Tag Archives: Leonard Koh

15 October, Tuesday – The Francis Stain-Removal System®

Oct 15 – Memorial for St. Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor

Also known as Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Jesus (1515–1582) was born to the Spanish nobility, the daughter of Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and Dona Beatriz. She grew up reading the lives of the saints, and playing at ‘hermit’ in the garden.

Crippled by disease in her youth, which led to her being well-educated at home, she was cured after prayer to St. Joseph. Her mother died when she was 12, and Teresa prayed to Our Lady to be her replacement. Her father opposed her entry into religious life, so she left home without telling anyone, and entered a Carmelite house at 17. Seeing her conviction to her call, her father and family consented.

Soon after taking her vows, Teresa became gravely ill, and her condition was aggravated by the inadequate medical help she received; she never fully recovered her health. She began receiving visions and was examined by Dominicans and Jesuits, including St. Francis Borgia, who pronounced her visions to be holy and true.

She considered her original house too lax in its rule, so she founded a reformed convent of St. John of Avila. She founded several houses, often against fierce opposition from local authorities. She was a mystical writer, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church on 27 September 1970 by Pope Paul VI. She is known for ‘holy wit’.

“God, deliver me from sullen saints.” – St. Teresa of Avila

  • Patron Saint Index

____________________

Romans 1:16-25

I am not ashamed of the Good News: it is the power of God saving all who have faith – Jews first, but Greeks as well – since this is what reveals the justice of God to us: it shows how faith leads to faith, or as scripture says: The upright man finds life through faith.

The anger of God is being revealed from heaven against all the impiety and depravity of men who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity – however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made. That is why such people are without excuse: they knew God and yet refused to honour him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds and reptiles. That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyments and the practices with which they dishonour their own bodies, since they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshipped and served creatures instead of the creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen!

___________________

Luke 11:37-41

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at the table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.’

____________________

Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you

I admit — I am not the most delicate of eaters. I tend to rush my meals because of an irrational fear that someone in a bear suit will appear out of nowhere, grab my lunch and run away leaving me hungry. Thus my on-going therapy, and the unnecessary gobbling down of my meals, all of which results in me habitually leaving unfortunate food stains on my shirt. (Ewww!)

Some time ago, while praying through the Office of Readings, I came across something interesting St. Francis of Assisi wrote. He said, “Give alms because they purify our souls from the stain of sin.” I found the expression ‘stain of sin’ to be provoking. Obviously, St. Francis did not mean that forgiveness of sin is earned by doing good works such as almsgiving. Forgiveness comes through grace by the cross, made accessible by the sacrament of reconciliation. However, the ‘stain’ that is left by the sin is another matter.

What are stains? Well, a stain is basically a discoloration that can be seen in contrast to the surface it is on. Stains are caused by a physical or chemical interaction between two dissimilar materials, or in my case, dropping the overly-oily pork belly on my clean white shirt. Despite my frantic removal of the pork belly, a stain ensues, a mark is left — damming evidence of my general motor-skills and paranoia towards imaginary pouncing sports mascots.

I find that to be true in my spiritual life. Sins that I have committed leave stains, a lingering after-effect. The effects of sin are not confined to a singular event; they leave impressions on our souls in ways that leaves us susceptible to future temptations. There seems to be a spiritual-chemical reaction that leaves a discoloration on our moral fabric. Most of the time, even having removed the pork belly of sin through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I find myself returning back to my old patterns. Even though the sin and the guilt of sin is removed, there is often still a lingering blemish on my soul.

Enter the Francis Stain-Removal System® — Alms-giving. The good Saint Francis advises sinners like myself to rub a little almsgiving on the stain of sin and letting it sit overnight before washing.

Why? What is it about the practice of Almsgiving that dissolves the stains of sin? There are at least 4 reasons I discern:

  1. Almsgiving strikes at the root of most sins — self-centeredness.
  2. Almsgiving helps turn our eyes and align our hearts to what is important to God’s heart — the poor.
  3. Almsgiving helps us to appreciate what we have received from God and so share with others out of gratitude.
  4. Almsgiving opens our hearts to experience the fulfilling joy that comes from generosity, at the expanse of the fleeting happiness that comes from sin as well as our selfishness that leaves us empty.

