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15 April, Saturday – Easter Vigil

15 April 2017 – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, 5 from our writing team, along with 3 guest writers, Adele, Daryl and Cassandra have contributed to the reflections. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Nicholas (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsarial: Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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Exactly what you need to be

“Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.”

In the run-up to Easter, there is the risk that we try to do too much and, in the process, lose sight of why we celebrate this spiritual season. We weigh ourselves down with so much of the ‘doing’ that we can’t find the time for ‘thinking’. Or ‘reflecting’. Or ‘praying’. Or ‘being’ with God.

Everything has its place in time. God could have created the world in an instant, yet He spread it out over 6 days, with a day of rest to reflect upon and appreciate all that was before him. Let’s take heed then and make this Vigil evening a time of thanksgiving for all that He has put in our lives – the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the friends, the foes, the blessings, the struggles, the triumphs and the disappointments. Everything in its proper place in time. This beautiful evening, let’s lay aside all of our ‘doing’ and focus on simply ‘being’ with God.

Lay down your cares. Right now, you are exactly where you need to be.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the awareness to appreciate the moments and the people in our lives, to not breeze past superficially, but fully breathe in the beauty of each.

Thanksgiving:  We give thanks for the gifts and blessings that He has so generously showered upon us. May He give us the wisdom to be good stewards of them.

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsarial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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Abraham tested, faith tested

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son”. And the two of them went on together.

It seems that God is asking for an impossible sacrifice from Abraham, his only son. When God speaks His will for me in no uncertain terms, do I have the courage to obey Him, if it seems that there is a high personal price to pay? Do I have faith that His plans for me are the best ones? Do I understand that He loves me so lavishly and wholly, that what He asks of me, is most certainly for my good?

What is God asking me to give up?

When I am asked to give up something that I treasure, is my instinct to give generously and unquestioningly? Or do I harbor resentment towards God for this costly price of obedience? It is human nature to be ‘loss averse’, since behaviourial economics tell us that ‘losses loom larger than gains’, and the pain of losing something is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining something of equivalent value. As a result, people are willing to go to great lengths to avoid a loss, but will be less motivated to take risks for acquiring equivalent gains.

In the reading of Genesis today, Abraham is tested to his limits when God asks for Isaac to be offered as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. I can only imagine the shock, grief and disbelief of a father, when Abraham spots the place that God had identified, and proceeds to build an altar, bind up Isaac, and prepares to take his knife to his only beloved son.

Why would a loving God ask this immense sacrifice of the people who love Him? Perhaps Abraham, in his heart, was hoping for a miracle, or an intervention?

I cannot begin to even imagine, the fear that Isaac might have felt, as his father led him into the isolation and desolation of the mountains. What might Isaac be thinking, as his own father bound him up, and appeared to be on the verge of killing him? Why did the passage not speak of any struggle on Isaac’s part? Why did he appear to accept his fate so calmly?

God’s lavish providence transcends our human understanding. What are the big and little ways that God is providing for you?

When I think back at the times where I experienced inexplicable, gut-wrenching losses, such as the painful breakdown of long cherished relationships and friendships, or sudden upheavals in my career that throw my livelihood into question, do I surrender to His providence? Or do I fight and cling on stubbornly to what I think I am entitled to and have painstakingly built, or hold on ever more tightly to the sand that is slipping through my fingers?

In my moments of extreme doubt, unhappiness and fear, I remember asking God, “What is Your purpose of taking this person, happiness or opportunity away from me? What is Your point of making me lose something so precious to me?” However, once the internal strife subsides, or when the initial shock wears off, when I can remain calm enough to consider the situation more clearly, like in Psalm 16, God will not “abandon me to Sheol, He cannot allow His faithful servant to see the abyss”, the final resolution or outcomes are often far better than what my human mind could previously imagine. Many times over, what God asks of me to give up is often replaced by His grace and provision beyond what I deserved. Like the angel that points out the ram that is meant to take Isaac’s place for the offering, God offers the best solutions to our challenges, only if we trust Him enough, to be open to His promptings.

Only when we trust God completely, can we fully welcome His love for us.

In Psalm 16:11, God “will teach me the path of life, unbounded joy in His presence, at His right hand delight forever”. When I let go of my human expectations of what my life ought to be like, how others should respond or reciprocate to my efforts, what my success is meant to be in worldly terms, or how God should grant me particular blessings, only then do I become open to rejoice in the abundance, delights and joys that God has already laid out for me. I would suffer a lot less heartache, anxiety and grief, when I choose to surrender completely to the circumstances that God has made for me to experience. Let us open our hearts and minds to God’s plan for our lives. For it is only in holding lightly, do we experience the magic of resting in our Father’s lavish love.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Adele Khee)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, grant me the humility and wisdom to discern Your will for me. Grant me the courage to obey You completely and trust in Your providence, especially when the costs seem impossible or unacceptable in my limited human understanding.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for Your divine providence, and Your care for the biggest concerns and smallest details of my life. I am grateful to You, Lord, for the people, circumstances and blessings that You have granted me, to help me become more like You.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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A Close Partnership with God

“Tell the sons of Israel to march on”

Over the last few years, my son has taken a fascination to ‘special abilities’. We have been asked, repeatedly over a period of time, whether we prefer to be able to slow time, or be in two places at one time or even to know what others are thinking.

