Tag Archives: living our faith

27 October, Saturday – The Time is Now

27 October

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Ephesians 4:7-16

Each one of us has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. It was said that he would:

When he ascended to the height, he captured prisoners,
he gave gifts to men.

When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth? The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.

Then we shall not be children any longer, or tossed one way and another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks men play and their cleverness in practising deceit. If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its function. So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love.

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Luke 13:1-9

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

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“…. it may bear next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”

The earliest part of my life was really challenging. I was born out of wedlock, brought up by my grand aunt, and had a childhood when I felt everything to be a struggle.  I started going to church at the age of 12, and sometime after that, I remembered asking God, “Why me?”.

Since then, I have had many similar conversationswith others. In fact, an acquaintance saw that I had been putting some faith-related posts on social media and touched base with me. His first question to me was something like this: “Would you still have faith iflife was difficult for you?”. His point to me was that if God was all loving, why does He allow bad things to happen, and why does He allow it to happen to good people?

In the Gospel today, Jesus teaches us that those who were killed by Pilate, or who were killed in Siloan were no more guilty that those who were not. This is an important lesson as the Israelites believed that God punished only those who were more sinful than others. This is something relevant for our understanding as well.

Rather than going into a discussion about why bad things happened to people, Jesus stressed the importance that everyone prepare for the time for us to leave this earthly world. He gives the parable about a fruitless fig tree. While the vinyard owner had intended to have the tree cut down, the gardener convinces the owner to keep it for an additional year to fruit, failing which it would be be cut down.

While it continues to live, the fig tree does not know that it has just an additional year. Like the fig tree, we do not know how long more we have.  By talking about “perishing”, our Lord does not talk about our physical deaths. Rather, He is talking about our eternal lives.

Let us focus on doing the right things, now. We simply do not know when our time on earth is up.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Help us to have a sense of urgency Father, to make our faith in You red-hot. Help us to believe and act in line with Your plans.

Thanksgiving: We are grateful to You for Your teaching Lord Jesus. For Your reminder that our time here on earth is limited. Thank You for blessing us with each day to do Your work.

19 October, Friday – The Value of You

19 October – Memorial for Sts. John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs; Memorial for St. Paul of the Cross, Priest

John de Brebeuf (1593–1649) was a French Jesuit. He wanted to enter the priesthood since young, but his health was so bad there were doubts he could make it. His posting as a missionary to frontier Canada at the age of 32 was a literal godsend. He spent the rest of his life there, and the harsh and hearty climate so agreed with him that the Natives, surprised at his endurance, called him “Echon”, which means “load bearer”. His massive size made them think twice about sharing a canoe with him for fear of sinking.

John had great difficulty learning the Huron language. “You may have been a famous professor or theologian in France,” he wrote in a letter home, “but here you will merely be a student, and with what teachers! The Huron language will be your Aristla crosse.” However, he eventually wrote a catechism in Huron, and a French-Huron dictionary for use by other missionaries.

According to the histories of the game, it was John who named the present-day version of the Indian game “lacrosse” because the stick used reminded him of a bishop’s crosier (la crosse).

He was martyred in 1649, tortured to death by the Iroquois. By 1650, the Huron nation was exterminated, and the laboriously built mission was abandoned. But it proved to be “one of the triumphant failures that are commonplace in the Church’s history”. These martyrdoms created a wave of vocations and missionary fervour in France, and it gave new heart to the missionaries in New France.

– Patron Saint Index

Isaac Jogues (1607–1646) joined the Jesuits at Rouen, France in 1624. He was ordained a priest and taught literature. He became a missionary to New France (Canada) in 1636, starting in Quebec and working among the Hurons and Petuns in the area of the Great Lakes. This was a rough assignment – not only were the living conditions hard, but the locals blamed the “Blackrobes” for any disease, ill luck, or other problems that occurred where they were.

He was captured on 3 August 1642 by the Mohawks, enslaved, tortured and mutilated for 13 months, but he taught the Faith to any who would listen. With the help of local Dutch settlers he finally escaped and was sent back to France to recover.

