Tag Archives: Justus Teo

17 September, Tuesday – The devil loves attention … don’t give him that satisfaction

Sep 17 – Memorial for St. Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor

Robert (1542-1621) wrote the most complete work of his day to defend Catholicism against Protestant attack. He also wrote a children’s catechism and a catechism for teachers. As cardinal-priest, he gave most of his money to the poor. At one point he used the tapestries in his living quarters to clothe the poor, saying that “the walls won’t catch cold”.

He was involved in settling various disputes including that of King James I and the Vatican in 1607 and 1609 concerning control of the Church in England, action against Galileo Galilei with whom he established a friendly correspondence, but was forced to deliver the order for the scientist to submit to the Church, and issues concerning clerical discipline and Vatican authority. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on 17 September 1931.

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1 Timothy 3:1-13

Here is a saying that you can rely on: To want to be a presiding elder is to want to do a noble wok. That is why the president must have an impeccable character. He must not have been married more than once, and he must be temperate, discreet and courteous, hospitable and a good teacher; not a heavy drinker, nor hot-tempered, but kind and peaceable. He must not be a lover of money. He must be a man who manages his own family well and brings his children up to obey him and be well-behaved: how can any man who does not understand how to manage his own family have responsibility for the church of God? He should not be a new convert, in case pride might turn his head and then he might be condemned as the devil was condemned. It is also necessary that people outside the Church should speak well of him, so that he never gets a bad reputation and falls into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons must be respectable men whose word can be trusted, moderate in the amount of wine they drink and with no squalid greed for money. They must be conscientious believers in the mystery of the faith. They are to be examined first, and only admitted to serve as deacons if there is nothing against them. In the same way, the women must be respectable, not gossips but sober and quite reliable. Deacons must not have been married more than once, and must be men who manage their children and families well. Those of them who carry out their duties well as deacons will earn a high standing for themselves and be rewarded with great assurance in their work for the faith in Christ Jesus.

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Luke 7:11-17

Jesus went to a town called Nain, accompanied by his disciples and a great number of people. When he was near the gate of the town it happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a considerable number of the townspeople were with her. When the Lord saw her he felt sorry for her. ‘Do not cry’ he said. Then he went up and put his hand on the bier and the bearers stood still, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you to get up.’ And the dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Everyone was filled with awe and praised God saying, ‘A great prophet has appeared among us; God has visited his people.’ And this opinion of him spread throughout Judaea and all over the countryside.

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Holding the mystery of faith in a pure conscience 

Archbishop William once shared at a retreat, that of all the 7 deadly sins, the greatest is pride, followed very closely by vanity; that all of humanity succumbs to these sins and many a good soul has been lost by their deadly effects. Surprising? Insightful? Not really. We have only to consider Lucifer to know that these were precisely the two great sins and temptations that got him (and one third of the angels) thrown out from heaven. Consider seriously, how pervasive these temptations are and how real they are within our own spiritual struggles. Allow me, in this sharing, to dwell on how these temptations can also specifically undermine the very basis and foundations of our worship of God, especially during the Eucharistic celebration.

Max Lucado once said, “seek not the adulation of men but the applause of heaven”. My theme and sharing today is drawn from the first reading, which paints the virtues and qualities needed in Catholic leadership and in the context of ministering to the community and in Catholic worship. God demands perfection from us. He knows he’s not going to get it but He nevertheless demands it of us. However, I believe the perfection he seeks for us is not in doing things perfectly and faultlessly, but rather, from the standpoint of absolute authenticity and sincerity when we worship and serve Him. God seeks perfection not in terms of what we do but why we do it. That this must stem only from one motive alone – our sincere and authentic love for Him and through that love, our love and service for others. Many, if not almost all of us will fall short of this perfection but heaven is a place where only Saints are worthy to be in. And only the Saints in heaven are perfect, as God is perfect.

Before I dwell more on the issue of authenticity of service, especially in Eucharistic celebration, allow me to say that whilst I will probably be quite judgmental in my comments and observations, I do not absolve myself of guilt in the behaviors I will be commenting on. I was, and still am, guilty of some of them. Pride and vanity tempt all of us. I hold to the view that at Holy Mass, there is only one person that must to be glorified and worshipped – God.  But yet, I can’t deny that I do find some who serve during Mass competing with God for attention and glory. Those who seem to have the notion that Mass is a stage where they get to perform and showcase their talents, or their ‘beauty’ or their intelligence or their wealth or their ‘authority’ or their ‘power’. Lectors and cantors, Altar Servers, Choir Masters, Eucharistic Ministers, Wardens, at times even the Priests themselves – the way they sometimes go about doing what they do, the way they dress, they way they are made up, the way they exercise their authority when giving Communion or directing movement in Church, they seem to  be bringing attention and glory to themselves.  It seems to be very much about them and not about creating the circumstances and atmosphere that can help all to come to an authentic encounter with God and community as one body of Christ, which is what the Eucharistic Celebration is intended to be. Yes, undoubtedly, our eyes and heart should be fixed on God and not on the people around us. Allowing ourselves to be distracted, agitated and frustrated is very much indicative of our own imperfections and weakness. Nevertheless, when we serve, we should all consciously try to bring less of ourselves to glory during Mass and allow God this privilege instead.

My sharing is titled, “The devil loves attention” … perhaps in small, insidious ways, by tempting us who serve in Liturgical ministries, to focus attention on ourselves during the Eucharistic Celebration, the devil gets to achieve exactly the effect of taking attention and glory away from God, which is the purpose and summit of our faith – the Eucharistic worship, communion and adoration of God’s love for us and in the sacrifice of Jesus, His Son, for us. The devil, the master deceiver, is far more subtle and insidious than simply expecting attention to be given to him. Instead, he prefers that we give attention to ourselves. He whispers ever so subtly into our ears… “go ahead, grab your moment of glory, you deserve that for all the hard work and sacrifice you have put into serving the Church all these years – show the people how beautiful your voice is, how expensive that suit you are wearing, how important that role you are serving at the Altar,  how eloquent the way you speak, how honorable the seat that has been reserved for you.

The devil loves attention…but do not give him the satisfaction. Be conscious of how he attacks us at our weakest — our pride and vanity, in order to deny the graces that God wants to give us. Battle him by constantly questioning and checking our own authenticity and sincerity in service to God and the Church, especially during the Eucharistic Celebration.

If you listen carefully, in the distance, you may be able to hear the sound of applause for you. But it’s not very distinct… can’t quite make out if the applause is coming from the Saints in heaven or from the poor souls in the other place. Can you?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Save us from the desire of being esteemed or extoled or honored or that others may be loved more than ourselves. Save those of us who have the privilege of serving in Ministry from the sin of arrogance and vain-glory. Give us, instead, a true spirit of humility to know it is You whom we serve and the authenticity to serve you humbly and with great love for You.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for all whom you have blessed Holy Mother Church, who serve with sincere hearts and authentic love for You and Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Thank you for the inspiration they bring and for the way by their example, to experience Your true presence and unfailing love.

