Tag Archives: redemption

26 September, Tuesday – On behalf of us sinners

Sep 26 – Memorial for Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs (not used in 2010)

Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers, physicians who accepted no payment. Their charity brought many to Christ. Although they were tortured during the persecutions of Diocletian, the two suffered no injury.

  • Patron Saints Index

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Ezra 6:7-8,12,14-20

King Darius wrote to the satrap of Transeuphrates and his colleagues: ‘Leave the high commissioner of Judah and the elders of the Jews to work on this Temple of God; they are to rebuild this Temple of God on its ancient site. This, I decree, is how you must assist the elders of the Jews in the reconstruction of this Temple of God: the expenses of these people are to be paid, promptly and without fail, from the royal revenue – that is, from the tribute of Transeuphrates. May the God who causes his name to live there overthrow any king or people who dares to defy this and destroy the Temple of God in Jerusalem! I, Darius, have issued this decree. Let it be obeyed to the letter!’

The elders of the Jews prospered with their building, inspired by Haggai the prophet and Zechariah son of Iddo. They finished the building in accordance with the order of the God of Israel and the order of Cyrus and of Darius. This Temple was finished on the twenty-third day of the month of Adar; it was the sixth year of the reign of King Darius. The Israelites – the priests, the Levites and the remainder of the exiles – joyfully dedicated this Temple of God; for the dedication of this Temple of God they offered one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs and, as a sacrifice for sin for the whole of Israel, twelve he-goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel. Then they installed the priests according to their orders in the service of the Temple of God in Jerusalem, as is written in the Book of Moses.

The exiles celebrated the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

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Luke 8:19-21

The mother and the brothers of Jesus came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you.’ But he said in answer, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

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‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.’

 How is it that one man should die for the sins of many in order that they may be saved? How is it that one man could atone for the failures and the iniquities of all of humanity, past and present? Who is capable of representing every man, woman, child? If you or I were guilty of a crime, dare we consider scapegoating one person for the crime or travesty?

Frankly, the first reading today stumbled me. And the gospel passage always makes me wonder why Jesus would sound so distant and disrespectful of Mary his mother. At the same time, it is often this passage that some Protestants use to argue that Jesus had disowned his mother and hints that he had other siblings (brothers). Hence Mary had children other than Jesus, thus it diminishing the importance she plays in Jesus’ life and questions her honored place in the Catholic faith. However, we know that the word ‘brothers’ could mean kinsmen or cousins in its proper historical context. At the same time, we have another account in the Gospel of Mark that relates his family had thought Jesus’ ministry was out of hand and had arrived to take him home (Mk 3:28-35)

As I pondered deeper on these scriptures, I realized that I was challenged by the concept of claiming my brethren, a community, fellow Christians, and my fellow kinsfolk. The point is not that Jesus had disowned his flesh and blood family. Taken together, the first reading and gospel passage reveals that Christ came to unite all of us humanity into a large family of God’s people. It is a truly difficult concept. Because no matter how we slice the pie, we still cannot help but see ourselves as belonging to one particular group of society or church community.

Very naturally, we want to protect our own kind, we desire loyalty, we want to identify with someone or some group. But these are ultimately superficial divisions, and amorphous structures that our life experiences, culture, race, society, and upbringing place upon us. These are not set in stone and the reality is, we are truly one under the love of God.

In the first reading of Ezra, we are told: The Levites, as one man, had purified themselves; all were pure, so they sacrificed the passover for all the exiles, for their brothers the priests and for themselves.

This image prefigures God’s plan for the whole of humanity. That He, Creator of all the world and human race, should fashion from perfect love, one Man, His Only Begotten Son, as a sacrificial lamb to be condemned to death on cruel cross for all of humanity’s sins. No sin too small or great that Christ’s blood could not cleanse and purify. No wound so hidden that God’s love and mercy could not heal and restore. Jesus did not come to serve only his kinsmen, not only the ones who love him or love God and put His Word into practice. He came for all of us, even the ones we deem unworthy of redemption.

Grace is freely given. However, it is true that there are some amongst us who may continue to choose to spurn God’s grace and love. Yet, you and I are challenged today to still think of them as our brethren and our larger family, whom God loves unconditionally.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: We pray for a heart of mercy for our brothers and sisters who have yet to come to know God.