Very often, we hope to be saved in a very tangible way by our God. Like a superhero, we imagine the day we would have our Lord pop up and rescue us from whatever we need to be rescued from.

I have always known the song “The Horse and Rider” of Psalm 15. In it, we read of how God defeated the Egyptians as the slaves crossed the Red Sea, about how God turned up like a superhero, coming to save the day.

In the 3rd reading today, we read that before the events of Psalm 15 happened, God gave Moses two instructions. Firstly, to “tell the sons of Israel to march on”, and secondly, for Moses to raise his staff and stretch his hand over the sea and part it.  God asked Moses to play his part so that God could play His!

Rather than having God swoop in and solve our problems, I believe God asks us to be active participants in the solution. He wants us to first begin the process, then let Him take over and do the rest. Rather than being passive in the whole process, I feel that God wants us to be collaborators; to work in partnership with Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, we pray that we will have the courage to collaborate with You; to take the first steps in allowing You to work within our lives.

ThanksgivingThank You, Father for working within our lives; for teaching us to take the first step in working closely with You.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsarial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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Strength in Commitment

“With great love will I take you back”

I remember attending the Marriage Preparation Course twenty years ago. One of the most memorable takeaways I remember is that love was not just an emotion; it was also a decision. Many older married couples counseled us, saying that beyond the initial ‘honeymoon’ period, making love work would take conscious decisions, which need to be made and reaffirmed time and again.

In the 4th reading today, we get a sense of the level of commitment our God has for us. The reading reminds us that whatever difficulties a wife may face with the husband, they return to the marital promise of being there for each other.

My wife and I have been married 20 years this year. Indeed, the advice and words from our elders came true during the years. Many friends have told me that both my wife and I are blessed to have a successful marriage. The truth is, however, that our marriage took very hard work, with many ups and downs along the way. Ultimately though, the decision was, for the both of us, we would work on our marriage no matter how hard it took.

Let us cling to this strong commitment that our God has for us and remember that whatever happens, He is there for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, help us to always remember that You are always there for us, loving us.

ThanksgivingThank You Lord, for the deep commitment You have given us. Thank You for being there for us, no matter what.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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Jesus is waiting for you

Listen, that you may have life.

The end of 2016 wasn’t not easy going for me – spiritual dryness, praying was especially hard and I struggled to find meaning in my very existence. It was a time of sheer darkness. My God had abandoned me! So by January, I knew I needed to just get away from it all. To be completely alone, to come away from ‘life’ as I knew it.

I marked the beginning of Lent by spending a week away on a retreat. I had planned to go with a friend, but that friend pulled out due to work commitments. I found another willing companion but just days before, she too pulled out. Eventually I went alone. I have never before travelled on my own; work trips excluded. But the Lord planned that I would make this journey on my own. I needed this quiet time away but truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much. After all, learning from past experiences, nothing goes according to my plan. On previous silent retreats, I would list a slew of questions and our God of surprises would throw my list out of the window. Still, on the very first day, I wrote in my journal 4 objectives for my retreat. How typical of me to set ‘the agenda’ for this ‘meeting’. But even as I wrote in my book, I was thinking to myself “I bet none of these questions would be covered.”

On route to my destination, I was reading and came across this line which struck me. Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? I had been worried about a situation I was facing and reading this was very comforting. Oh come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money come! And so, my retreat began.

For some time, I kept questioning what my reason for being is – my vocation. I was convinced that the Lord was simply silent to that question. But during this time, when I shut out all my own thoughts and feelings, I heard it loud and clear — “Your vocation is not static. It moves and evolves”. It was like ‘wham!’ a lightning bolt, and it all became clear in my mind. While I was so busy wallowing in my self-constructed prison of darkness, the answer was as simple and clear as day, right before me and yet I never saw it. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.

God yearns to speak to us and lead us – we can choose to listen, or go our own merry way. He gives us free will. As for me, my head was so busy and noisy with my own thoughts and ways of fixing my problem that I practically shut out His voice. And of course, my way was not the best way. I found myself completely lost in a maze. Then like a spoilt child, I scream and throw a tantrum saying that God has abandoned me. It was only when I finally gave up, gave in and gave it all to Jesus that I heard Him. I acknowledged that it was I who walked away from Him, while all along, He never left my side. I came away from my vacation with Jesus refreshed, recharged, with a sense of hope and purpose. And yes, He did answer my questions this time!

So today, as we are just hours away from Easter, can we let ourselves out of the tomb of darkness? The darkness and pain that we are so accustomed to and walk out into the light?

Jesus is waiting just outside, my friends!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, teach us to silence our hearts and minds that we might hear you speaking. Teach us to seek you and call to you when we are lost and in need of your nourishment.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for rejuvenating our souls. Your words are refreshing cool spring waters on a parched soul. Thank you for being our strength and comfort.


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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsarial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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To Listen is to Love

“Had you walked in the way of God, you would have dwelt in enduring peace”

 I’ve heard it said many times before that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I’m not so sure. For one it leaves me feeling foolish whenever I come across that mountain of bad decisions I’ve made in my life. What if I had done things differently or taken another path, would I be better off now? But then, what is better off? It would be what I perceived to be better off, maybe even what the world perceives to be ‘better off’.