 

16 September, Monday – True disciples know and follow the lordship of Christ

Sep 16 – Memorial for Sts. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr; and Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr

Cornelius (d. 253) was elected after a year-and-a-half period during which persecutions were so bad that papal ascension was a quick death sentence. He worked to maintain unity in a time of schism and apostasy. He called a synod of bishops to confirm him as rightful pontiff, as opposed to the anti-pope Novatian. Cornelius was eventually exiled by Roman authorities to punish Christians in general, who were said to have provoked the gods to send plague against Rome.

Cyprian (190-258) was baptised when he was 56. By the time he was bishop, he had been a Christian for only 3 years! When the Roman emperor Decius persecuted Christians, Cyprian lived in hiding, covertly ministering to his flock; his enemies condemned him for being a coward and not standing up for his faith. He supported St. Cornelius against the anti-pope Novatian. He too was exiled and martyred when the Decius’ successor continued with persecution of Christians.

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1 Timothy 2:1-8

My advice is that, first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet. To do this is right, and will please God our saviour: he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth. For there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all. He is the evidence of this, sent at the appointed time, and I have been named a herald and apostle of it and – I am telling the truth and no lie – a teacher of the faith and the truth to the pagans.

In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument.

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Luke 7:1-10

When Jesus had come to the end of all he wanted the people to hear, he went into Capernaum. A centurion there had a servant, a favourite of his, who was sick and near death. Having heard about Jesus he sent some Jewish elders to him to ask him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus they pleaded earnestly with him. ‘He deserves this of you’ they said ‘because he is friendly towards our people; in fact, he is the one who built the synagogue.’ So Jesus went with them, and was not very far from the house when the centurion sent word to him by some friends: ‘Sir,’ he said ‘do not put yourself to trouble; because I am not worthy to have you under my roof; and for this same reason I did not presume to come to you myself; but give the word and let my servant be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard these words he was astonished at him and, turning round, said to the crowd following him, ‘I tell you, not even in Israel have I found faith like this.’ And when the messengers got back to the house they found the servant in perfect health.

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 But only say the Word

There is a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg called ‘Schindler’s List’, which tells of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved countless Jews from the Holocaust during WWII. A moment from that movie, which left an indelible mark on my psyche, is the scene in which the Commandant of the Concentration Camp, sitting in his pajamas on a balcony, has a steaming hot cup of coffee to his side table. He sits casually, with a lighted cigarette lazily and precariously balanced on his right lip corner. In his hand, a sniper rifle, cocked and ready. The sniper lens zooms in on a hapless, random Jew, in rags and whose ribs could be counted. In the next instant, the head of the Jew gets blown off in a pink cloud of blood and brains. Those walking around this hapless Jew are terrified but continue walking as if nothing has happened. Indifferently, the Commandment, peers through the lens to look for the next target to practice on. After several more hapless victims, Oskar Schindler finally confronts the Commandant who promptly reminds Oskar of just how much power he wields. To which Oskar replies – “real power lies not in those who have the ability to wield it, but to those who have it but always choose not to wield it”. To Oskar and the likes of St Maximillian Kolbe, the life of a Jew, every person in fact, was not irrelevant and unnecessary. It mattered enough to risk and to give up one’s own life.

The point being made is not about earthly power – but the power that comes from knowing one’s identity rooted in Jesus Christ. Jesus, Son of the Living God, is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. However, he chooses not to wield that on us. He chooses to become one of us. This does not alter nor diminish one iota of what his true character and essence is – but simply points to the truth that He knows who He is. And there is no need for him to prove His power, despite the many times we desperately ask Him to show it to us in the circumstances of our lives. He only needs to affirm the fact of His love for us.  Jesus can walk away from His power and assume the condition of a slave because He knows exactly who He is – the Son of God. He is not here to impress us. He is here to save us.

At the Sermon on the Mount, in the chapter preceding today’s Gospel, Jesus lays down the formula to perfect discipleship. In today’s Gospel, through the person of the Centurion, is Luke’s illustration of what Jesus had just finish teaching His disciples. The Centurion is the one who did good deeds toward his enemies; he gave to his enemies as he built from his own funds the synagogue in Capernaum. He behaved correctly whether or not this love was ever returned to him. This man not only heard the Word of God, but was Luke’s example of a man who built his house on the rock solid foundation of that Word…he sends for the Master. He hears of Jesus and acts. He is a doer and not merely a listener. This Centurion is the example of one who loves supernaturally. As Jesus told us to love without expecting anything in return, we see in this account, one who loves his slave. He loves someone who most would despise and mistreat. He loves his servant. He also loved the Nation of Israel. Normally, Roman leaders hated their slaves and mistreated them. They hated their enemies. Here, this man loves those who are his enemies. He shows us how a true disciple lives out his identity. A Roman Centurion, one who wields power, commands lives, has authority over the liberty and life of those under his charge – usually does not give a hoot about the well-being of one of his numerous, insignificant servants, whose only purpose of existence is to be used to serve his purpose and discarded when no longer useful. He usually does not hold the respect, admiration and support of those whom he lords over. He does not need to show humanity; only power and authority.

Yet this Centurion was different. The Jewish leaders were actually fond of this one and even petitioned on his behalf to Jesus to save his dying servant. The Centurion himself was respectful, kind, considerate, had a sincere love and concern for those over whom he not only had authority over, but responsibility over. He was humble, considered himself unworthy of the attention of Jesus, but had deep faith and hope in where true power really lies – Jesus, Son of God, with real authority over life itself. Before the identity of Christ – the Centurion knew where he stood… unworthy that Jesus would enter under his roof. But yet, with deep faith that His word alone, had the power over life and death.

It was not a priest, a Levite nor a Pharisee – no, it was the Good Samaritan, the Gentile, the Roman Centurion – these were the ‘unworthy’ and ‘unqualified’ God chose to show the rest of us the way of true discipleship. Those who truly know their identity and have discovered that true discipleship can only take place when you are clear of who you are a disciple of. And translating that into a living faith. When you know the Living God, your nothingness becomes that which will save you. Because only then, you become totally consumed by the grace of God. Only then, despite your unworthiness, God will say the Word that will heal you. For how can one lead others to Christ when one is himself/herself lost and astray. Only in humility and by God’s healing word and grace, can we be led on the path of true discipleship. These are the words we echo at every Eucharist – through our communion with the living presence of Jesus, is the source of our own true identity.