In 1644, he returned to Canada to continue his work with the natives and negotiate peace with the Iroquois. He was martyred with fellow Jesuit priest John de Brebeuf and several lay missionaries when the natives blamed Christian sorcery for an epidemic and crop failure. He is one of the North America Martyrs.

– Patron Saint Index

Paul of the Cross (1694–1775) was the son of a merchant and a pious youth. After receiving a vision and while still a layman, he founded the Congregation of Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion (Passionists) in 1721 to preach about Jesus Crucified. He was a preacher of such power that hardened soldiers and bandits were seen to weep.

The community lived a penitential life, in solitude and poverty, teaching people in the easiest possible way how to meditate on the Passion of Jesus. He was ordained in 1727 along with his brother John Baptist by Pope Benedict XIII. After ordination, they devoted themselves to preaching missions in parishes, particularly in remote country places where there were insufficient priests pastorally involved. Their preaching apostolate and the retreats they gave in seminaries and religious houses brought their mission to the attention of others and gradually the community began to grow.

However, the austere life of the Passionists did not encourage large numbers and at one point all the brothers in the Order deserted him. But Paul preferred a slow, at times painful, growth to something more spectacular. In 1741 his Rule was approved by Pope Benedict XIV, and the community began to grow again.

During his lifetime, Paul of the Cross was best known as a popular preacher and a spiritual director. More than two thousand of his letters, most of them letters of spiritual direction, have been preserved. By the time of his death, the congregation had 80 fathers and brothers. He is considered among the greatest Catholic mystics of the 18th century.

– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Ephesians 1:11-14

It is in Christ that we were claimed as God’s own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
Now you too, in him,
have heard the message of the truth and the good news of your salvation,
and have believed it;
and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise,
the pledge of our inheritance
which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised.

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Luke 12:1-7

The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak, first of all to his disciples. ‘Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees – that is, their hypocrisy. Everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. For this reason, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in hidden places will be proclaimed on the housetops.

‘To you my friends I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. I will tell you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Can you not buy five sparrows for two pennies? And yet not one is forgotten in God’s sight. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. There is no need to be afraid: you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.’

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Everything now covered up will be uncovered and everything now hidden will be made clear

One of my professors in the university commented to me that economists “know the price of everything but the value of nothing”. This remark arose as he realized that they were obsessed with determining the price of a particular good without considering the larger picture of the emotions of the people consuming the good and the honesty of the transaction. The readings of today tell us that it is the value of truth that is sorely lacking in our world today.

Dishonest transactions abound everywhere in today’s world; the realm of business is filled with shady deals and less than true disclosure of facts. Such behaviours have dire consequences for they fail to consider the deeper consequences and implications of one’s actions. As Christians, we are chosen to be Jesus’ ambassadors in a world of darkness and the light we hold is the truth that we have in our hearts which we share through our actions and words. We have been found worthy by Christ to be his representatives in the world and thus we must carry out this task to the best of our ability.

There will be times where we get disheartened and demoralized because we have failed in our mission. In these times of despair, let us not wallow in self-pity but rather lift ourselves out from this misery by casting our attention on the Risen Lord who understood our worries and conquered them by rising from the dead!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Lord, we ask that you help us understand that weight of our cross is a joyful burden.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many times that we recover from our sinfulness.

17 October, Wednesday – Of Virtues and Vices

17 October – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr (not used in 2010)

Ignatius (c. 50–107) was a convert from paganism to Christianity. He succeeded Peter as bishop of Antioch, Syria. He served during persecution of Domitian. During the persecution of Trajan, he was ordered to be taken to Rome to be killed by wild animals. On the way, a journey which took months, he wrote a series of encouraging letters to the churches under his care. He was the first writer to use the term The Catholic Church. He was an apostolic father and a martyr. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Legend says he was the infant that Jesus took into his arms in Mark 9.

– Patron Saint Index

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Galatians 5:18-25

If you are led by the Spirit, no law can touch you. When self-indulgence is at work the results are obvious: fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenness, orgies and similar things. I warn you now, as I warned you before: those who behave like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. What the Spirit brings is very different: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. There can be no law against things like that, of course. You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires.

Since the Spirit is our life, let us be directed by the Spirit.

