith and of the Catholic Church.
  • That in sacrifice, the humbleness of the 2 coins given out of authentic love and sacrifice, amounted to infinite treasure in heaven, whereas millions upon millions of excess treasure, given conditionally, arrogantly and in vain-glory, amounts to nothing.
  • That prayer, when done ostentatiously at busy street corners for show to gain men’s adulation, does not reach the ears of God not of His heart. Whereas the silent, sincere lifting of one’s soul in the secret place where a soul is united to the soul of God, is heard … and answered.
  • That God helps not those who help themselves or who turn to this world for answers but who have finally come to the wisdom of realizing that they are no longer able to help themselves and that only God can help, redeem, heal, provide, protect, comfort and save them. For it is the wounded, the broken, the lost, the sick, the sinful, the helpless that God came to save. The Shepherd was sent not for the 99 sheep that are fine but for that one sheep who is the lost, the least and the last. To all the wolves in this world, a Shepherd is not a friend. Wisdom will also revel and remind us that the sheep have their Shepherd and the Shepherd is here not for the wolf, but only for His sheep.… those that know his voice and who follow him. Wisdom will also make us ponder if in this earthly life … are we wolves or sheep?
  • The folly of us thinking we are in control of our lives and the lives those around us. We try to negotiate, bribe, bargain, threaten, hoodwink, blackmail God into allowing us to have our way when God knows us better than we know ourselves –why we are alive, how we think and what we love. He knows exactly what will make us happiest in this life. And He loves us better than we can ever love ourselves.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom — it is grace personified. The grace of wisdom to know that only in God, all things are possible, and all things come to be according to His will. Not human effort or ‘strength’ or ‘intelligence’ but His will and grace alone. Choose wisdom. It is the difference between whether you choose to be a wolf or a sheep. Only the latter has the privilege to have a Divine Shepherd watching over it. Choose wisely.

(Today’s Oxygen by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us, in the midst of the distractions, confusion, deceptions and superficiality of this world, we often find ourselves lost and misguided in trying to do the right thing. We put more faith in ourselves thinking we are wise and able to live life without you. We then stumble and fall inside our own folly, often hurting ourselves and others around us.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the times you allowed the truth of your light to penetrate the dark folly of this world and of ourselves.