Essentially what Almsgiving does, if done sincerely, is to incline our wills to love — loving God, loving others and loving ourselves. Generosity, spiritual poverty, fulfilling joy and gratefulness are all very effective solvents on our moral fabric and strengthens our conscience against sin by inclining it towards good. The outward act of Almsgiving strengthens our inner will to choose good over evil, generosity over selfishness, others over ourselves, joy over emptiness. This removes the stain of sin and helps restore the true hues of our souls, made in the image of God.

So the next time you face temptations or have given in to it, take the advice of the guy wearing the hooded brown lab coat and rub some Almsgiving on the stain of sin. And please, do yourself a favor and keep your pork on your fork.

(Today’s Oxygen by Leonard Koh)

Prayer:  Lord, incline my heart and strengthen my will to choose love over selfishness. May my practice of meeting the needs of the poor align my heart with yours.

Thanksgiving:  That my victory against sin comes from my confidence in the superior happiness in what You promise to be for me in Christ.

20 August, Tuesday – Wrong Place, Right Time

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

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

_____________

Judges 6:11-24

The angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth at Ophrah which belonged to Joash of Abiezer. Gideon his son was threshing wheat inside the winepress to keep it hidden from Midian, when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘The Lord is with you, valiant warrior!’ Gideon answered him, ‘Forgive me, my lord, but if the Lord is with us, then why is it that all this is happening to us now? And where are all the wonders our ancestors tell us of when they say, “Did not the Lord bring us out of Egypt?” But now the Lord has deserted us; he has abandoned us to Midian.’

At this the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength now upholding you, and you will rescue Israel from the power of Midian. Do I not send you myself?’ Gideon answered him, ‘Forgive me, my lord, but how can I deliver Israel? My clan, you must know, is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least important in my family.’ the Lord answered him, ‘I will be with you and you shall crush Midian as though it were a single man.’ Gideon said to him, ‘If I have found favour in your sight, give me a sign that it is you who speak to me. I beg you, do not go away until I come back. I will bring you my offering and set it down before you.’ And he answered, ‘I will stay until you return.’

Gideon went away and prepared a young goat and made unleavened cakes with an ephah of flour. He put the meat into a basket and the broth into a pot, then brought it all to him under the terebinth. As he came near, the angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Take the meat and unleavened cakes, put them on this rock and pour the broth over them.’ Gideon did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff in his hand and touched the meat and unleavened cakes. Fire sprang from the rock and consumed the meat and unleavened cakes, and the angel of the Lord vanished before his eyes. Then Gideon knew this was the angel of the Lord, and he said, ‘Alas, my Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!’ the Lord answered him, ‘Peace be with you; have no fear; you will not die.’ Gideon built an altar there to the Lord and called it The-Lord-is-Peace.

______________

Matthew 19:23-30

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you solemnly, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Yes, I tell you again, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ When the disciples heard this they were astonished. ‘Who can be saved, then?’ they said. Jesus gazed at them. ‘For men’ he told them ‘this is impossible; for God everything is possible.’

Then Peter spoke. ‘What about us?’ he said to him ‘We have left everything and followed you. What are we to have, then?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you solemnly, when all is made new and the Son of Man sits on his throne of glory, you will yourselves sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will be repaid a hundred times over, and also inherit eternal life.

‘Many who are first will be last, and the last, first.’

______________

…Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Israel had endured seven years of Midianite oppression. Arriving from the east on hordes of camels, these invaders would terrorize the Israelites, destroy villages, ravage crops and steal livestock wherever they went. Their constant invasions left the Hebrew people impoverished, starved and driven to hiding. It was against this backdrop that we find Gideon, son of Joash, ‘threshing wheat at the bottom of a winepress to hide the grain from the Midianites.’

A keen observer might find it odd that Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress. Wheat was usually threshed on a threshing floor. Threshing is the process of separating the grain from their husks by flipping, or ‘winnowing’ the wheat into the air for the wind to blow away the lighter chaff. As such, threshing floors were usually large flat rocks located on windier elevated grounds outside of the village.