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Luke 11:42-46

The Lord said to the Pharisees:

‘Alas for you Pharisees! You who pay your tithe of mint and rue and all sorts of garden herbs and overlook justice and the love of God! These you should have practised, without leaving the others undone. Alas for you Pharisees who like taking the seats of honour in the synagogues and being greeted obsequiously in the market squares! Alas for you, because you are like the unmarked tombs that men walk on without knowing it!

A lawyer then spoke up. ‘Master,’ he said ‘when you speak like this you insult us too.’

‘Alas for you lawyers also,’ he replied ‘because you load on men burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not move a finger to lift.’

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Happy indeed is the man…whose delight is in the law of the Lord

An elderly relative of mine commented to me during a family celebration as we were watching my younger nieces and nephews argue that they bore a striking resemblance to their parents in both aspects of appearance and behaviour. Indeed, this probably was the surest sign that they were really “a chip of the old block”. Today’s first reading reminds us that the same lesson can be applied to our lives as Christians.

The behaviour of a Christian who seeks to follow the way of God closely and sincerely will surely bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit which has been planted in his heart at the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation. These stand in stark contrast to the ways of the world which bear awful consequences that bring about much destruction and dissension in society. The world is a chaotic and noisy place because of the many tensions that exist within society brought about by sin.

I believe that all of us possess the ability to live a life of holiness in a world of evil and sin. We will face much persecution and derision for having to embark on a route that is unconventional and different but I believe that the joy of receiving the fruits at the end of our journey far outweigh the criticism that we presently suffer.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Lord, we thank you for sending the Holy Spirit down to guide us in our way of life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who remind us of the need to depend on God for all that we do.

10 September, Monday – On Defiance

10 September

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1 Corinthians 5:1-8

I have been told as an undoubted fact that one of you is living with his father’s wife. This is a case of sexual immorality among you that must be unparalleled even among pagans. How can you be so proud of yourselves? You should be in mourning. A man who does a thing like that ought to have been expelled from the community. Though I am far away in body, I am with you in spirit, and have already condemned the man who did this thing as if I were actually present. When you are assembled together in the name of the Lord Jesus, and I am spiritually present with you, then with the power of our Lord Jesus he is to be handed over to Satan so that his sensual body may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

The pride that you take in yourselves is hardly to your credit. You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

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Luke 6:6-11

On the sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up! Come out into the middle.’ And he came out and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I put it to you: is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?’ Then he looked round at them all and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was better. But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.

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“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath, rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Yesterday we talked about how we have a responsibility to seek the truth and speak the Word of God, even if that truth rattles cages. It seems fitting then, that today’s readings deal with defiance. In the first, an act of incest is committed by one of the newly converted Christians in Corinth. It is further implied that the sordid affair has been flaunted publicly at church (1 Cor 5:1-7), with no seeming push back from the congregation’s elders. Instead, everyone has chosen to look the other way. Why was the incestuous couple allowed to carry on? We are not told specifically but Scripture verses reveal the church in Corinth to be deeply factious and intensely political (1 Cor 1-4). Elitism was rife. So it may have been that the sinner in question was someone powerful. Someone no one wanted to persecute. The sin of incest, committed in open defiance of Christ’s teachings, affected the believers’ faith journey in Corinth and the credibility of the new Church. Paul courageously calls this out and urges for excommunication (1 Cor 5: 1-8), that the sinners be “expelled from your midst”. All of this sounds familiar – except that our present day Catholic Church has yet to find its ‘Paul’.

The second incident is Jesus’ seeming defiance of the Sabbath by healing a man at the synagogue. He knows that the Jewish religious elite are watching to see what he will do. The Sabbath is a holy day for the Jewish people. Work of any kind is forbidden. By healing the man so publicly, Jesus was taking a defiant stand – that the spirit of the law was more important than the law itself. Shouldn’t the afflicted man be shown mercy and released from his suffering, especially on the Sabbath? The Jewish leaders saw this as a personal attack on them, instead of the act of mercy and compassion that it was. They took Jesus’ defiance as a challenge to their authority.