Jesus marveled at the Centurion. He was amazed at the faith he had. It took Jesus by surprise. Now that is something you don’t see happening every day. When was the last time you made Jesus’ jaw drop in admiration and amazement of the greatness of your faith, the authenticity of your humility and the fidelity of your discipleship? There seems to be applause in the distance for you … but does the clapping come from above or from below?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. It is easy for us to find ourselves lost along the road of our discipleship. Help us when our pride, our worries, our pain, the weight of our crosses and the deceptions of the evil one make us want to give up and to walk our own path. We do not have the wisdom, the strength and the courage – help us.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you because time and again, during our darkest moments, you send the light of your Spirit and the love of your Mother to come to lift us, to comfort us and to gently tell us to get up and to carry on. Help us walk our discipleship with victory such that when we finally enter the gates of heaven, you and all the saints will stand up and give us applause for a race well-run, a journey well-travelled. 

15 September, Sunday – The lost, the least, the last

15 Sep 2019

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Exodus 32:7-11,13-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: “I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.”’
So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

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1 Timothy 1:12-17

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, and who judged me faithful enough to call me into his service even though I used to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance; and the grace of our Lord filled me with faith and with the love that is in Christ Jesus. Here is a saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I myself am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust in him to come to eternal life. To the eternal King, the undying, invisible and only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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Luke 15:1-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” he would say “I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.

‘Or again, what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it? And then, when she had found it, call together her friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” she would say “I have found the drachma I lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’
He also said, ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.
‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.
‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”
‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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I have found my lost sheep

At the lift landing in front of the Adoration Room at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, hangs a painting. The scene is that of today’s Gospel on the Prodigal Son. Do spend a moment to look at the painting if you have the opportunity. There are some interesting subtleties weaved into it. The painting depicts shadows of the main protagonists, which essentially reveal what is truly behind the actions that are visible in the painting. The one that left a deep impression is that of the father, in his old age, ambling towards the son who has returned and is running towards his father. The shadow of the elderly father, however, shows him running at full speed, arms outstretched towards his son. It was poignant in the way it was able to convey the desperation of the father to embrace his son, of how much he missed the son, how deeply he longed for his return, how relieved from the endless years of worry at finally seeing that his son was alive and safe, how long-awaited and joyful the anticipation of finally being able to hold his son again in his arms…the son whom he thought was forever lost. But who, who in his heart, could never still worry about and hope for his return?

God our Father loves us. That we all know, kind of. My take is that most of us do not know how much He loves us. We cannot fathom this in full, because He loves us with Divine Love whilst our love is only human. That’s why His love is beyond anything we could ever experience in the limits of our frail, fallen and foolish human nature. It is the divine and incomprehensible love of our Father that makes the impossible possible for us. Because nothing is more powerful than that love which throws everything out the window to come to the rescue, so long as one of His own is in danger, hurt, wounded, broken, lost, astray, in peril of mortal danger and eternal damnation; who cries out in desperation to the Father’s love. So long as that one of His own chooses to be loved and saved by the Father, nothing, absolutely nothing, will get in the way of that saving love.

The longing of the Prodigal Father lies not in his inability to enter into the lives of His children, but in the inability of His children to turn to the saving love of the Father. We remain lost, broken, tired, frustrated, in despair, in desperation, in oppression, the least, the last, so long as we continue to choose to be so. By holding ourselves out from our Father’s love for us. Our Father is ever waiting for us to allow Him to save us, to heal us, to console us, to protect us, to provide for us, to redeem us, to comfort us, to guide and lead us, to love us. That moment comes when we finally realize we cannot save ourselves because we realize we are indeed the lost, the least and the last. But take courage, it is precisely because we have our Father’s love that the lost, the least, the last become the found, the greatest, the first. It is what He exists for. It is what He sacrificed His own Son for. It is what our faith is all about – the relationship of us loving God and God loving us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We are so clueless about the love you have for us which is immeasurable, unknowable but yet so abiding, unchanging and unchangeable. Help us to come to see and experience that love. And to be saved by that love.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for time and again, your loved has lifted us from our nothingness and our unworthiness. For all the times, in your love for us —  you allow us the privilege to be found, to matter, to be first in your heart.

31 July, Wednesday – In our nothingness, God becomes everything

Jul 31 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was wounded in the leg by a cannonball at the siege of Pampeluna on 20 May 1521, an injury that left him partially crippled for life. During his recuperation, the only books he had access to were The Golden Legend, a collection of lives of the saints, and the Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian. These books, and the time spent in contemplation, changed him.

On his recovery, he took a vow of chastity, hung his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, and donned a pilgrim’s robes. He lived in a cave for a year, contemplating the way to live a Christian life. His meditations, prayers, visions and insights led to forming the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Exodus 34:29-35
When Moses came down from the mountain of Sinai – as he came down from the mountain, Moses had the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands – he did not know that the skin on his face was radiant after speaking with the Lord. And when Aaron and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, the skin on his face shone so much that they would not venture near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron with all the leaders of the community came back to him; and he spoke to them. Then all the sons of Israel came closer, and he passed on to them all the orders that the Lord had given him on the mountain of Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever he went into the Lord’s presence to speak with him, Moses would remove the veil until he came out again. And when he came out, he would tell the sons of Israel what he had been ordered to pass on to them, and the sons of Israel would see the face of Moses radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he returned to speak with the Lord.

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Matthew 13:44-46

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.’

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treasure hidden in a field

Some of you may be familiar with this much-loved tune, ‘Colors of the Wind’, from Pocahontas – a classic, Disney-animated movie. In that song, there is a phrase I especially adore which goes like this; “ … how high can a sycamore grow? If you cut it down, then you’ll never know! ”.

In more recent times, I have grown to truly appreciate this movie for the poignancy of the message it brings – that our world today has long forgotten what it means to value people and things for what they are and not for what value they can bring and create. The ‘value’ can be in terms of both economic as well as what it can bring to our prestige, our pleasure, our power. It speaks to me, of an ear when man has become separated from his Creator and from what he is created to BE and not what he can be used for. It tells of the powerful truth that man has forgotten who God really is. That, very often in our own lives, we have forgotten who God really is. We have often heard the phrase that we cannot contain the immensity of God within the puny confines of our human intellect or emotions. I say, we have reduced God to even just a mere fraction of that. He has become really miniscule in the reality of the world we live and operate in — powerless, distant, indifferent, there for the mere purpose of serving our needs. Nothing more, nothing less.

And yet, our God seems to take particular pleasure when He gets to remind humanity just exactly who He is. His best work is done when He is busy turning this world upside down. Just when we think we finally have Him subjugated to our wills, He reminds us exactly who He is. And in salvation history, He has sent us so many reminders about exactly how His ways are, as far from us as East is to the West. He reminds us, in no uncertain terms, just who God is. And that He is very much alive and kicking, and calling the shots.