But where would God fit into my life if I didn’t make bad decisions then beg for divine intervention? I might look back one day and say, if only I didn’t have it all together then God would have entered my life sooner. Much like the Israelites in slavery, did we ever find out what got them there in the first place? Then in being rescued, the journey took so long that while God was rescuing them, they wanted to abandon him again.

I think our journeys into the light are long and painful, filled with valleys and peaks so that we can stand tall at the end and say with true marvellous reverence, “My Lord and My God”.

How much more do we appreciate that which we fought so hard for, how much more do we appreciate the airport we land in when the flight was 24 hours long with 3 connections, when we find the place of wisdom and enter into her treasuries where we find peace, we can truly appreciate being there and dwelling there.

Our history is blessed, it had led us to where we are now, with all our failings and misdeeds. We have been called out of slavery and into everlasting life. Hindsight works for some, not so for others, but for me, I’m blessed to be able to look back at the journey that I am still on, in fact, and boast in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, he is strong and if I let him, he will carry me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: The path to you is narrow and filled with dangers; but you, my Saviour, can bring me home. Grant me that trust and reliance on you my Lord.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for my blessed history. Let me gain wisdom by reflecting on my past to help me rely on you more every day.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsarial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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The Struggles in Prayer

Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name.

Often in prayer, I have to overcome a barrier — my sense of unworthiness. I frequently enter into prayer with a sense of shame. A shame that I have not been living as closely with God as ‘I should’; that I have not been talking to God as ‘I should’. Needless to say, these thoughts keep me focused on myself and my inadequacies, causing prayer to be a very heavy and burdensome experience.

The verse above provides a sense of liberation. God treats me well not because I deserve it, but because of His own name. Perhaps it would help to think about how I treat certain individuals that I dislike in order to understand how God treats me when I act poorly.

When I am tempted to be unkind to people I dislike, I refrain from acting like this because I cannot live with myself being an unkind and cruel person. I find myself instead extending general courtesy towards them. If I, a human being and a sinner, can withhold from acting nastily or cruelly because it is not in my nature to do so, what more God?

In fact, God goes further. He doesn’t just treat me civilly; the way I do with people I am not fond of. He doesn’t just keep me at arm’s length when He is displeased with me. On the contrary, He pursues and gathers me home, cleanses me, changes my heart and calls me, a sinner, “Mine”. He does this because His nature is that of a loving Father – one who patiently woos and changes hearts, one that always welcomes His children home, one that does His best to let His children feel safe at home.

If I imagined God as this loving Father who is here to welcome me, hold me, help me, renew my heart, make me more like Him, would I enter into prayer differently? Would I still shrink into the darkness of self-condemnation or would I relax into His loving and compassionate light?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jean Nathalia)

Prayer: Dear Father, I pray to relax into Your loving and compassionate embrace. I pray to let go of my habit of judging myself, and build a new habit of focusing on who You are and how You will always act in accordance with Your loving nature.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks that because God’s nature is good, He will always be good to us. All we need to do is to say ‘Yes’.


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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsarial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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All you who long for Life

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection.

This scripture passage reminds me of the story of Lazarus having died and been buried in the tomb for three days. We have encountered this story during Lent. And so we know that Jesus arrived late, he witnessed the grief of Mary and Martha, and he mourned with them. Then, to everyone’s amazement, Jesus called Lazarus to arise from his death and walk out from the tomb.

Tonight, we will witness the baptism of new members into our Catholic family. It is a tremendously joyous occasion, one filled with jubilation and hope and new life! At the same time, the readings also call us to a powerful reality we must contend with as Christians, and that is the fact of death, or the need to die. Dying is such an important part of life, that God uses death to reveal to us a conundrum – it does not only happen at the end of one’s life. Death is a powerful gateway to true and eternal Life. ‘But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him… in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:8,11).

Many of us may never fully understand this until we are finitely confronted with death in its literal sense. We realize how helpless we truly are in the face of our mortality, and those of our loved ones, or even, the millions of refugees in war-torn lands. Even so, how would this knowledge touch our souls?

From my experience, dying will happen to us on three levels of our reality, although each may be felt differently. The first is literal (the loss of life), the second metaphorical or emotional (the loss of a relationship, a dream), and the third being spiritual (death to one’s sin, death to the spiritual life, the loss of hope, depression).

In the light of baptism and our renewal of our baptismal vows together with the congregation, we are called to choose to die to our sin, to reject Satan and his lies, to trust that our redemption and true life will come with His Resurrection. It will not be easy, as some of us struggle with addictions, compulsions and even blindness to our wrongs. Still, we pray humbly for the courage to wage this battle, knowing full well that our hope and victory come through the power of Christ’s Precious Blood and Body. We are called and chosen to hold the great I AM in our hands and taste of His true flesh and blood. May we never take the Eucharist for granted.