Thanksgiving: I thank God for the many prayers that must have been said for me while I was still a wandering prodigal daughter.

5 July, Tuesday – Seeing is Believing

5 July – Memorial for St. Anthony Mary Zaccaria, Priest

St. Anthony (1502-1539) studied medicine at Padua, receiving his doctorate at age 22. Working among the poor in Cremona, he felt called to the religious life. He was ordained at age 26; legend says that angels were seen around the altar at his first Mass. St. Anthony established two congregations that helped reform the morals of the faithful, encouraged laymen to work together with the apostolate, and frequent reception of Communion.

– Patron Saint Index

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Hosea 8:4-7,11-13

Thus says the Lord:

They have set up kings, but not with my consent,
and appointed princes, but without my knowledge.
Out of their own silver and gold they have made idols,
which are doomed to destruction.
I spurn your calf, Samaria,
my anger blazes against it.
(How long will it be before they purge themselves of this,
the sons of Israel?)
A workman made the thing,
this cannot be God!
Yes, the calf of Samaria shall go up in flames.
They sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind;
their wheat will yield no ear,
the ear will yield no flour,
or, if it does, foreigners will swallow it.

Ephraim has built altar after altar,
they have only served him as occasion for sin.
Were I to write out the thousand precepts of my Law for him,
they would be paid no more attention than those of a stranger.
They love sacrificing; right, let them sacrifice!
They love meat; right, let them eat it!
The Lord takes no pleasure in these.
He is now going to remember their iniquity
and punish their sins;
they will have to go back to Egypt.

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Matthew 9:32-37

A man was brought to Jesus, a dumb demoniac. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke and the people were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’

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.

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Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel

I was recently on holiday in Bhutan during the June break, and had the opportunity to learn more about Buddhism during the trip. It appears that the idea of karma governs the morality of the Bhutanese, as a lot of their actions or non-actions can be attributed to whether they lead to good or bad karma. To quote Wikipedia – “Good moral actions lead to wholesome rebirths, and bad moral actions lead to unwholesome rebirths.”

I was sharing with my cell group that this concept of karma is a lot easier to grasp than the nature of God’s love. Human nature is very attuned to the idea of rewards and punishment, and I find it very difficult to shake off the feeling that I will be less loved because of my sins. I am aware that God’s love will not be diminished due to one’s sin, but it is really a daily challenge to cast off my doubts and be open to that love.

In the gospel reading for today, there were those who were not open to Jesus’ messages and the signs that He gave. To those whom He healed, Jesus not only took away their physical ailments, but also encouraged them in their faith. One needs to be open and to have faith in order to be fully healed. Insecurity, doubts, pride, fear and that often-overwhelming sense of unworthiness are obstacles that can really block us from God’s love. Only prayer and a sincere, humble submission to the Lord can save us from ourselves.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the grace of a child-like simplicity and wonder at the power of the Lord’s love.

Thanksgiving: We thank the Lord for His presence within our hearts.

26 June, Sunday – Having No Regrets

26 June 

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1 Kings 19:16,19-21

The Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go, you are to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat, of Abel Meholah, as prophet to succeed you.’

Leaving there, Elijah came on Elisha son of Shaphat as he was ploughing behind twelve yoke of oxen, he himself being with the twelfth. Elijah passed near to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you’ he said. Elijah answered, ‘Go, go back; for have I done anything to you?’ Elisha turned away, took the pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He used the plough for cooking the oxen, then gave to his men, who ate. He then rose, and followed Elijah and became his servant.

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Galatians 5:1,13-18

When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather, in works of love, since the whole of the Law is summarised in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself. If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community.

Let me put it like this: if you are guided by the Spirit you will be in no danger of yielding to self-indulgence, since self-indulgence is the opposite of the Spirit, the Spirit is totally against such a thing, and it is precisely because the two are so opposed that you do not always carry out your good intentions. If you are led by the Spirit, no law can touch you.

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Luke 9:51-62

As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.

As they travelled along they met a man on the road who said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus answered, ‘Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Another to whom he said, ‘Follow me’, replied, ‘Let me go and bury my father first.’ But he answered, ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.’

Another said, ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me go and say goodbye to my people at home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

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No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God

Regret can be quite a debilitating emotion. Most people suffer from bouts of regret from time to time.  Whether feeling like some decision or action could have been taken differently, which would have made a change to a particular situation. Or whether things could have been handled differently or said more gently. These ‘what-if’ scenarios play over and over in our minds… potentially to the point that it questions our sense of purpose, ability or sincerity. As a result, we can become paralyzed in these thoughts and actions.