A winepress, on the other hand, refers to a vat or pit dug into a vineyard for the purposes of pressing grapes to produce wine. Which begs the question, what on earth was Gideon doing threshing wheat in a wine press?

The answer is quite simple. Threshing wheat at the threshing floor would be more appropriate, but would leave Gideon dangerously exposed to an attack. A wine press, however, offered a more concealed location. So even though Gideon was not in the most ideal location, he knew he had to do something to keep his family from starving. Gideon did not wait for circumstances to be perfect. He needed to accomplish something for the good of others and was willing to make the best with what he had. Even if it meant breaking with convention and acting outside the norm.

Perhaps it was this ‘whatever-it-takes’ attitude that drew God to choose Gideon as Israel’s deliverer. An unlikely candidate by his own estimate, upon hearing the call to lead God’s people, Gideon promptly reminded the angel that he was the least important person in an undistinguished family, that came from the weakest clan in Israel. By conventional standards, Gideon was no hero material, with no pedigree and certainly not the right person for the job. But as Gideon’s own actions demonstrated, one need not have circumstances to be perfect before something can be accomplished. In the gospel, John the Baptist also thought himself to be unqualified to baptize Jesus. But there are times when the willingness to do what you are not qualified to do is what qualifies you.

God is not looking for perfect people to do his will. What God is looking for are those who would say ‘yes’ to God’s call, and are willing to become different from what they were at the moment of the calling. As he entrusted himself to the mighty hands of God, Gideon the farmer would become the mighty man of valor that the angel declared him to be.

We too are challenged to stop making excuses and stop procrastinating in the things God has called us to do. To not let desire for perfection keep us from making earnest attempts. That we would use the resources we have to do what God has called us to, even if the resources are not ideal. If we waited till we have all our ducks in a row, we might have to wait forever. There will always be challenges, doubts, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. Do what we can do and God will meet us along the way. After all, even though Gideon was at the ‘wrong place’, he was certainly at the right time in God’s eyes.

(Today’s Oxygen by Leonard Koh)

Prayer:  Lord, You have called me to __________________ . Teach me to trust in You and have the courage to follow what I know to be right. Only let me know that You are with me. 

Thanksgiving:  I take heart that if Gideon could thresh wheat in a winepress, perhaps God can use me even in my mess.  

16 June, Sunday – Why the Trinity Matters

16 June 2019 – Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is the first Sunday after Pentecost in the Western Christian liturgical calendar, and the Sunday of Pentecost in Eastern Christianity. Trinity Sunday celebrates the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the three Persons of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

  • Wikipedia

__________________

Proverbs 8:22-31

The Wisdom of God cries aloud:

The Lord created me when his purpose first unfolded,
  before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
  from the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
  there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
  before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside,
  or the first grains of the world’s dust.
When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
  when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
  when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
 – and the waters will not invade the shore –
  when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
  delighting him day after day,
  ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in his world,
  delighting to be with the sons of men.

_____________________

Romans 5:1-5

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory. But that is not all we can boast about; we can boast about our sufferings. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.

________________

John 16:12-15

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I still have many things to say to you
but they would be too much for you now.
But when the Spirit of truth comes
he will lead you to the complete truth,
since he will not be speaking as from himself
but will say only what he has learnt;
and he will tell you of the things to come.
He will glorify me,
since all he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
Everything the Father has is mine;
that is why I said:
All he tells you
will be taken from what is mine.
__________________

But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth

Ah, the Holy Trinity. Eggs, shamrocks, fruits, states of matter (liquid, solid & gas), mathematical diagrams, and even the sun itself have been recruited through the centuries by theologians and catechists to illustrate the puzzling concept of a Triune God. How can one God be three persons and how can three persons be still…one God?

Christianity’s insistence on basing its concept of God’s nature on this mathematical impossibility (1+1+1=1?) in the face of puzzled intellectuals and bewildered nine-year olds alike, is often answered with slightly embarrassed, if not empathic nods followed by the use of one, if not all of the above available analogies in an attempt to shed some light. This popular catechism of the Trinity almost always concludes with the phrase, “but God is mystery” said in piously hushed tones and a sagely wrap-up that “we are simply not meant to know such things.”