At the same time, I feel called to address my brothers and sisters who are struggling with your faith, with elements of our faith, with your own desolation, depression, and despair, who feel daily dead in their spirits or lost in loneliness. As Jesus comforts Mary and Martha, “this [illness, pain, doubt or suffering] does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4). This is a death that is hardest to talk about amongst even the closest of friends and family. But the Christ whom you have once professed faith in and who has chosen you, He sees you. He sees through, hidden as it may be. He feels your pain and struggles, your doubts and confusion, your despair and sorrow.

Oftentimes, there are no quick fixes, no three-day empowerment programs, no majestic resurrection moments. Do not be discouraged. Do not shudder or recoil at the glory of these “Alleluia!” Scriptures that are promised you tonight, simply because you can not presently feel the joy or hope.

This is the heroism of our faith, that we, human as we are, are called upon to defy the darkness, in spite of our own darkness. Trust! Hold fast! The glory of God and His Son is still germinating in the dark soil beneath wherever you are standing, and it will take time. It must take time. We have the Christ, who is King over all of the living and the dead, and especially these agonising in-between spaces. He has traversed these boundaries and revealed His Eternal Dominion over all of time and space. Have faith. I know that three days can sometimes feel like forever. I know because I have been stuck before. But I know Christ has always remained faithful in these spaces with me. Even if I had been blind to it. He has never let me go, and He has raised me up. He will never let you go, and He will raise you up.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, please make known your love and presence to those who are struggling with sorrow, doubt, depression. May they sense the warmth of your Precious Blood even in the darkness.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Abba Father, for the gift of faith, the grace of baptism, and the Holy Spirit who protects me at all times.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

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Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

It is interesting how, in today’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks to the women were comforting words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid” he said, before giving them further instructions to pass on to the apostles. At almost every CER I have served, He inevitably sends me one of the prophet Isaiah’s well-known verses to reassure me that He is indeed lifting me up each and every day and giving me eagle’s wings to soar. For indeed, Christ has conquered death. So what else have we to fear?

In the past, I never truly understood or connected with the significance of Easter. It was just Christ ‘waking up’ after three days in the tomb. But now, Christ’s resurrection is more than just a physical one fo rme. I truly believe that His resurrection is a daily reminder that we must die to ourselves each and every day — at home, at work, in ministry. And in dying to ourselves, we are to surrender all our attachments to sin, to pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and covetousness. Easier said than done, especially when we also have to die to our loved ones, parents, colleagues, bosses and anyone else we encounter each day on our mortal journey here on earth.

If you think about it, we ‘die’ each night we lay down to sleep and are ‘resurrected’ each time we arise to a new day. How is it then that many of us are able to face each day with a strength and conviction that allows us to get out of the door? I think it is because we have some semblance of a ‘plan’, boring as it may seem – have breakfast, read the papers, head to the office, have lunch, attend meetings/do our work, head home, have dinner, watch some TV/surf the net, then go to bed. And the cycle repeats itself again. IF indeed we arise the next day.

But brothers and sisters, have you ever thought about those who are in depression, out of work, in counselling, or with nothing to look forward to each day? How would these people feel upon waking up in the morning? Some would dread having to face a new day with nothing to do, with no friends to meet up with, no-one to talk to. Life for them would literally be a ‘prison’ or a tomb of sorts, with darkness all around to engulf them. Perhaps that is how the apostles and Jesus’ followers felt after His death on the cross. That all was hopeless and life was going to be futile, not worth living at all.

Christ’s resurrection was more than just a physical ‘statement’. It symbolised an awakening of the spirit within his apostles and followers and it gave them the courage to persevere amid all kinds of challenges as they went about evangelising to the rest of the world. Today, as we prepare to welcome Christ again in his physical form, let us all take courage and live out our calling – to be prophets and evangelisers, to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice on the Cross and for fulfilling the promise He gave to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father for reawakening in us the spirit of your son, Jesus Christ.

 

18 March, Saturday – Grace: God’s gift

18 Mar – Memorial for St. Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop and doctor

Cyril (315-386) was raised a Christian in Jerusalem. He was well-educated, especially in religion. He was ordained a priest by St. Maximus, and was a great instructor of catechumens. His instructions are still source documents for the Church’s early teachings. He became Bishop of Jerusalem in 348. He was exiled three times by the Arians, usually on some trumped up charge like selling church furniture, but actually on theological grounds. He attended the Council of Seleucia in 359, and the Council of Constantinople in 381. He is a Greek Father of the Church, and a Doctor of the Church.

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Micah 7:14-15,18-20

With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt
grant us to see wonders.

What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.

Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.

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Gospel
Luke 15:1-3,11-32

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

‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.
‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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“… all I have is yours”

The story of the Prodigal Son is a well-known parable and is always shared and reflected upon. Many of us identify so much with the younger son and with his repentance, turning back to his father after a long period of debauchery and licentiousness.

We read about the father’s love for his son, who upon hearing of the latter’s return, ordered his servants to slaughter the calf in celebration.

In recent years, however, the story of the elder son has been foremost on my mind.  It is in his story that has really given me a better understanding of God’s kingdom.

I imagined myself in his position, working hard for his father.  In my mind, in a similar situation, I would have thought that I would stand to inherit everything, especially after how my younger brother had demanded for, and received, his share of the inheritance. Whatever I work hard for would ultimately be for myself!