Yet, regret can also give us a great opportunity for self-reflection and improvement. We just need to realize that when we’re looking back, we are considering the past with all the added benefits of experiences of the present. So, rather than beating ourselves up today for something we might have done yesterday, we should use these experiences to figure out what we can do better at tomorrow.

God wants us to live a life without regret, shame and guilt. That is why He gave us the Bible that contains His life restoring Word. That is why He promised us eternal salvation. That is why He sent his one and only son Jesus to die for our sins. As Paul (who wouldn’t have been able to do Christ’s works if he remained paralyzed by guilt for his prior persecution of the early Christians) writes – “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Phil 3:13-15)

(Today’s Oxygen by Steven Su)

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we ask that You examine our hearts and help us to get rid of any guilt or doubts that might linger. Help us to look back at our decision to follow You as the most important decision in our lives.

Thanksgiving – Lord, we give thanks to You for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That only through Him, can we look forward to Your promise of eternal salvation.

25 May, Wednesday – Our Transcendent Nature

25 May 

Dear Oxygen Readers, we welcome Jacob Woo, a new guest writer with us today. Jacob has just joined our Catholic family with his Baptism this Easter. We pray he will grow in strength and wisdom in his newfound faith and life with Christ. God bless to all!

Jacob is a relatively recent convert to the Catholic faith. He is by day a Professor of Political Science and by night an ardent student of Philosophy. Deeply inspired by Ignatian spirituality, he hopes to find God in all things and to serve God in all ways.

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Memorial for St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Worker; Memorial for St. Gregory VII, Pope; Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Virgin

Bede (672-735) was born around the time England was finally completely Christianized. He was raised from age seven in the abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth-Jarrow, and lived there the rest of his life. He was a Benedictine monk, and the spiritual student of the founder, St. Benedict Biscop. He was ordained in 702 by St. John of Beverley. He was a teacher and author; he wrote about history, rhetoric, mathematics, music, astronomy, poetry, grammar, philosophy, hagiography, homiletics, and Bible commentary.

He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing. He was declared a Doctor of the Church on 13 November 1899 by Pope Leo XIII.

Gregory (1020-1085) was educated in Rome, Italy. He was a Benedictine monk, and chaplain to Pope Gregory VI. He was in charge of the Patrimony of St. Peter. He was a reformer and an excellent administrator. He was chosen the 152nd pope, but he declined the crown. He was chief counsellor to Pope Victor II, Pope Stephen IX, Pope Benedict X, and Pope Nicholas II. He eventually became the 157th pope.

At the time of his ascension, simony and a corrupt clergy threatened to destroy faith in the Church. Gregory took the throne as a reformer, and Emperor Henry IV promised to support him. Gregory suspended all clerics who had purchased their position, and ordered the return of all purchased church property.

The corrupt clergy rebelled; Henry IV broke his promise, and promoted the rebels. Gregory responded by excommunicating anyone involved in lay investiture. He summoned Henry to Rome, but the emperor’s supporters drove Gregory into exile. Henry installed the anti-pope Guibert of Ravenna, who was driven from Rome by Normans who supported Gregory; the Normans were, themselves, so out of control that the people of Rome drove them out. Gregory then retreated to Salerno, Italy, where he spent the remainder of his papacy.

Catherine (1566-1607) had a religious upbringing. She was initially sent to a convent at the age of 14, but was taken back home by her family who opposed her religious vocation and wanted her to marry well. They eventually gave in, and Catherine became a Carmelite of the Ancient Observance at 16, taking the name Sister Mary Magdalene. She as a mystic, and led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying particularly for the renewal of the Church and encouraging the sisters in holiness. Her life was marked by many extraordinary graces.

–  Patron Saint Index

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1 Peter 1:18-25

Remember, the ransom that was paid to free you from the useless way of life your ancestors handed down was not paid in anything corruptible, neither in silver nor gold, but in the precious blood of a lamb without spot or stain, namely Christ; who, though known since before the world was made, has been revealed only in our time, the end of the ages, for your sake. Through him you now have faith in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory for that very reason – so that you would have faith and hope in God.