It’s easy to discern the significance of things when we have the benefit of hindsight. It’s a little more tricky in practice. When is defiance not an altruistic act? For that, we have to examine our own consciences. We have to pray. And we have to scrutinize the fruits of our actions. Are our actions supported by pure motivations or are we trying to push our personal agendas? Are we working towards the good of God’s faithful or satisfying our own selfish desires? Are we trying to put across God’s message or trying to make ourselves famous? Be certain that if our intentions are anything but noble, the Holy Spirit will see through us and we will find no peace. Judgment awaits all who subvert God’s Word for their own ends.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to make good judgments, to see the straight and narrow path, even when it seems to be obscured by a thicket of lies and propaganda. We pray for God’s protection, that He watch over all who labour to put things right in His house.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who helps us to discern God’s message in His Word.

27 August, Monday – Understanding True Worth

27 August – Memorial for St. Monica, Married Woman

Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted a heresy and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.

When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan, where she became a leader of the devout women there.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Thessalonians 1:1-5,11-12

From Paul, Silvanus and Timothy, to the Church in Thessalonika which is in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ; wishing you grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We feel we must be continually thanking God for you, brothers; quite rightly, because your faith is growing so wonderfully and the love that you have for one another never stops increasing; and among the churches of God we can take special pride in you for your constancy and faith under all the persecutions and troubles you have to bear. It all shows that God’s judgement is just, and the purpose of it is that you may be found worthy of the kingdom of God; it is for the sake of this that you are suffering now.

Knowing this, we pray continually that our God will make you worthy of his call, and by his power fulfil all your desires for goodness and complete all that you have been doing through faith; because in this way the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be glorified in you and you in him, by the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Matthew 23:13-22

Jesus said, ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who shut up the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces, neither going in yourselves nor allowing others to go in who want to.

‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who travel over sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you have him you make him twice as fit for hell as you are.

‘Alas for you, blind guides! You who say, “If a man swears by the Temple, it has no force; but if a man swears by the gold of the Temple, he is bound.” Fools and blind! For which is of greater worth, the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? Or else, “If a man swears by the altar it has no force; but if a man swears by the offering that is on the altar, he is bound.” You blind men! For which is of greater worth, the offering or the altar that makes the offering sacred? Therefore, when a man swears by the altar he is swearing by that and by everything on it. And when a man swears by the Temple he is swearing by that and by the One who dwells in it. And when a man swears by heaven he is swearing by the throne of God and by the One who is seated there.’

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“You make him twice as fit for hell as you are”

When my children were very young, I used to be quite the authoritarian with them. I remember barking orders about what they could or could not do. This went on without much incident until the day my son asked me: ”But Dad, you asked me to do it, why do you not do it?”

Indeed, this was precisely the thing that my wife had been telling me; that my children were watching me all the time. That, in their minds, they would be matching what they see against what I was saying.

Our Lord Jesus in the Gospel talked about this, chastising the scribes and Pharisees, for such a thing, requiring the converts to follow faith standards higher than even what these teachers were required to do. Many times, I have found myself doing the same thing. On many occasions, I find myself unconsciously judging others for their actions. Yet, upon further reflection, I often find that I am unable to behave better than those I am critical of.

I have long mulled over the deeper meaning behind the second part of today’s Gospel. For the longest time, I figured that we should not be so taken with the superficial aspects our lives, and should instead focus on the deeper, more spiritual aspects. However, it was when I was preparing for today’s reflection when another meaning struck me.

I realised that it goes beyond the difference between superficiality and deepness. Instead, it was that all the good and everything in our lives comes from God. We spend too much time attributing this success to ourselves; what schools we went to, who we know or whether we are at the right place at the right time. What should happen instead, however, is that we should look at the “gold behind the temple”; that whatever we have comes from our God.

When we do good, it comes from God. When we have an idea for a way to do good in the world, it comes from God. When we invent something, it comes from God.

Simply put, ALL good comes from God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer:  We pray that no matter what, we will continue to recognize the true value of everything in our lives. Help us Father, to have wisdom.

Thanksgiving:  We thank You Father, for giving us the gift of discernment. Thank You for reminding us not to be arrogant but to always rely on Him.