I can commiserate with him when he then saw his brother receive the kind of treatment he did upon his return. All his work and dedication had been for nothing, and he must have felt less important than his brother.

And yet, when we reflect on this passage, we understand when we remember that God’s grace is given and not earned. In the older son’s story, he had earned and deserved his position. It wasn’t fair that his brother could still come back to a good life! On the other hand, God’s grace is a gift that no amount of ‘work’ on our part gives us a right to!

I teach Catechism to primary school level children and even at such a young age, they express the view that they cannot sin, so that they can go to heaven. These children consistently share the view that we need to always work hard (either doing good or not doing bad) in order to earn the right to heaven.  This is ‘elder son’ thinking!

We need to remember that our place in heaven is assured and that while we still need to do good, this desire should stem from God’s love in us and not the desire to earn something out of it. Thank goodness for this, for if a meritocracy-based approach were applied, so many of us would fail miserably!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, help us to always remember that your love for us is infinite and that our place in heaven is a gift given by you. Help us to do good because of your love for us, and that no matter what we do, we could never hope to earn our place by your side.

Thanksgiving – Thank You Father God, for loving us and for sending your son Jesus to die for our sins and to be a bridge back to you.

17 March, Friday – Living Responsible Lives

17 Mar – Memorial for St. Patrick, bishop

St. Patrick (387-390 – 461-464) was kidnapped from the British mainland when he was about 16, and shipped to Ireland as a slave. He was sent to the mountains as a shepherd, and spent his time in prayer. After six years of this life, he had a dream in which he was commanded to return to Britain. Seeing it as a sign, he escaped.

He studied in several monasteries in Europe. He was a priest, then a bishop. He was sent by Pope St. Celestine to evangelize England, then Ireland, during which his chariot driver was St. Odran, and St. Jarlath was one of his spiritual students.

In 33 years, he effectively converted Ireland. In the Middle Ages, Ireland become known as the ‘Land of Saints’, and during the Dark Ages, its monasteries were the great repositories of learning in Europe, all a consequence of Patrick’s ministry.

Christ shield me this day:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me

– Saint Patrick, from his breastplate

  • Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 37:3-4,12-13,17-28

Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him. But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.
His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers with the flock at Shechem? Come, I am going to send you to them.’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot among themselves to put him to death. ‘Here comes the man of dreams’ they said to one another. ‘Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’
But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their violence. ‘We must not take his life’ he said. ‘Shed no blood,’ said Reuben to them ‘throw him into this well in the wilderness, but do not lay violent hands on him’ – intending to save him from them and to restore him to his father. So, when Joseph reached his brothers, they pulled off his coat, the coat with long sleeves that he was wearing, and catching hold of him they threw him into the well, an empty well with no water in it. They then sat down to eat.

Looking up they saw a group of Ishmaelites who were coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, tragacanth, balsam and resin, which they were taking down into Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do any harm to him. After all, he is our brother, and our own flesh.’ His brothers agreed.

Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they drew Joseph up out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces, and these men took Joseph to Egypt.

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Matthew 21:33-43,45-46

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realised he was speaking about them, but though they would have liked to arrest him they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet.

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“This was the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see”

As a parent, we often cringe when we see our children make decisions which we think may not be correct. We jump in, trying hard to guide them into making right ones, cajoling, encouraging and sometimes even threatening them; then sit back when they see the folly of their potentially (wrong) decisions.

Yet, it is not possible to do so, especially when they become older. Many times, they will willfully disregard your counsel and insist on their ways. For the ‘tiger parents’ among us, this would probably end up in very robust confrontations and fights. How difficult it is being parents!

What struck me about today’s gospel is that we have a God who does not do that. Whatever our decision and thoughts, God’s voice comes in a whisper through the Holy Spirit and we are free to do whatever we decide, guided by our conscience.

Another thing that struck me was in the first reading, which relates how Joseph came to be sold into slavery into Egypt.

Beginning as a slave, Joseph ended up becoming a very powerful man in Egypt, second only to the Pharoah. He certainly did not have the smoothest of paths getting there. He did not have vast riches in the beginning and had to endure many hardships.

Similarly, doing God’s will does not ensure that everything will be given us automatically. Success does not mean that God would give us vast amounts of wealth and power. Success should not equate to a smooth road, and it does not mean that without these, we are not blessed by Him.

Let us pray to our Father God, that we would always be open to His guidance and gentle cajoling, and that whatever our circumstances, we have been given the gift of eternal life. Whatever station we find ourselves in life, we must remember that we are blessed with His love.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Lord, help us to believe and depend on You completely. We pray that we will exercise our free will responsibly and with love.

ThanksgivingThank you Father, for allowing us to make our own choices. Thank you for being there, whatever the circumstances, as You were there with Joseph as he lived his life in slavery.

16 March, Thursday – True Wealth

16 March 2017

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Jeremiah 17:5-10

The Lord says this:

‘A curse on the man who puts his trust in man,
who relies on things of flesh,
whose heart turns from the Lord.
He is like dry scrub in the wastelands:
if good comes, he has no eyes for it,
he settles in the parched places of the wilderness,
a salt land, uninhabited.