Consider these  …

  • The mustard seed of faith that is capable of moving the Himalayan Mountains;
  • The tiniest seed that grows into the tallest, strongest Sycamore tree;
  • The yeast that causes the flat dough of our lives to grow to become bread that sustains life;
  • The widow’s 2 coins that become the priceless offering in heaven’s treasury of graces;
  • The rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone upon which the foundations of our faith become unshakeable;
  • The David that brings Goliath to his knees with one, tiny little pebble;
  • The one lost sheep for which the Shepherd is prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice of His own life to find;
  • The great feast you make possible for your needy and hungry children from just 2 fishes and 5 loaves

Conventional wisdom looks down upon these. But yes, God has this habit of taking the weakest, smallest, poorest, most rejected, most unworthy, most unintelligent, most helpless and turning the world upside down with the values of the kingdom and the results of what these can become when left in the hands of the Creator. True wisdom, God’s wisdom, prevails. As it always does.

And why does He do this? To remind us that He is God. Not us. Him. That He rules sovereign over all created things of heaven and of earth. And that by His grace, and that alone, the smallest, weakest, poorest, broken and least worthy becomes almighty. Because when nothingness encounters God, then there is only God left. That He is the God of the impossible. And that He is Almighty.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us to grasp the truth of the infinite love of God for us and to abandon our self to Your will, with the confidence of a child in his loving Father who looks after His own with the utmost care. Set us free from the worries and concerns of what the future may bring so as to be able to fully experience the joy of returning God’s love.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for lifting us beyond the limitations of our human frailty, for believing in us so much more than we do in ourselves, and allowing us to become all that you have created us to be.

30 Jul, Tuesday – The Motherly Love of God

Jul 30 – Memorial for St. Peter Chrysologus, Bishop & Doctor

An adult convert, St. Peter (406-450) fought paganism and heresy, enforced reforms, and built several churches and ornate altars in his see. A preacher with outstanding language skills, he was given the name ‘Chrysologus’, referring to his ‘golden word’. 176 of his sermons have survived; it is the strength of these beautiful explanations of the Incarnation, the Creed, the place of Mary and John the Baptist in the great plan of salvation, etc., that led to his being proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1729.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Exodus 33:7-11, 34:5-9, 28

Moses used to take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. He called it the Tent of Meeting. Anyone who had to consult the Lord would go out to the Tent of Meeting, outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise. Every man would stand at the door of his tent and watch Moses until he reached the Tent; the pillar of cloud would come down and station itself at the entrance to the Tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When they saw the pillar of cloud stationed at the entrance to the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the door of his tent. The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would turn back to the camp, but the young man who was his servant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the Tent.

And the Lord descended in the form of a cloud, and Moses stood with him there.

He called on the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness; for thousands he maintains his kindness, forgives faults, transgression, sin; yet he lets nothing go unchecked, punishing the father’s fault in the sons and in the grandsons to the third and fourth generation.’ And Moses bowed down to the ground at once and worshipped. ‘If I have indeed won your favour, Lord,’ he said ‘let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.’

Moses stayed there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing. He inscribed on the tablets the words of the Covenant – the Ten Words.

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Matthew 13:36-43

Leaving the crowds, Jesus went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’

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as one speaks to a friend

Consider for a moment the first reading. Did you notice the presence of God? It is ‘unmissable’ (pardon my blatant disregard for good grammar) – the pillar of cloud. It is mind-boggling that day in and day out, the people of Israel had God literally living in a tent in their midst, visible for all to see. And on top of that, God spoke as one would speak to a friend.

Fast forward a few millennia. Most, if not all of us, have struggled to sense God’s presence at one point in our lives — how we yearn to hear Him when we are in desperate need of direction, of hope, of faith. How we long to see him when our world suddenly turns upside down with pain, insecurity, betrayal, hopelessness, terror. Where then is the pillar of cloud, the presence of God in our lives? Has it dissipated into thin air? Has our faith dissipated into thin air? Was it ever really there in the first place?

Allow me to point to the fidelity of God in our lives, through the person of His mother – the first and only perfect disciple of the Holy Trinity.

I spend a fair bit of time sitting in prayer and refection, at the open-air courtyard at Nativity Church, in front of the life-sized statue of our Lady of Grace. And as I sit there, many of her children come by each day to pray to her. Two have left a deep impression on me, on how real God and our Blessed Mother’s love has been for them. I make a caveat though — these are entirely what I see and the judgments I make on my part about them — not necessarily grounded in truth, but I believe in my heart, from my observations and reflections about them, that they are deeply grounded in faith and filled with grace from God.

The first is that of a young father with his son. The father looks like a typical ‘Ah Beng’ (local slang for gangster) – with a full body tattoo from head to toe. He struck me as one who perhaps lived a dangerous life, a reckless life. Beside him was his young son. They were kneeling in front of our Blessed Mother – the father patiently and lovingly teaching his son to pray the Rosary. It was really an odd picture – something unexpected but powerful, in the sense of surprise it gave me. It made me reflect deeply. And as I reflected, I asked myself – did something happen to help him turn over a new leaf? How was his life touched by God and our Mother which has led him to now want to build strong roots of faith in his son? Was he saved from tragedy? Or from a life which would have been perilous to his family?

The second is that of a grandmother wheeling a boy on a wheelchair to the feet of Mother Mary. The boy appeared to be suffering from severe muscular dystrophy and his body was severely contorted and deformed, his head twisted to almost right angles to his shoulder. He also appeared mentally retarded and was not able to relate normally to the grandmother’s words. The grandmother however, was the picture of perfect love, fidelity, patience, support and compassion for the boy. She was joyful, smiling and showered the boy with immense love. Her love for her grandson was self-sacrificial – his life, dignity, comfort, self-worth and well-being was all that mattered. It was a cross she knew she would need to carry for the rest of her life. But she was able to embrace that cross. With amazing joy, with amazing love.

Stares did not bother them, tragedy did not lead them to despair, darkness did not overwhelm the flicker of faith in their eyes, which were not fixed on what the world thought of them, nor their condition, nor those they loved. No,– their eyes were fixed on the saving love of their God and the unfailing love of the Mother of their God. Through the painful curve balls thrown at them by life, the learnt that they had a God whose love, care and fidelity is constant, unchanging and unchangeable. These were blessed, not by the circumstances of their lives which was fraught with suffering, but in knowing that they could no longer help themselves. They were blessed with faith which helped them know, with great certainty, that their God was very present, very real, very faithful.  A God which spoke to them in their lives, as one spoke to a friend. For these blessed ones, the pillar of cloud, which is their Almighty God, continues to be their protector, their provider, their refuge, their salvation.

In both instances, I asked myself what exactly did they have to go through in life that allows their spirit to remain so strong, their faith and fidelity and hope in God and our Blessed Mother to remain so steadfast and unwavering? What grace was it that gives them such victory despite such heavy defeats in life? My only conclusion — the only one that could make any sense whatsoever to me — Amazing Grace, Amazing Love, Amazing God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us. When our lives are so filled with pain, with fear, with angst and you seem silent and very far away, we lose our way and our courage and our hope. Bring us back, by your saving love and amazing grace to that place where you remind us that you have never left us and for us to then know we will always have a Father who is also a friend, who walks every step of life with us.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for all the times you stayed by our side when we had long abandoned you. For never giving up on us. For remaining true to us and being our friend, no matter what. Thank you for Our Mother, through whose loving arms and tender heart, you let us know the gentleness and depth with which you embrace us.