Thursday, 23 February – Flavourless salt

23 Feb – Saint Polycarp, Bishop, Martyr

St Polycarp (-155) He was a disciple of the Apostles, bishop of Smyrna, and a friend of St Ignatius of Antioch. He went to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus about the celebration of Easter. He was martyred in about 155 by being burnt to death in the stadium. Polycarp is an important figure in the history of the Church because he is one of the earliest Christians whose writings still survive. He bears witness to the beliefs of the early Christians and the early stages of the development of doctrine.

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Ecclesiasticus 5:1-10

Do not give your heart to your money,
  or say, ‘With this I am self-sufficient.’
Do not be led by your appetites and energy
  to follow the passions of your heart.
And do not say, ‘Who has authority over me?’
  for the Lord will certainly be avenged on you.
Do not say, ‘I sinned, and what happened to me?’
f or the Lord’s forbearance is long.
Do not be so sure of forgiveness
  that you add sin to sin.
And do not say, ‘His compassion is great,
  he will forgive me my many sins’;
for with him are both mercy and wrath,
  and his rage bears heavy on sinners.
Do not delay your return to the Lord,
  do not put it off day after day;
for suddenly the Lord’s wrath will blaze out,
  and at the time of vengeance you will be utterly destroyed.
Do not set your heart on ill-gotten gains,
  they will be of no use to you on the day of disaster.

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Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

  ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you season it again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.’

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If salt has become insipid, how can you season it again?

Salt was an extremely important and valuable commodity in ancient times. It can be used to flavour and preserve foods. Salt, in ancient times, did not go through the purification that modern technology provides, so it was possible for the salt from the Dead Sea to lose its saltiness through exposure to air, contamination with impurities or through exposure to excessive sunlight. A chemical reaction must occur for the salt to lose its saltiness, and the process is irreversible.

How can we lose our flavour when it comes to the faith? Very easily. We live in times where worldly ideas of ‘freedom’ are the social norm, or even if they are not yet the social norm, people fight to make it so. Without a solid foundation in the faith, it is easy to fall prey to the reasoning behind secular worldviews. A lifestyle where one places work and other priorities before Christ is another characteristic of this age of busyness, and almost inevitably the faith becomes lukewarm or even non-existent.

The silver lining in all this is that, unlike salt, we can still regain our saltiness. For me, I find that it is crucial for me to be in constant contact with spiritual writings or faith communities. Since most of us do work that does not directly involve scripture or religion, there has to be that extra effort made to be constantly reminded of Christ’s teachings. It is only when we ourselves feel refreshed, invigorated and inspired by the faith, that we can reach out effectively to others.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray that we will not be led by our own appetites and energy to follow the passions of our hearts. Instead, let us be led by Christ and His love.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the invisible hand of the Lord that guides us and brings us up when we fall.

26 December, Monday – Dying to Self

Dec 26 – Feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr

Stephen is the first martyr. He was one of the deacons appointed by the Apostles to organize the distribution of food to the poor. He performed many miracles and confounded the Jews in disputation. They fabricated false charges against him. At his trial he preached the risen Christ to them, so they stoned him to death. He prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. One of them, Saul of Tarsus, who was looking after the cloaks of the stone-throwers, was later converted and became the great missionary St Paul.

– Universalis

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Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’

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Matthew 10:17-22

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.

‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.’

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The man who stands firm to the end will be saved

 Today’s first reading reminds me of a soon-to-be-released film by Martin Scorsese, entitled ‘Silence’. It is a movie that is supposedly 28 years in the making, about two Jesuit priests who travel to Japan to meet their mentor whom they heard had committed apostasy. The film is based on a novel written by Japanese author Sh?saku End?. During the climax of the story, the lead character Sebastião Rodrigues, one of the Jesuits, decides to renounce his faith by stepping on a fumie (a carved image of Christ) in order to free local Christians from further torture.

Although the story is a work of fiction, it seems plausible that such methods were indeed used to threaten and torture priests during the persecution of Japanese Catholics. I have tried, but failed to imagine myself in the shoes of the priest made to renounce his faith in order to save his fellow Christians from torment. What is the right thing to do? To step on the fumie, or not renounce the faith but let the torment of others continue?