‘A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord,
with the Lord for his hope.
He is like a tree by the waterside
that thrusts its roots to the stream:
when the heat comes it feels no alarm,
its foliage stays green;
it has no worries in a year of drought,
and never ceases to bear fruit.

‘The heart is more devious than any other thing,
perverse too: who can pierce its secrets?
I, the Lord, search to the heart,
I probe the loins,
to give each man what his conduct
and his actions deserve.’

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Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”

‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them..” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’

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“A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, with the Lord for his hope.”

A number of years ago, I spent a week in Mumbai in India for work. Every day, I would take a walk from the hotel I was staying in to my office.  This was a 15-minute walk filled with interesting sights and sounds.

One of the things I observed was that many of the poor were on the streets, living in little tents in huge groups. Interspersed between these dwellings were huge, beautiful and ornately-built homes and within these houses were exotic cars and stretch limousines. Very often, I saw these cars stop by the roadside, offloading their spiffily-dressed passengers on their way for dinner at the top restaurants.  I remember these scenes vividly in my mind, almost as though it happened yesterday.

Over the years, I have interacted with the well-to-do from Mumbai and very often, the discussion would go back to what I had seen. Many of these affluent people shared with me their views that they thought that the poor in India were indeed a ‘problem’.

Yet, when I was there, I was given clear instructions to ignore these poor when in the streets.  I was to simply look straight and walk and under no circumstances was I to ever engage with them.

These scenes are what I see when I read the passage about Lazarus and these rich people. How difficult it must be for either to reach out to the other! I wondered, many times, whether wealth and riches hindered rather than helped one to reach heaven.

I have seen people who have deliberately taken a step back from their wealth, choosing to give chunks of it away to help others. While obviously less wealthy, these people have become happier and more connected with God.

Jesus teaches us that if we choose detachment from our ‘things’ and ‘wealth’, we become more connected with those in need around us. May we always turn to God for our needs, rather than to our earthly possessions.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Lord, help us to never put our things above people. May we always be reminded that it is You who provides for all our needs.

ThanksgivingThank You Jesus, for giving us all we have. Thank you for the people you surround us with and for the love we receive from them.

15 March, Wednesday – Servant Leadership

15 March 2017

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Jeremiah 18:18-20

‘Come on,’ they said, ‘let us concoct a plot against Jeremiah; the priest will not run short of instruction without him, nor the sage of advice, nor the prophet of the word. Come on, let us hit at him with his own tongue; let us listen carefully to every word he says.’

Listen to me, O Lord,
hear what my adversaries are saying.
Should evil be returned for good?
For they are digging a pit for me.
Remember how I stood in your presence
to plead on their behalf,
to turn your wrath away from them.

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Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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“…anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant…”

Growing up with my grandaunt, one of the bad behaviours I had as a child was a difficulty in telling the truth whenever I got into trouble.

One of the incidents that I can remember vividly was me being in my grandaunt’s room. I was in there with a child (I think he was something like 2 or 3 years old then) and he was basically minding his own business. Intrigued by a glass thermometer, I was playing with it and trying to send the mercury level up when I smashed it against a table, sending glass shards all over the room.

Afraid to be punished, I immediately pointed the finger at the boy (whom I knew would never be punished) and got off scot-free.

Thankfully, over the years, I learned what it meant to take responsibility for one’s actions.

In life, however, many ‘leaders’ fail to live up to the true meaning of ‘leadership’ and ‘responsibility’.  Many seek to enjoy the perks, but refuse to accept the accompanying responsibilities.

Jesus, in the gospel, teaches the Zebedee brothers what it means to be a true leader. He teaches them, and us, that true leadership is not about lording it over others. Instead, being a true leader is about serving others humbly, without ego and the desire to be the most powerful. True leadership is self-sacrificial.

This teaching of Jesus goes against the worldly view of leadership. May our Lord continue to guide us towards becoming truly worthy to sit by His side.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer May we learn to be humble as we walk towards Your kingdom, O Lord.  Help us to give of ourselves more each day.

ThanksgivingThank you Father, for teaching us the meaning of leadership. We appreciate You for showing us that we should not be seeking riches and recognition as we learn to truly serve others.

14 March, Tuesday – Being Led by the True North Star

14 March 2017

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Isaiah 1:10,16-20

Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the command of our God,
you people of Gomorrah.

‘Wash, make yourselves clean.
Take your wrong-doing out of my sight.
Cease to do evil.
Learn to do good,
search for justice,
help the oppressed,
be just to the orphan,
plead for the widow.

‘Come now, let us talk this over,
says the Lord.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

‘If you are willing to obey,
you shall eat the good things of the earth.
But if you persist in rebellion,
the sword shall eat you instead.’

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Matthew 23:1-12

Addressing the people and his disciples Jesus said, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.

‘You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’

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“… do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do…”

As a father to 2 children, I learnt very early on that children are keen observers of your behavior.  They will first listen to what you have to say, but very quickly, they will pick up any difference between what you say and what you actually do.

When both my children were very young, we set strict rules that all forms of eating were to be done in the dining room, including the consumption of potato chips, drinks and other forms of titbits.  This went well for a period of time, until the time we forgot and my wife and I opened a pack of chips to go along with the movie we were watching in our bedroom.