28 July, Sunday – Focus on virtue and not just on sin

28 July 2019

Our Father in Heaven

Christ has given us in very truth the power to become the children of God. Compare the timidity and self-abnegation of Abraham’s prayer with the confidence with which Christ teaches us to pray to our Father in heaven.

– Sunday Missal

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Genesis 18:20-32

The Lord said, ‘How great an outcry there is against Sodom and Gomorrah! How grievous is their sin! I propose to go down and see whether or not they have done all that is alleged in the outcry against them that has come up to me. I am determined to know.’

The men left there and went to Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Approaching him he said, ‘Are you really going to destroy the just man with the sinner? Perhaps there are fifty just men in the town. Will you really overwhelm them, will you not spare the place for the fifty just men in it? Do not think of doing such a thing: to kill the just man with the sinner, treating just and sinner alike! Do not think of it! Will the judge of the whole earth not administer justice?’ the Lord replied, ‘If at Sodom I find fifty just men in the town, I will spare the whole place because of them.’

Abraham replied, ‘I am bold indeed to speak like this to my Lord, I who am dust and ashes. But perhaps the fifty just men lack five: will you destroy the whole city for five?’ ‘No,’ he replied ‘I will not destroy it if I find forty-five just men there.’ Again Abraham said to him, ‘Perhaps there will only be forty there.’ ‘I will not do it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the forty.’

Abraham said, ‘I trust my Lord will not be angry, but give me leave to speak: perhaps there will only be thirty there.’ ‘I will not do it’ he replied ‘if I find thirty there.’ He said, ‘I am bold indeed to speak like this, but perhaps there will only be twenty there.’ ‘I will not destroy it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the twenty.’ He said, ‘I trust my Lord will not be angry if I speak once more: perhaps there will only be ten.’ ‘I will not destroy it’ he replied ‘for the sake of the ten.’

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Colossians 2:12-14

You have been buried with Christ, when you were baptised; and by baptism, too, you have been raised up with him through your belief in the power of God who raised him from the dead. You were dead, because you were sinners and had not been circumcised: he has brought you to life with him, he has forgiven us all our sins.

He has overridden the Law, and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the cross.

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Luke 11:1-13

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’

He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:

‘“Father, may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come;
give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.

And do not put us to the test.”’

He also said to them:

‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, “My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

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for the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it

A youtube video I once watched began with a boy slumped on the floor. He did not look to be in a happy state. To make things worse, a large stone suddenly struck him on the head and he started to bleed. The boy jumped up, screaming and shouting at someone whose back was turned towards him, arms outstretched, blocking out other projectiles hurling towards the boy. The boy accused him of doing a bad job of protecting him from getting hurt. “How could you let this happen to me? You must be sleeping on the job!!”

The video then went on to show that person, turning sheepishly to the boy and apologizing for letting that one stone slip through and hurting the boy. Upon closer examination, I realized that the person himself was bleeding profusely from all sorts of cuts and bruises from the myriad of stones and other flying objects that kept hitting him as he used his own body as a human shield for the boy. Then came the clincher — the human shield was Jesus. And he was sorry to the boy for not doing a ‘good enough’ job because that one stone slipped through him.

Not possible? God does not make mistakes? He is perfect after all, isn’t He? And why on earth would Jesus apologize to the boy? Are we forgetting who the creator and who the creature is here? Instead, the boy should count his blessings that Jesus himself was protecting him from all the many other projectiles that did not reach the boy. We need to ponder on how often we have been that little boy.

I would like to focus my reflection on the first reading where Abraham bargained, it seemed, with God, to spare Sodom on the count of the handful of good and faithful people found there. Abraham was certainly shrewd in his handling of the Lord; he played to the mercy and compassion of God instead of His wrath. He played to the goodness of God that would sooner look on the goodness of His children than their evil. Abraham played on the one weakness God had – His incomprehensible love for His children, which makes Him appear even weak and foolish, by giving in so much to the ungratefulness and indifference of his spoilt children.

Yet, it was once said that conversion comes not from the judgment of God, but from His mercy. That for those touched by the grace of the Holy Spirit to true repentance, deep and true conversion swiftly follows a heart grateful to have experienced the compassion, understanding, forgiveness and unconditional love of a loving Father. This is the love of a Father God that has chosen to look upon the goodness and virtues of His children, even if these exist only in the most miniscule iota of a speck in that person, than on their all-too-obvious faults and failings. It is this deep, incomprehensible love and compassion of God that the second reading points to — that which has removed and nailed our transgressions to the Cross. It is this incomprehensible love that Our Lord’s prayer calls us to follow as we learn to forgive the transgressions of others against us, as we ourselves are forgiven by our own Father.

You see, God does not look at what we truly deserve, but what He truly wants to make deserving of us as His sons and daughters. I’ve said this before in earlier sharings – our focus must NEVER be on ourselves. It must ALWAYS be upon God.

Let me end with one more twist — that it is not we who ask, seek and knock but in truth, the Father who asks, seeks and knocks on the doors of our hearts. That it is He that is the one showing great patience, persistence and hope that one day we will finally come to our senses and realize that although we really have absolutely nothing to give to God, God is waiting to give everything to us. That God helps those who help themselves is a fallacy – this phrase does not exist in the Bible. But if you can allow me to cite a wisdom once said by Fr Erbin Fernandez, “God helps those who finally realize that they can no longer help themselves”.

To finally open that door, to see that our Father is at our door – waiting to embrace us once again. That He has always been there — waiting for us to finally come to our senses.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us. We have forgotten your love for us — that you are our creator. That you are the one who has loved us since before the beginning of time. That we are your own.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for never abandoning us despite our great unworthiness and incomprehensible ingratitude towards you. Help us to grasp the truth of the infinite love you have for us and to experience your love with the confidence of a child in his loving Father, who looks after His own with the utmost care. And to then be able to fully experience the joy of returning your love to you.

5 June, Wednesday – Defend our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church

5 June – Memorial for St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

Educated at the Benedictine monastary at Exeter, England where he became a monk, Boniface (c.673–754) was a missionary to Germany from 719, assisted by St. Albinus, St. Abel, and St. Agatha. They destroyed idols and pagan temples, and then built churches on the sites.

He was ordained a bishop and later became Archbishop of Mainz. He reformed the churches in his see, and built religious houses in Germany. He ordained St. Sola. He founded the dioceses of Bavaria, Thuringia, and Franconia. He evangelized in Holland, but was set upon by a troop of pagans and he and 52 of his new flock, including St. Adaler and St. Eoban were martyred.