Thus, most of us grow up accepting the Trinity as a weird curiosity, a particular quirk of our faith best less spoken of to avoid embarrassment, awkward contradictions and of course, the ever-looming specter of heresy. We treat the Trinity in the same way we treat quantum mechanics, probably true but best left to the experts. You can probably imagine my trepidation when I found out I was being assigned this Oxygen entry.

What is my approach? Rather than talk about how one God can be three persons, I want to contemplate on why a God who is three Persons matters. What difference does it make to our faith and, even more fundamentally, of reality itself, since we believe that everything was created by this God.

To do this, it is necessary to briefly consider the alternative monotheistic option, namely: the single-person God. This concept of a single-person deity is at the heart of all of the major monotheistic world religions, except one — Christianity. However, it is not difficult to conceive that a single-person God would function in a completely different way from the Father, Son and Spirit. The reason why I make this contrast is because while we Christians profess a God of a triune nature, much of our assumptions of how this God acts largely remains single-personed. But if God were a single-person god then God will look and act exactly like the single-person gods of the other faiths. In other words, not being as God is, God will not act as God does.

Let us consider creation. If God is a singular person being and for eternity has been that way, we can infer that that is clearly the preferable state of affairs. Why would a God who is entirely satisfied by himself and has neither known any relationship, or what it is like to love another, find it in his nature to cause anything else to exist? (If the answer is that God was lonely or bored than it would imply that God created out of a sense of lack in Godself. If God needed to create in order to feel complete then God will cease to be god since such a god will not be self-sufficient.)

A Triune God on the other hand, would create the world and would do so not out of any sense of lack of love but as an overflow of love from within his very nature. In John 17:24, Jesus said, “Father, you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Before the universe was created, God for unimaginable eternity had existed as a divine community of one undivided essence but in three distinct Persons. The Father loves and delights in the Son infinitely. The Son loved by the Father reciprocates with the same love of the Father. Their mutual love meets and breathes forth an uncreated subsistence who is the third person of the Trinity.

Thus, the Holy Spirit is described in the Nicene creed as the One “who proceeds from the Father and the Son,” as their bond of union. It is not a coincidence that at the Baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, in the appearance of a dove, appears at the exact moment the Father proclaims, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) At the Father’s affirmation of His love for Jesus, the Holy Spirit as the personification of that love comes upon him. We see a snapshot of the inner life of the Trinity that has been going on for all eternity expressed in that single moment in time and space.

Why does it matter that God is Trinity? There are at least three implications of this to our lives.

  1. God is love. The Trinity tells us that being loving is not something that God does; it is who God is. The Doctrine of the Trinity destroys any unworthy ideas of God’s love. God is not lonely or bored. The Trinity tells us that God’s very nature is a love relationship of mutual delight, a reality that existed eternally even before creation came to be. Love is the beginning and end of all God’s actions.
  2. Creation is an outflow of God’s love. Creation is not something necessary for God to do, but it is very characteristic for a Triune God. We almost hear the delight of God in the act of creation in the first reading (Pro 8:22-31). The Father delights so much in the Son that He desires to have that love overflow to many other sons and daughters – that the Son “might be the firstborn of many brothers” (Romans 8:29) True love always desires to love people more and to love more people. Therefore, the God who is eternally loving creates, so that God may have many others that He might love. People like you and me. 
  1. The Love of God is poured into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit — Rm 5:5 Interestingly, nowhere in scripture is mentioned the love of the Son for the Spirit, the Spirit’s love for the Father or the love of the Spirit for mankind. Instead, the bible only speaks of the Father’s love for the Son, the Son’s love for the Father as well as the Father’s and Son’s love for humanity. The implication is that the Holy Spirit is not just the agent who ‘applies’ God’s love to believers but that the Spirit Himself is the very love of the Father and the Son poured into our hearts! That is why when we receive the Holy Spirit, we experience a greater love for Jesus because we love with the love of His Father, and we love our Heavenly Father more because the same love Jesus has for His Father is in us. Thus, our communion with God (and with each other) consists of partaking in the Holy Spirit, or God’s love.