Something that I am sort of figuring out, and which is perhaps more related to the circumstances of my life, is the dying to self for the purpose of honouring God. There are certain actions that I like to do without feeling much guilt, although I know that they are technically contrary to the teachings of the church and of the Bible. At some point recently, I realised that I need to make a conscious decision to constantly die to myself and reject those sinful actions, so that I can truly stand and say that I am a follower of Christ. During the Advent Penitential Service this year, I confessed sins that had long been buried in my heart and which I had not even realised were there. I just somehow decided that there was no need to be a slave to fear or shame, and to make a decisive move to love Christ rather than waver and fret and make half-hearted attempts.

In this Christmas season, let us be open to renewing our hearts for Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the courage to die to ourselves constantly so as to give glory to our God.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the martyrs of the faith whom we know are praying for us and our salvation.

24 December (Saturday), Vigil Mass – Inheritance

24 December 2016

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Isaiah 62:1-5

About Zion I will not be silent,
about Jerusalem I will not grow weary,
until her integrity shines out like the dawn
and her salvation flames like a torch.

The nations then will see your integrity,
all the kings your glory,
and you will be called by a new name,
one which the mouth of the Lord will confer.
You are to be a crown of splendour in the hand of the Lord,
a princely diadem in the hand of your God;

no longer are you to be named ‘Forsaken’,
nor your land ‘Abandoned’,
but you shall be called ‘My Delight’
and your land ‘The Wedded’;
for the Lord takes delight in you
and your land will have its wedding.

Like a young man marrying a virgin,
so will the one who built you wed you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
so will your God rejoice in you.

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Acts 13:16-17,22-25

When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia, he stood up in the synagogue, held up a hand for silence and began to speak:

‘Men of Israel, and fearers of God, listen! The God of our nation Israel chose our ancestors, and made our people great when they were living as foreigners in Egypt; then by divine power he led them out.

‘Then he made David their king, of whom he approved in these words, “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, “I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.”’

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Matthew 1:1-25

A genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah, Tamar being their mother,
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram was the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon was the father of Boaz, Rahab being his mother,
Boaz was the father of Obed, Ruth being his mother,
Obed was the father of Jesse;
and Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Solomon was the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa,
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Joram,
Joram the father of Azariah,
Azariah was the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah;
and Josiah was the father of Jechoniah and his brothers.
Then the deportation to Babylon took place.
After the deportation to Babylon:
Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
Azor was the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Achim,
Achim the father of Eliud,
Eliud was the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob;
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.

The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ.
This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph; being a man of honour and wanting to spare her publicity, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son
and they will call him Emmanuel,

a name which means ‘God-is-with-us.’ When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

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Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

As Advent draws to a close and we enter Christmas, we are reminded that today is the day that we have long been waiting for. For four weeks, we have lit an advent candle each Sunday, waiting in hope and patience for our Lord to arrive. Yet, it is not simply in Advent that we wait. Indeed, we have waited generations for our Saviour, and He has finally arrived.

While the wait has been long, it had always been filled with hope. Indeed, Matthew recounts this wait for us, from Abraham to David, from David to Joseph. and finally from Joseph to Jesus. Of course, I over-simplify — we have waited 42 generations for our Lord to arrive. But the wait has been filled with sweet longing, for has Jesus’s coming not already been foretold in scripture?

So it is the same for us today. We are pilgrims awaiting the return of our Lord and Master. It is often easy to be lulled into a sense of ennui while waiting, perhaps to wile away the time with our little games and entertainment as we wait (Halo, anyone?). But when the Master arrives, will we be truly ready to welcome Him? How often have we been told in the Bible of what happens to those who are not ready when the Lord arrives?

Tonight as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, may we remember to always keep ourselves awake in prayer, ready to receive our Lord. Indeed, we have already been receiving Him in communion at mass. All we ever needed to do was to open our eyes to the reality of Christ in the Eucharist, then we will see that perhaps, just perhaps, we have been preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord all through the year.

Finally, Matthew’s gospel reminds us of the awesome inheritance that Jesus brings with Him, an inheritance that He shares with us. Through Him, we are one with all the holy men and women who have pleased God throughout the ages. It also reminds me of one of my favourite hymns:

Thou mine inheritance, now and always

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart

High King of heaven my treasure Thou art

Let us cherish and reverence the true treasure that is our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray with joyful and faithful hearts for your saving grace in each and every one of our lives. May your birth at Christmas remind us of our own baptismal promises to You.