Once in Saxony, Boniface encountered a tribe worshipping a Norse deity in the form of a huge oak tree. Boniface walked up to the tree, removed his shirt, took up an axe, and without a word he hacked down the six-foot wide wooden god. Boniface stood on the trunk, and asked, “How stands your mighty god? My God is stronger than he.” The crowd’s reaction was mixed, but some conversions were begun.

One tradition about St. Boniface says that he used the customs of the locals to help convert them. There was a game in which they threw sticks called kegels at smaller sticks called heides. Boniface brought religion to the game, having the heides represent demons, and knocking them down showing the purity of spirit.

He is the patron of many groups, including World Youth Day.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 20:28-38

Paul addressed these words to the elders of the church of Ephesus:

‘Be on your guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you the overseers, to feed the Church of God which he bought with his own blood. I know quite well that when I have gone fierce wolves will invade you and will have no mercy on the flock. Even from your own ranks there will be men coming forward with a travesty of the truth on their lips to induce the disciples to follow them. So be on your guard, remembering how night and day for three years I never failed to keep you right, shedding tears over each one of you. And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace that has power to build you up and to give you your inheritance among all the sanctified.
‘I have never asked anyone for money or clothes; you know for yourselves that the work I did earned enough to meet my needs and those of my companions. I did this to show you that this is how we must exert ourselves to support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself said, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.”’
 
When he had finished speaking he knelt down with them all and prayed. By now they were all in tears; they put their arms round Paul’s neck and kissed him; what saddened them most was his saying they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship.
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John 17:11-19
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:

‘Holy Father,
keep those you have given me true to your name,
so that they may be one like us.
While I was with them,
I kept those you had given me true to your name.
I have watched over them
and not one is lost
except the one who chose to be lost,
and this was to fulfil the scriptures.
But now I am coming to you
and while still in the world I say these things
to share my joy with them to the full.
I passed your word on to them,
and the world hated them,
because they belong to the world
no more than I belong to the world.
I am not asking you to remove them from the world,
but to protect them from the evil one.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
Consecrate them in the truth;
your word is truth.
As you sent me into the world,
I have sent them into the world,
and for their sake I consecrate myself
so that they too may be consecrated in truth.’
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Men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them. So be vigilant

In this sharing, I want to address the issue of unity from the institutional level as well as at the level of one’s personal faith in God and the Church.

Allow me to begin my reflection on the theme of unity with this saying — “We may have all come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now.” I once watched a documentary about Martin Luther, the so-called founder of the Reformation movement which gave birth to Protestantism. In the video, someone commented that, had Martin Luther attempted to reform the then decadent and corrupt Catholic Church at the time from within the establishment, he would have been one of the greatest saints that ever lived. Much like St Francis of Assisi, who faced similar challenges in his time, but managed to bring about tremendous changes to the Church by working with the Holy Spirit to reform and transform the church from within it. Unfortunately for Martin Luther, he missed his chance at sainthood.

Both were devout, committed Catholic monks who loved Christ and the Church deeply. Both were appalled at the systemic decay and corruption within the Church which had become greedy, prideful, self-edifying, sinful and very far away from embodying Christian virtue and morality. Both felt compelled to stand against the corruptions, excesses and vain-glory, for the deep moral decay that had taken root in their beloved Church. However, the actions of one led to great healing, renewal and transformation of the Catholic Church, the other led to a deep schism and split which till today, continues to lead countless millions of souls away from the true path of the one true, Christian, Catholic church. It seems from the very early days of Christianity, the Apostles could already foresee that unity was going to be a great battle and danger to the flock.

It used to be that I was very ‘apologetic’ whenever I met a strong Protestant due to my dismal knowledge of scripture. Whilst my scripture knowledge is still nothing to rave about, I have come to learn that the Catholic faith is founded on much deeper roots than only the word of God, important as that is. In more recent times. I have learnt to stand on the side of the Apologists of the Catholic Church – those who stand up and defend the doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic faith. Disputes about Sola Fide, about the authority of the Papacy and the Magisterium, the legitimacy of sacred rites and traditions, the ‘worship’ of Mary and the Saints being amongst the most fundamental. Men have chosen to distort truth – at times out of a genuine sense of misguided understanding of truth, to downright manipulation of faith to serve one’s own selfish and worldly interests.

At the end of the day, the Catholic Church is founded by Christ and not men. In the fallibility of the human men who lead the Church, lies the infallibility of Christ and the Holy Spirit that continues to be the true force that moves, creates, directs … and yes, at times even corrects and redeems the Church. For those of you who may be harbouring doubts about the Catholic faith as the one true holy, apostolic, evangelical and missionary church, I urge you strongly – do your research. Come to the truth and recognize the treasure we have been given. Defend the unity of true Christianity and bring the lost back to Catholicism. Only a fool is soon parted from his money … or in this case, the treasure, which is the Catholic faith itself.

Let me close with offering one other facet of unity – that of the Christian’s union with Christ. There is no better example of this than our Blessed Mother. From the moment of the Annunciation, Mary became one with the will of God and with His Son. Despite all the immense challenges, even life-threatening ones such as being pregnant before marriage in Jewish society, Mary never wavered from her fidelity to God and Jesus. At the darkest hour of human history, at the foot of the cross stood Mary…silent. She did not cry foul murder against the Romans, nor for revenge against the bloodthirsty injustices of the Pharisees, nor divine retribution against the infidelity of the cowardly apostles. She simply stayed united to her Son. She chose the harder path – to stay united to her Son, come what may. Mary stayed as one with Jesus and with His mission to fulfill the will of the Father; that is true Christian unity – the union of a Christian disciple to her God. Come what may.

This was the unity of the Catholic faith long before the Reformation ever came to be and long after that disunity ceased to exist. Defend your faith. Stand up for it. Either you are with it or you are against it. Choose.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We pray for the Holy Catholic Church, which was given to us by your Son through St Peter and his successors. Bless, protect, empower and guide her always. Deliver her from her enemies, from all heresies. Heal the wounds of division and for the damage done to her through the evil one and his false prophets and wolves in lamb clothing. Save and redeem the lost and those who have been led astray. 

Thanksgiving: Father, help us to stay faithful to the one true holy Catholic Church. Help us be truly grateful for so precious a gift of our Church, which embodies and protects the precious gift of our faith and the true presence of Your Son in the Holy Eucharist. Thank you for all the martyrs and saints it has given us through the millenniums. Mary, Mother of the Catholic Church. Pray for her.

4 June, Tuesday – True discipleship does not come cheap

4 Jun 2019

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Acts 20:17-27

From Miletus Paul sent for the elders of the church of Ephesus. When they arrived he addressed these words to them: ‘You know what my way of life has been ever since the first day I set foot among you in Asia, how I have served the Lord in all humility, with all the sorrows and trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I have not hesitated to do anything that would be helpful to you; I have preached to you, and instructed you both in public and in your homes, urging both Jews and Greeks to turn to God and to believe in our Lord Jesus. ‘And now you see me a prisoner already in spirit; I am on my way to Jerusalem, but have no idea what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit, in town after town, has made it clear enough that imprisonment and persecution await me. But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace. ‘I now feel sure that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will ever see my face again. And so here and now I swear that my conscience is clear as far as all of you are concerned, for I have without faltering put before you the whole of God’s purpose.’