I could go on. In truth, I have barely scratched the surface of why the Trinity matters. The place of relationships in our lives, the form our redemption takes and the outworking of our sanctification all take the contours of the Trinity. My hope is that this reflection would inspire you to set aside your shamrocks and eggs to seek and contemplate deeper into this divine mystery. (What else is a mystery for if not to draw us deeper?)

On Trinity Sunday, we celebrate not a curious quirk of our faith, but a supremely wondrous truth that undergirds all of reality. Nothing is more foundational, nothing exceeds the height of its importance. But at the end of the day, our goal is not merely to understand the Trinity intellectually, but to know God experientially. To know the Trinity is to know the living God. Our pursuit – when properly done – is an invitation to experience God’s overflowing love and to share in the delight of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever. This is why we were created.

But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth. John 16:13

(Today’s Oxygen by Leonard Koh)

Prayer: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Thanksgiving: That You, Triune God are both the goal of our journey and the means by which we find you. Thank you for choosing to reveal your love to us through the sacrifice of the Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. 

28 April, Sunday – Doubting Thomas

28 Apr – Divine Mercy Sunday

The Congregation for Divine Worship decreed in 2003 that “throughout the world, the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, wit confidence in divine benevolence, the difference and trials that humankind will experience in the years to come”. Devotion to the Divine Mercy was promoted by St. Faustina Kowalski, canonized 30 Apr 2000 by Pope John Paul II.

____________________

Acts 5:12-16

The faithful all used to meet by common consent in the Portico of Solomon. No one else ever dared to join them, but the people were loud in their praise and the numbers of men and women who came to believe in the Lord increased steadily. So many signs and wonders were worked among the people at the hands of the apostles that the sick were even taken out into the streets and laid on beds and sleeping-mats in the hope that at least the shadow of Peter might fall across some of them as he went past. People even came crowding in from the towns round about Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and all of them were cured.
_____________________

Apocalypse 1:9-13,17-19

My name is John, and through our union in Jesus I am your brother and share your sufferings, your kingdom, and all you endure. I was on the island of Patmos for having preached God’s word and witnessed for Jesus; it was the Lord’s day and the Spirit possessed me, and I heard a voice behind me, shouting like a trumpet, ‘Write down all that you see in a book.’ I turned round to see who had spoken to me, and when I turned I saw seven golden lamp-stands and, surrounded by them, a figure like a Son of man, dressed in a long robe tied at the waist with a golden girdle.

When I saw him, I fell in a dead faint at his feet, but he touched me with his right hand and said, ‘Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One, I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld. Now write down all that you see of present happenings and things that are still to come.’
_____________________

John 20:19-31

In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.

‘As the Father sent me,
so am I sending you.’

After saying this he breathed on them and said:
‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
For those whose sins you forgive,
they are forgiven;
for those whose sins you retain,
they are retained.’

Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. When the disciples said, ‘We have seen the Lord’, he answered, ‘Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.’ Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. ‘Peace be with you’ he said. Then he spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him:

‘You believe because you can see me.
Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.

_____________________

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

I’ve always found it unfair that among the disciples, Thomas is given the nickname ‘the doubter.’ Sure, he did say that his belief was conditional on being able to dig his hands into Jesus’ wounds, but we would do well to remember that this was a man who just days before, had witnessed his Master being beaten to a pulp, disfigured and then die excruciatingly on a Roman cross. Who could blame him then, if his first reaction to the claims of Jesus’ resurrection, was that He would believe Jesus was alive when he saw him alive?

Furthermore, the proof that Thomas had asked for was nothing more than what the other disciples had themselves experienced. John records that when Jesus appeared to the group of disciples sans Thomas, it was only when he showed them his hands and sides that the disciples rejoiced “because they saw the Lord.” So, if Thomas was a doubter, the other disciples were no better. They were simply at the right place at the right time. No amazing feat of faith there.

So why did the John’s Gospel single Thomas out?

I think the clue lies in John’s statement of intent at the end of the passage: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

If John’s goal in writing his gospel was that his readers would come to believe in Jesus, what good does highlighting Thomas’ skepticism do? Why plant a seed of doubt in such an important moment in history?