Thanksgiving: We are thankful tonight for our Lord Jesus Christ, who has come to save, redeem, and love us without end.

3 December, Saturday – Labour’s Lost

Dec 3 – Feast of St. Francis Xavier, presbyter, religious, missionary (Principal Patron of Foreign Missions)

Francis (1506-1552) was a nobleman from the Basque region. He studied and taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and planned a career as a professor. He was a friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola who convinced him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. He was one of the founding Jesuits, and the first Jesuit missionary.

In Goa, India, while waiting to take the ship, he preached in the street, worked with the sick, and taught children their catechism. He would walk through the streets ringing a bell to call the children to their studies. He was said to have converted the entire city.

He scolded his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death you may be ordered out of paradise.”

He was a tremendously successful missionary for the ten years he was in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing more than 40,000 converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He travelled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East. He had the gift of tongues, and was a miracle worker. He raised people from the dead, calmed storms. He was a prophet and a healer.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 30:19-21,23-26

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

People of Zion, you will live in Jerusalem and weep no more. He will be gracious to you when he hears your cry; when he hears he will answer. When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes. Whether you turn to right or left, your ears will hear these words behind you, ‘This is the way, follow it.’ He will send rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the bread that the ground provides will be rich and nourishing. Your cattle will graze, that day, in wide pastures. Oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat a salted fodder, winnowed with shovel and fork. On every lofty mountain, on every high hill there will be streams and watercourses, on the day of the great slaughter when the strongholds fall. Then moonlight will be bright as sunlight and sunlight itself be seven times brighter – like the light of seven days in one – on the day the Lord dresses the wound of his people and heals the bruises his blows have left.

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Matthew 9:35-10:1,5,6-8

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’

He summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘Go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.’

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The harvest is abundant but the labourers are few

Hundreds of years ago, Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, preaching and healing as he did. He was a lone foreign missionary, carrying out God’s work. He recognized that the people were hungry for God as they had been in spiritual need for so long, and to fulfil the need to minister to as many of the lost and abandoned as possible, he sent out the twelve apostles to far-flung places to do God’s work. Thus you could say, began the foreign missions.

St Francis Xavier was one such missionary. His work carried him from present day Spain where he was born, to Goa, India, Malacca, Japan, and China, to name a few. There, his mission work was often met with resistance, cultural and language differences, lack of funds and support, and opposition. But he, like Jesus, recognized that the people were like lost sheep, and needed spiritual guidance. In most places, he was the first Jesuit, and therefore he had to carve out a road where no road had been before. There was much work to be done, and many a time he would get side-tracked and remain longer at a place than he had intended. Where there had been some in-roads before his arrival, those efforts had been previously focused on the nobility and officers; St Francis Xavier instead reached out to the ordinary folk in lower classes, and concentrated on teaching the children especially. He believed that there was an abundance of ‘lost sheep’ in China and had set his sights on missionary work there, but sadly he died before he could fulfil his purpose there.

Things have not changed much since. Few hundred years spanned between the time of Jesus and that of St Francis, and few hundred years have now passed between the time of St Francis and the present day. Yet one thing remains — that there are still many of us searching and yearning for Jesus. Our loneliness makes us feel abandoned, and the emptiness in our hearts makes us wish we were wanted and loved. We seek solace and comfort in other ways, sometimes in not so positive ways. As a result, we turn to habits that destroy us rather than help us, but thinking that these are resolutions to our emotional needs, we continue doing them until we realize too late that it has not helped us. We are now stuck in a vicious cycle, unable to break the habit, and nowhere near emotional fulfilment.

God is around us, and He could be our next door neighbor, or the soccer mum you see on the school run, or your colleague. God sends His labourers out to do His work and He hears our cry. He knows our hearts. Maybe it feels like He is distant or does not hear us. Sometimes we even question whether He is there. However, turn away from these thoughts and remember that God searches for His lost sheep, and He rejoices for every lost sheep that is found (Luke 15: 4-7). Every now and then, God sends out his labourers to find and gather His sheep; take heart that we too will be found.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer – Lord, I pray for your comfort for our loneliness, love for our empty hearts, and direction for our wandering souls. Hear our hearts as they cry out for you, and fill us with the Holy Spirit that we may rejoice with hearts overflowing at being found.