In the midst of watching the movie, our children walked into the room and stood still as they looked at us, wide-eyed…. When we finally heard the dreaded words: “Dad and Mum.. I thought you said that we were ALL not supposed to eat in our rooms?”

Oops. Needless to say, chip-eating in the bedroom became common place in our household.

In essence, this is what human nature is all about. We are always (whether consciously or unconsciouly) reconciling what people say and what they do, and are quick to pounce on any dissonance between the two. If someone in authority breaks the rules, who are they to tell us to follow the same rules?  This is what is commonly seen in society, in the workplace and in the political arena.

In today’s gospel reading, our Lord Jesus talks about that. Rather than be outward-looking, He exhorts us to look within; to be guided by our faith and by our conscience. He asks us to always strive to do the right thing, and not be led to do wrong just because others choose to do the wrong thing.  Imagine what our world would have been like had Adam chosen not to do as Eve did.

Let us pray that we will always be led by the Spirit to do what is right in God’s eyes.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, we pray that you may strengthen us through the Holy Spirit and that you will always be our compass, leading our thoughts and works. We pray that in our weakness, we may always repent and turn to you.

ThanksgivingThank you Father, for sending your son Jesus to not just die for us, but also show us how to live.

13 March, Monday – Do Not Judge

13 March 2017

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Daniel 9:4-10

O Lord, God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments: we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you.

To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.

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Luke 6:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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“Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate”

Thanks to the invention of the mobile phone, or more specifically, the camera on the mobile phone, more and more of us are now taking photographs.  Very often, when we are out with friends or family, we whip out our phones and capture the moment for posterity. This is commonly known as taking a ‘selfie’.

The other way the camera is used is the traditional way. Once we take the photos, we use filters to change how the photos look… and when they look good enough, they are posted onto social media. If people like what they see, they will choose to ‘like’ or ‘love’ the photos.  In effect, by posting these onto social media, the photos are in effect subject to public judgement.

Similarly, we look at what is happening around us and tend to pass judgement. As human beings, we look at situations and sub-consciously attribute a story behind the happenings. It is part of the human condition that we have these ‘shortcuts’ to help us interpret the world around us.

Our Lord teaches us not to do this in today’s gospel passage. As an analogy, rather than looking at the photos that others post and casting a critical eye over them, the passage teaches us not to be judgemental. Instead, we should be like someone taking a ‘selfie’. The filter we should be applying should be coming from Christ and the Bible.  When we look at these ‘selfies’, we should, in fact, be looking at our imperfections and looking to change for the better.

Let us pray for humility and the kindness for others.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer We pray for the gift of gentleness and kindness for others.

ThanksgivingThank you Father, for giving us a conscience; in order to help us look at which aspects of ourselves to be able to improve.

12 March, Sunday – Faith-Driven Action

12 March 2017

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Genesis 12:1-4

The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name so famous that it will be used as a blessing.

‘I will bless those who bless you:
I will curse those who slight you.
All the tribes of the earth
shall bless themselves by you.’

So Abram went as the Lord told him.

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2 Timothy 1:8-10

With me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy – not because of anything we ourselves have done but for his own purpose and by his own grace. This grace had already been granted to us, in Christ Jesus, before the beginning of time, but it has only been revealed by the Appearing of our saviour Christ Jesus. He abolished death, and he has proclaimed life and immortality through the Good News.

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Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’

He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.

As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’

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“So Abram went as the Lord told him”

I first started going to church in my late teens and joined the choir.  I found that I really enjoyed singing and had been told I had a good singing voice.  I also learned to play the guitar and was progressing well.  A priest, who shall remain unnamed, thought I had what it took to join the church’s music ministry.

I felt really happy to have been ‘selected’, and I had, indeed, planned to go try out for a spot. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months and months to years, and I ended up not going for the auditions. All good intentions remained only that, only intentions.

Fast forward to today, and my daughter is at the age I was when I first discovered I enjoyed singing.  Her passion, however, is with musicals and plays.  She knows the histories and backstories of the different musicals. She knows about the actors and actresses, which troupes they worked with and what roles they were best in.  Before I knew it, she had signed up to volunteer with a professional theatre company and had thrown herself headlong into her passion.

In the first reading of today, Abram was asked by God to leave his country, father’s home and his own family. What a big ask! Imagine that! Abram had no detailed plans from God; he didn’t know where to go and what exactly was going to happen to him. Yes, despite this, Abram did as he was told. All he had was faith and his willingness to act on God’s promptings and instructions.

Today’s readings tell that He needs us to take action when we receive His promptings. Without us taking the first step, God would not be able to work through us, nor for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father God, we pray that we will always have courage to act on Your promptings. Give us strength O God.

ThanksgivingThank You, Father God, for always sending Your Spirit to be there with us. Thank you for blessing us always with Your love and constant guidance and protection.

14 January, Saturday – Conquering our Pride

14 January 2017

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Hebrews 4:12-16

The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.

Since in Jesus, the Son of God, we have the supreme high priest who has gone through to the highest heaven, we must never let go of the faith that we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.

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Mark 2:13-17

Jesus went out to the shore of the lake; and all the people came to him, and he taught them. As he was walking on he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.