Unless for John, in that kernel of doubt lies the potential for strong and true faith. For what is doubt but faith that is suffering from malnutrition? And what is unbelief but faith that has been mistreated and destroyed? Yet unbelief and doubt in the Christian understanding is not the same thing. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, nor is it the same as unbelief. Doubt is a state of mind suspended between faith and unbelief so that it is neither of them completely and it is each partially. It is caught between a desire to believe and a desire to negate. The prayer of the father with the possessed boy describes this state well: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief”. (Mark 9:29)

From this perspective, far from being a disciple of inferior stock that Jesus chided, John holds out Thomas for us as a model of how one becomes a disciple of Jesus. In other words, what happens to Thomas is exactly what John hopes will happen to each of us when we read his story.

Thomas is neither naïve, nor a fool who accepts every wild claim and seems to require no evidence whatsoever for his beliefs. In that, he represents many people today who approach things realistically and with varying doses of skepticism. If we have an understanding that true faith is doubt-free, then not only does it lead to a view of faith that is unrealistic for many today, it also results in a view of doubt that is unfair. The phrase by Anselm of Canterbury, which has become a classic definition of theology, is worth repeating here — “faith seeking understanding.” This means that faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ often awakens an investigative search for deeper understanding. Is it not true then that doubt is not an obstacle of faith but an essential ingredient in it?

Thus, when ‘doubting’ Thomas did finally encounter the Risen Jesus, his reaction was evidently more profound than the other disciples. Not only did he declare Jesus as ‘my Lord’, a title reserved for the Roman Emperor – but also “My God,” – the highest affirmation made of Jesus in all the Gospels.

At the end of the day, it is not enough to believe that Christ is risen just because others have said so. The Apostle Thomas reminds us that true faith comes from the desire to search and encounter the Risen Lord for ourselves.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

(Today’s Oxygen by Leonard Koh)

Prayer — O Risen Lord, I find it difficult for my heart to rejoice in what my mind rejects. Give me a hunger and desire to search out for You. Let me know you and love you so that I may rejoice in you.

Thanksgiving — That your Word promises “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

10 March, Sunday – On Temptation

Today we welcome a new writer, Leonard Koh, to our team.

Leonard had his world turned right-side-up when he personally encountered Jesus at the age of fifteen. Since then, the purpose of his life is to make Jesus famous. He serves full-time at the Catholic Spirituality Centre of Singapore previously as its Youth Ministry Director, and now as a Senior Manager of Programme and Pastoral Care. Leonard is passionate about leading people in a growing relationship with God, bringing the Word of God to life and helping ministries flourish. He holds a Masters in Theological Studies and was working as an art director in advertising before being called into full-time ministry.

Leonard is happily married to his best friend, Cassilda. He enjoys a good bowl of Laska and is known to bleed coffee when cut. His other interests include photography & boardgaming, and moonlights surreptitiously as an Instagram Influencer combining them both. He hopes that his reflections will help people to see that there is nothing else more compelling, more meaningful, more beautiful and more worthy thing to do in this life than to follow Jesus.

10 March 2019

_______________

Deuteronomy 26:4-10

Moses said to the people: ‘The priest shall take the pannier from your hand and lay it before the altar of the Lord your God. Then, in the sight of the Lord your God, you must make this pronouncement:

‘“My father was a wandering Aramaean. He went down into Egypt to find refuge there, few in numbers; but there he became a nation, great, mighty, and strong. The Egyptians ill-treated us, they gave us no peace and inflicted harsh slavery on us. But we called on the Lord, the God of our fathers. The Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, our toil and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. He brought us here and gave us this land, a land where milk and honey flow. Here then I bring the first-fruits of the produce of the soil that you, the Lord, have given me.”

‘You must then lay them before the Lord your God, and bow down in the sight of the Lord your God.’

_______________________

Romans 10:8-13

Scripture says: The word (that is the faith we proclaim) is very near to you, it is on your lips and in your heart. If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved. By believing from the heart you are made righteous; by confessing with your lips you are saved. When scripture says: those who believe in him will have no cause for shame, it makes no distinction between Jew and Greek: all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many ask his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

______________________

Luke 4:1-13

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days. During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry. Then the devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Scripture says: Man does not live on bread alone.’