Thanksgiving – Thank you Lord, for the labourers that you send out to do your work. We pray for wisdom to recognize them, strength to emulate them, and courage to do your will.

15 November, Tuesday – Either/Or

15 November

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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 Colgone 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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Apocalypse 3:1-6,14-22

I, John, heard the Lord saying to me: ‘Write to the angel of the church in Sardis and say, “Here is the message of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: I know all about you: how you are reputed to be alive and yet are dead. Wake up; revive what little you have left: it is dying fast. So far I have failed to notice anything in the way you live that my God could possibly call perfect, and yet do you remember how eager you were when you first heard the message? Hold on to that. Repent. If you do not wake up, I shall come to you like a thief, without telling you at what hour to expect me. There are a few in Sardis, it is true, who have kept their robes from being dirtied, and they are fit to come with me, dressed in white. Those who prove victorious will be dressed, like these, in white robes; I shall not blot their names out of the book of life, but acknowledge their names in the presence of my Father and his angels. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

‘Write to the angel of the church in Laodicea and say, “Here is the message of the Amen, the faithful, the true witness, the ultimate source of God’s creation: I know all about you: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth. You say to yourself, ‘I am rich, I have made a fortune, and have everything I want’, never realising that you are wretchedly and pitiably poor, and blind and naked too. I warn you, buy from me the gold that has been tested in the fire to make you really rich, and white robes to clothe you and cover your shameful nakedness, and eye ointment to put on your eyes so that you are able to see. I am the one who reproves and disciplines all those he loves: so repent in real earnest. Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in to share his meal, side by side with him. Those who prove victorious I will allow to share my throne, just as I was victorious myself and took my place with my Father on his throne. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”’

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Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’

And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

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For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.

We are called to make choices every day. From the most minute details – ‘What should I have for lunch? Should I get my coffee hot or iced?’; to important decisions of our lives — Should I stay at my job, or should I find a new one? Do we want to have children? Should I reach out to an estranged relative or friend?. In almost all cases, we end up facing two choices, and having to pick one out of these two.

It is the same with our faith lives. As disciples of the Lord, we are called to choose between light and darkness, good and evil, compassion and apathy. These choices beckon to us every single day. Do we comfort a colleague or a friend in need? Or do we shrug and turn back to our screens? Do we stop to listen to the homeless man? Or do we just keep walking? Do we choose to address the darkness in our souls, or do we continue to find comfort in our gadgets and entertainment?

The great Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, was well aware of this binary nature of faith when he wrote his seminal work Either/Or. In the book, the reader is confronted with two vastly different narratives. In the first part of the book, we read about the aesthetic life of Victor Eremita, who seeks only pleasure in his life. This is juxtaposed by the second half of the book, which is narrated by Judge Vilheim and which espouses an ethical (rather than aesthetic or superficial) life.

Today’s readings place a strong emphasis on choices. In choosing to host the Lord and give up his belongings to the poor and needy, Zaccheus has chosen to follow the Lord and lead the Christian life. A starker warning is given in the first reading, where the lukewarm person, who is neither hot nor cold, will be rejected, while the one who heeds the voice of the Lord will be victorious by His side.

The message is clear. We cannot be lukewarm Christians, buffeted around by the tides of our times. Instead, we must stand firm on our beliefs. As Jesus says in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me”. There are no two ways about it. Those who are familiar with the work of Kierkegaard will also know that Either/Or is really a false choice, for the philosopher subsequently wrote in Fear and Trembling that the goal for us, as Christians, is neither an aesthetic nor an ethical life, but a religious life.

This requires us to take, as Kierkegaard has famously said, a ‘leap of faith’ into the great unknown, knowing only that God our Father will reach out and catch us, so long as we are leaping into His way of life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

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Prayer: Lord, we pray for your wisdom and fortitude, so that we may always make the right choices in our everyday lives, and that we will always choose you.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for giving us our free will, so that we can freely love and serve Him from the depths of our souls.