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John 17:1-11

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:

‘Father, the hour has come:
glorify your Son
so that your Son may glorify you;
and, through the power over all mankind that you have given him,
let him give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to him.
And eternal life is this:
to know you,
the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
I have glorified you on earth
and finished the work that you gave me to do.
Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me
with that glory I had with you
before ever the world was.
I have made your name known
to the men you took from the world to give me.
They were yours and you gave them to me,
and they have kept your word.
Now at last they know
that all you have given me comes indeed from you;
for I have given them the teaching you gave to me,
and they have truly accepted this, that I came from you,
and have believed that it was you who sent me.
I pray for them;
I am not praying for the world
but for those you have given me,
because they belong to you:
all I have is yours
and all you have is mine,
and in them I am glorified.
I am not in the world any longer,
but they are in the world,
and I am coming to you.’
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For I did not shrink from declaring to you, the whole purpose of God

When Christ hung on the cross at Calvary, He seemed a broken man. He was. Not a glorious victorious God of all creation but simply a broken man, forsaken by practically all his ‘followers’. Except for John, none of the other disciples were anywhere to be found. Not even Peter, who already gone through one round of betrayal of Jesus by his earlier denial, for which he clearly repented. Yet, again, at the foot of the cross, he was still very much the coward. Only a handful of weeping women (considered nobodies in traditional Jewish society) and one pathetic disciple, who at least had the guts to show up. The Devil, the Pharisees, the Sanhedrin and Pilate…they had a lot to celebrate that day. It was utter and total victory – their plan came to perfection. For a short while anyway.

3 days later, all that changed. And with Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus truly came into existence. God was ready to get His work done and kingdom-building could finally start in earnest. It took nothing less than the full power of the Holy Spirit to literally transform a bunch of inept, dispirited and broken cowards into the spiritual powerhouse that would rock the pagan world of the time and give birth to the true splendour, power and glory of the Christian God.

And yet, the foundation of the Catholic Church did not come easy. It literally took the blood and tears of the founding apostles and 300 years of courage, sacrifice and blood of martyrs to lay its foundations. The founding fathers of our faith paid a heavy price. Discipleship did not come cheap back then. It still does not come cheap today.

Amongst the apostles, Paul, above all others, best exemplified what true discipleship was all about. Paul was not only focused on his mission – he was practically fixated and totally single-minded. Pain, abuse, imprisonment, sleeplessness, starvation, slavery, floggings, whippings, stoning, cold, heat, fatigue, poverty, deprivation…the list goes on. All in a day’s work for him. Standard price of a ticket on the bus of true discipleship. And he was to pay that price over and over and over again. He had served the Lord faithfully with tears and trials. He had given testimony and witness to Jews and Gentiles. Paul showed that being a follower of Jesus involves both total commitment in trust to God and a re-ordering of one’s life in accordance with the Gospel. Despite the pleas of his followers not to go to Jerusalem as it meant signing his own death warrant, he described himself as being a “prisoner of the spirit” – the Spirit drove and compelled him forward. He knew what was waiting for him in Jerusalem. But it didn’t matter. The mission was the only thing that mattered. His life was not important to him. What was important was “that I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, namely, to bear witness to the gospel of God’s grace”.  As he tells the Philippians, compared to the sharing of the Gospel with others, life and death are secondary.

And although Paul was a great exemplar of such amazing discipleship, he was not unique. All the apostles, bar none, were on fire with the Holy Spirit. And the ancient world was set on fire by the spirit of Jesus Christ through these apostles. We owe our faith today to men such as these. And to countless others who paid dearly the price of true discipleship. Men and women who persevered in fidelity not just to God, but to the purpose and mission entrusted to them by Him. Men and women who understood that the price of discipleship did not come cheap but who were blessed to have discovered through divine revelation, that their God came with only one price tag – Priceless.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We fail to see the treasure we have in you and in the precious faith you have given us. We fail to recognize that the mission you entrust to us is for us alone to fulfill and that you are counting on us to do it. So often, we count the price of our discipleship to you and so often, our discipleship of you costs little. Our discipleship comes cheap. More often than not, it is practically worthless.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the gift of the apostles who laid the foundations upon which our faith and our Church stands strong. Despite all the huge challenges it faces, we cling to the promise that it continues and will always continue to prevail. For it is a faith paid for dearly by the sacrifice of your most beloved Son and the priceless fidelity of your true disciples.

3 Jun, Monday – Faith sees the God who can handle the problem

3 Jun – Memorial for St. Charles Lwanga & companions, martyrs

One of 22 Ugandan martyrs, St. Charles Lwanga is the patron of youth and Catholic action in most of tropical Africa. He protected his fellow pages aged 13 to 30 from the homosexual demands of the Bagandan ruler, Mwanga, and encouraged and instructed them in the Catholic faith during their imprisonment for refusing the ruler’s demands.

For his own unwillingness to submit to the immoral acts and his efforts to safeguard the faith of his friends, Charles was burned to death at in 1886, by Mwanga’s order. When Pope Paul VI canonized these 22 martyrs in 1964, he referred to the Anglican pages martyred for the same reason.

http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintOfDay/default.asp?id=1403

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Acts 19:1-8

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul made his way overland as far as Ephesus, where he found a number of disciples. When he asked, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ they answered, ‘No, we were never even told there was such a thing as a Holy Spirit.’ ‘Then how were you baptised?’ he asked. ‘With John’s baptism’ they replied. ‘John’s baptism’ said Paul ‘was a baptism of repentance; but he insisted that the people should believe in the one who was to come after him-in other words Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus, and the moment Paul had laid hands on them the Holy Spirit came down on them, and they began to speak with tongues and to prophesy. There were about twelve of these men.

He began by going to the synagogue, where he spoke out boldly and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. He did this for three months.

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John 16:29-33

His disciples said to Jesus, ‘Now you are speaking plainly and not using metaphors! Now we see that you know everything, and do not have to wait for questions to be put into words; because of this we believe that you came from God.’ Jesus answered them:

‘Do you believe at last?
Listen; the time will come – in fact it has come already –
when you will be scattered,
each going his own way and leaving me alone.
And yet I am not alone,
because the Father is with me.
I have told you all this
so that you may find peace in me.
In the world you will have trouble,
but be brave: I have conquered the world.’
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But take courage, I have conquered the world 

An evangelical protestant pastor once shared in one of her videos on Youtube that as each new day dawns, she would always get all fired up and eager to face the day. She would look forward to doing great things for the Lord and for humanity that day — to bring many to the Lord and all other sorts of good works, and be a blessing to everyone. But her punchline was that the minute she actually stepped out of bed and her feet touched the floor, all her courage and enthusiasm went out the window as reality hit her in the face.