When Jesus was at dinner in his house, a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them among his followers. When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this he said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’

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“The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely”

When my children were still toddlers, going to church for Mass was an amazingly stressful event.  Doing what children do, they tended to speak, scream or sing out loud at the most inappropriate times.

There were more than a few occasions when we got irate stares from those around us.  There was a time when a young lady tapped my wife on her shoulder and told us to “control our children”.  As if it wasn’t enough, she continued to say that the noise was disturbing her prayer time. It was especially difficult given that my kids were not exactly very loud, and we were, in fact, bringing them outside the church whenever we felt that they were disturbing those around us.

Another time this happened, a gentleman looked at us and smiled warmly. Speaking gently, he told us: “Don’t worry. That’s what children do”.  Edmund (we made a new friend that day!), in fact, was not the only one to comfort us. Others around us gave us similar smiles and approving nods. Their actions gave us an inordinate amount of comfort, and we felt safe in the celebration of the mass.

As a Christian, there are times when I have been judgmental. Seeing someone else doing something inappropriate, I inadvertently mouth the words “How can they….”, followed by the action/thought/attitude that the other person demonstrates.

Following these events, I often feel ashamed. I am like the sinner that has cast the first stone. How can I, a recipient of God’s infinite forgiveness, choose to levy judgment on my fellow brothers and sisters? I feel like the unforgiving servant who goes out to collect on a miniscule debt, despite myself having been forgiven a debt many many times more than that.

As we grow in our faith and travel along the path of life, let us always be mindful that we should not be judgmental of others.  We need, of course, to be able to (lovingly) correct the erroneous actions of our fellow brothers and sisters, but never judge them as children of God our Father.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer – O Father, teach us to treat those around us lovingly. Help us not be judgmental, thinking that we are better than these brothers and sisters.

Thanksgiving – Thank You, Father God, for giving us the gift of forgiveness. Thank You for not thinking that we are unworthy of Your favour and love.

13 January, Friday – Keeping our Faith

13 Jan – Memorial for St. Hilary, bishop and doctor of the Church

St. Hilary of Poitiers (315-368) was known as Athanasius of the West. He was born to wealthy polytheistic, pagan nobility. His early life was uneventful as he married, had children (one of whom was St. Abra), and studied on his own. Through his studies, he came to believe in salvation through good works, and then monotheism. As he studied the Bible for the first time, he literally read himself into the faith, and was converted by the end of the New Testament.

Hilary lived the faith so well that he was made Bishop of Poitiers from 353-368. He opposed the emperor’s attempt to run Church matters and was exiled; he used the time to write works explaining the faith. His teaching and writings converted many and, in an attempt to reduce his notoriety, he was returned to the small town of Poitiers where his enemies hoped he would fade into obscurity. His writings nonetheless continued to convert pagans.

Hilary introduced Eastern theology to the Western Church, fought Arianism with the help of St. Viventius, and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1851.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Hebrews 4:1-5,11

Be careful: the promise of reaching the place of rest that God had for the Israelites still holds good, and none of you must think that he has come too late for it. We received the Good News exactly as they did; but hearing the message did them no good because they did not share the faith of those who listened. We, however, who have faith, shall reach a place of rest, as in the text: And so, in anger, I swore that not one would reach the place of rest I had for them. God’s work was undoubtedly all finished at the beginning of the world; as one text says, referring to the seventh day: After all his work God rested on the seventh day. The text we are considering says: They shall not reach the place of rest I had for them. We must therefore do everything we can to reach this place of rest, or some of you might copy this example of disobedience and be lost.

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Mark 2:1-12

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, word went round that he was back; and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some scribes were sitting there, and they thought to themselves, ‘How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?’

Jesus, inwardly aware that this was what they were thinking, said to them, ‘Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” or to say, “Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk”? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he turned to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.’ And the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astounded and praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’

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“We, however, who have faith, shall reach a place of rest.”

I was having dinner with a few colleagues of mine when the topic of health, or more specifically, illness, came up.

My friend shared that one of his parents was critically ill before she passed away. He thought that instead of going through numerous medical treatments, one should just enjoy the remaining time one had.

Another colleague shared that his friend’s child had suddenly become unwell at six months of age and his parents were told that he would not live past another six months. The parents fought on, choosing to put their child through numerous operations on the heart and lungs. The child is today eight years of age, living life fully, although he still has to contend with a few symptoms of his childhood affliction.

I have witnessed a few of my friends and family go through similar health challenges in their lives, and they have faced similar dilemmas as well. The choice is never easy; does one give up or fight to live? The passages in the First Reading and Gospel today exhort everyone to keep their faith in God and not to give up.

The challenge is that with God’s gift of free will, we struggle to discern the path God desires us to take. Today’s readings tell me that the way to go is to continue to reach out and be connected to Jesus, and simply to live each day with faith. May we continue to do so until the time we are due to meet with God in heaven.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer Father, may we learn to live our lives in simple faith and to keep reaching out to You.  Help us to keep our eyes and spirits open to You.

ThanksgivingJesus, thank You for always encouraging us in the Holy Bible. We are grateful for the Holy Spirit, sent to affirm and strengthen us in our journey home.