Tag Archives: Justus Teo

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.

 

 

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.