That story provided more just than just a smile to me – it was actually quite a sobering thought. It brought home to me how frightening this world we live in can be. I have to confess…it takes a lot for me to find strength and courage to go out into the world each day. I need a long period of prayer and receiving the Eucharist each morning in order to find strength to face the day. I am conscious, perhaps overly so, that we live in the ‘valley of tears’. That evil is ever present and ever dominant in the people and circumstances we meet each day. That we live in a very broken and wounded world where sin, injustice, indifference, selfishness, the pressure to perform, where the weight of duty and responsibility towards our loved ones and towards God, can make life frightening and burdensome. The weight of the cross can be crushingly heavy. And then there is also the weight of the guilt we carry. More often than not, I am a huge part of all that evil and sin and have myself caused the deepest hurts and wounds to my own loved ones and others around me.

Pardon me if all this sounds somewhat depressing and pessimistic. I am only too conscious how weak my faith really is. Indeed, there are days when we really don’t want to get out of bed and go ‘out there’. I have come to accept that evil, suffering and strife are real and a part of our daily reality. The Bible has reminded us often to expect this.

However, I have also come to accept that this does not in any way mean that God is subservient to this evil and that He is powerless in our lives. Indeed not. In fact, I prepare to do battle every day. Not to sound overly dramatic, but to me the need for ‘daily martyrdom’ is very real.  This means, each day, we learn to die to self and to lean on Jesus and His Blessed Mother to take us through each day ‘safely’. But as Christians, we confront each day with hope, surrender and trust. In Revelations, through our Resurrected Saviour, we are already guaranteed final victory. It reminds us what today’s reading has pointed out — that our God has already conquered not only death, but He has conquered this sinful world.

Christ’s conquest over this world means this:

  • That we learn to lean not on ourselves but on Him
  • That we do not let the spirit of this world oppress us into submission to fear, anger, lust, pride, selfishness, self-sufficiency, injustice and anything else that does not come from the Holy Spirit
  • That we allow the Holy Spirit to take lordship over our feelings and thoughts so that the devil cannot manipulate, deceive and frighten us but learn to trust God’s love and care for us and our loved ones by faith
  • Cling on to God, to faith, to our Blessed Mother and to the Catholic Church even if by your fingernails.

We need to learn, often painfully and very slowly, to shift our focus away from this world and all its problems, pressures and brokenness towards the one who has the power to handle all these things. To allow Christ’s victory over our lives is to say to the devil, “I don’t have the answers to all these problems, obstacles and discouragements you have placed in my path, but I do know the ONE who has all the answers. I am weak, sinful and unworthy but Jesus is almighty, sinless and worthy. And in Him, I too will conquer”.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father, help us. This earthly journey often takes us through a valley of tears. There are many big things looming out there that frighten and discourage us. The people around us are difficult, selfish, demanding, unforgiving. Every day is a battle to cling on. And many of us are bone weary. Help us Jesus. Help us, Mother Mary.

Thanksgiving: Father, help us always remember that you are God and we are mere creatures. Thank you for the gift of hope and for binding all the wounds that this sinful world has inflicted on us. For each day that you have led us through and kept us safe, you have done so out of the immensity of your love and care for us. Thank you for giving us your Son and Our Blessed Mother to show us the way to rise above this world and to conquer it.

2 June, Sunday – Will you be ready?

2 June 2019

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Acts 7:55-60

Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and said aloud, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’; and with these words he fell asleep.

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Apocalypse 22:12-14,16-17,20

I, John, heard a voice speaking to me: ‘Very soon now, I shall be with you again, bringing the reward to be given to every man according to what he deserves. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Happy are those who will have washed their robes clean, so that they will have the right to feed on the tree of life and can come through the gates into the city.’

I, Jesus, have sent my angel to make these revelations to you for the sake of the churches. I am of David’s line, the root of David and the bright star of the morning.

The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come.’ Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.

The one who guarantees these revelations repeats his promise: I shall indeed be with you soon. Amen; come, Lord Jesus.

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John 17:20-26

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:

‘Holy Father,
I pray not only for these,
but for those also
who through their words will believe in me.
May they all be one.
Father, may they be one in us,
as you are in me and I am in you,
so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.
I have given them the glory you gave to me,
that they may be one as we are one.
With me in them and you in me,
may they be so completely one
that the world will realise that it was you who sent me
and that I have loved them as much as you loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me
to be with me where I am,
so that they may always see the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Father, Righteous One,
the world has not known you,
but I have known you,
and these have known that you have sent me.
I have made your name known to them
and will continue to make it known,
so that the love with which you loved me may be in them,
and so that I may be in them.’
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Behold, I am coming soon

At the Feast of the Ascension, when Jesus rose heavenward, the apostles were literally dumbfounded. If we take a moment to visualize the scene, it can be awe-inspiring and yet perhaps a little humorous when we see the reaction of the apostles. Their jaws must have literally dropped. To be fair, if it were me, I don’t think I would have fared differently. At that scene in Acts 1: 10-11 “… two men in white robes suddenly appeared asking the disciples,  “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

In the drama of the Ascension, we may inadvertently think that it’s all about Jesus returning to the Father and it may be easy to miss the more poignant, salvific event — that the Lord will one day return. It is the Second Coming of Christ that we need to be vigilant about. The Second Coming of Christ will signal the end times, the final judgement, the final battle between evil and good, death and resurrection. It will also be the time when the victory of Christ will be final and complete. There will be that historic end-time event or when Christ comes to us at the end of our own personal journey. Regardless when, whether it be to all of humanity or just to us at our own appointed end time, it will come.

The reaction of those around Stephen at his martyrdom also tells a lot about how unprepared many, if not most of us, would be when Christ comes again. How many of us would similarly ‘cover our ears’ when discipleship gets too demanding, or truth gets too inconvenient or God’s will gets in the way of our own?  Saul was present at the stoning of Stephen. It took an equally dramatic event for Saul’s own conversion to occur when on the road to Damascus. That conversion was also part of the salvific plan of God for Paul, who then went on to become one of the, if not, the greatest instrument of evangelization by which God calls His people to know Him, to love Him and to be ready for the day of reckoning when we will all, bar none, come face to face with Him.

Are we ready now? If not, will we be ready? If not, when will we want to be ready? Will we be able to respond as the Psalmist did to Christ when he said, “Yes, I am coming soon”. Can we too say, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus. I am ready!”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. Keep us focused on what is truly important – your will that we all become One as you are one with the Father. How often we fail to know the truth of our oneness with God for we are often lost in the midst of our divisions, our sin and indifference to the eternal truth that we are your children created by You, to be one with you.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for never giving up on us. For you hold on to your oneness with us despite our failure to hold on to our oneness with you. Prepare us for when your Son returns and help us to be ready to say, Come Lord Jesus, we are ready. We are one.