Then leading him to a height, the devil showed him in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall all be yours.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Scripture says:

You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone.’

Then he led him to Jerusalem and made him stand on the parapet of the Temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said to him ‘throw yourself down from here, for scripture says:
He will put his angels in charge of you to guard you,
and again:
They will hold you up on their hands in case you hurt your foot against a stone.’

But Jesus answered him, ‘It has been said:

You must not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.

______________________

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil

Imagine if you were the Devil getting up that morning and your job for that day was to derail the purposes of not just a ruler of some country, but the Son of God Himself. Ever since the day you received news that the Divine Son had showed up as a human baby on the doorsteps of earth, you knew this day was coming. You had watched him all this while, growing up in the household of Joseph and Mary. Every devil-underling dispatched through the years in attempts to snuff or sniff out the nature of His mission has been largely unsuccessful. Recent reports of increased divine activity and an actual audio-visual incursion of the Creator at the Jordan River, in the presence of on-looking human subjects, have sent alarm bells ringing through the halls of hell. Enough is enough. Today, you will personally step in and take care of business.

As a lion that watches its prey, you observe the Son of God from a distance, clothed in the insufferable flesh of the humans, wandering in loneliness and hunger through the wilderness. You ponder on your angle of attack. How does one tempt the very Son of God? Fetch a harlot from the nearby town? Perhaps devise a ploy to lure Jesus into lying, stealing or even murder? No. Those temptations are far too obvious, amateur games reserved for the trainees to toy with the weak saints. This is the Son of God we are talking about and he is certainly no pushover. It will certainly require the highest levels of sophistication and subtlety if these temptations were to succeed.

Experience has taught you that often the best way to tempt a person in any given situation is to ask what the Creator wants to make of it, and then to do the exact opposite. You observed that it was the Holy Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness in order to subject him to the suffering. This is no surprise. In His schemes to win over the humans, the Creator had always relied more on troughs than peaks; many of His favorite saints have had to endure far greater sufferings than anyone else. In truth, unlike you, the Creator actually takes no delight in making his saints miserable, but would often permit their suffering to promote their greater good. These sufferings seem to be designed to form them into the sort of creatures He wants them to be, namely those who would freely choose to put their trust in Him, in spite of the presence of pain or the absence of divine incentives. However, this divine strategy is a risky gamble. And in the heat of suffering, trust in the Creator’s goodness is often tenuous, and therefore open to exploitation. The angle of attack becomes clear to you — hinder Jesus from suffering at all cost.

You close in for the kill. Your opening salvo aims at Jesus’ identity: “If you are a child of a King, why are you living like a pauper? Surely you deserve better than this? Just say the word and turn these stones into bread. Claim your princely blessings.”

Your second move is to offer Jesus an easier way of accomplishing his mission: “I can offer you a shortcut. A path that does not require any suffering. You only need to worship me and all that you have come for will be yours in an instant!”

Your final attempt was to incite Jesus to use his divine power to relieve his own sufferings: “Let everyone in Jerusalem see you for who you are, the Son of God! Prove to them that even the angels of God will do everything in their power to keep you from suffering.”

So willing were you to even allow the city to acknowledge Jesus’ divine son-ship if it meant keeping him from suffering.

But time and time again, each temptation was met with Jesus’ unwavering resolve to obey the Creator. He was determined to trust God and to embrace his suffering as the will of His Father. Not once did he give in to the temptation to murmur against God like the Israelites did in the wilderness. The Son of God has prevailed.

As you make your retreat, you know that even though this battle may have been lost, the war is far from over. There will be other opportunities. So you continue your prowl, stalking the Son of God as He begins his ministry, looking for any means to devour Him and to ruin all those who call themselves his followers.

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matt 16:23-25

(Today’s Oxygen by Leonard Koh)

Prayer: We ask for the grace of perfect submission to your most holy will. That even in our afflictions, we will choose the way of Christ, deny ourselves, take up our daily crosses and follow You faithfully.

Thanksgiving: We thank you dear Lord, that we are held in the unshakable assurance of your love and goodness towards us. Inspired by this confidence, we can remain steadfast in all our storms and sufferings.