You have been obedient to the truth and purified your souls until you can love like brothers, in sincerity; let your love for each other be real and from the heart – your new birth was not from any mortal seed but from the everlasting word of the living and eternal God. All flesh is grass and its glory like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains for ever. What is this word? It is the Good News that has been brought to you.

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Mark 10:32-45

The disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him: ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’

When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called 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 become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?

As Catholics, we are constantly reminded by both our priests and the Saints who have graced this world of the (necessary) presence and purpose of suffering. Indeed, Blessed Mother Teresa has often taught that suffering can be redemptive, both for ourselves and for others.

These are thoughts that have occupied me of late, as I struggle with a series of health ailments that have forced me to slow down my pace of life. With each visit to the doctors and with every ache that I experience, I am forced to face the reality of human existence – the bodily and emotional struggles that accompany our physical frailty.

Yet as Catholics, we know that beyond this physical reality lies a far deeper and more comforting spiritual reality. This is the reality that Jesus is trying to exhibit to His disciples in today’s Gospel reading. When James and John asked if they could sit by the Lord’s side in His Glory, they are rebuked with the question, “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?”

Our Lord was not merely referring to a physical ‘cup’ or ‘baptism’, but something deeper and more spiritual. And yes, it involves a great deal of suffering. In today’s readings, Jesus is asking His disciples (and us) to focus on a deeper reality, one of obedience to God and service to others, over their daily material concerns and egos. As children of God, we are already imbued with a spiritual and transcendent nature. It is this God-given nature that Jesus is reminding us of today.

As we face our daily struggles and suffering, may we also remember to focus our attention on that deeper spiritual reality that our Lord offers us. May we, like Mother Teresa, raise up our suffering to our Lord, so that even our suffering should be of service to God. May we remember that we are more than our bodies and our possessions. We are children of Spirit and Light. All the joys and sufferings that we face in our earthy existence should be no more than reminders of the true joy that a life with God can bring us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jacob Woo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we dedicate all our days to you. We lift up our joys and sufferings to You, trusting that in the sweetness of Your love, may we find the peace and joy that the world could never give us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for the loved ones whom You have placed in our lives, and for the chance to reflect Your love in our families and friendships.

22 April, Friday – Being Faithful

22 April

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Acts 13:26-33

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

‘My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you who fear God, this message of salvation is meant for you. What the people of Jerusalem and their rulers did, though they did not realise it, was in fact to fulfil the prophecies read on every sabbath. Though they found nothing to justify his death, they condemned him and asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out everything that scripture foretells about him they took him down from the tree and buried him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem: and it is these same companions of his who are now his witnesses before our people.

‘We have come here to tell you the Good News. It was to our ancestors that God made the promise but it is to us, their children, that he has fulfilled it, by raising Jesus from the dead. As scripture says in the second psalm: You are my son: today I have become your father.’

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John 14:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:

‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.’

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“Do not let your hearts be troubled”

I often joke with people that I had done a full tour of the education system. In my life, I had gone through primary and secondary schools, polytechnic and university. I have even gone through night classes for a professional diploma (although I never did qualify for the diploma!)

Having been brought up by a relative, I found my early life very challenging. I was worried about finances throughout the course of my education and had to work hard to earn enough. I would often wonder why I had such a difficult life when my classmates seemed to coast through.

As the late Steve Jobs once said, you can only connect the dots with hindsight. My experiences showed me my resilience and more importantly, where God was, in the darkest moments of my early life. It was only after the fact that I realised that I was gifted with many friends and loving relatives to help me on the journey. These experiences made me the person I am today and I would not trade them for anything in the world!

Our Lord, in the gospel today, assures us by telling us not to be troubled. He had come to prepare the way, and to show us the way. God is with us all the time and our responsibility is to fully trust in Him.

When Jesus went through the Passion and was crucified for all to see, the situation was at its bleakest. To all, it appeared that He had failed and yet this was His greatest victory!

Let us all keep our eyes on our Lord and our God. We just need to keep the faith!

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer – Father, we pray that our faith will continue endure and be stronger! Help us to always keep close to You in prayer and remember that You love and sustain us! Always!

Thanksgiving – We thank you God for sending us your Son, Jesus, to show us the way. Thank you for Your promise of eternal faithfulness and for not abandoning us in spite of our sinful nature. We praise and thank You for the grace that you have given us.

Monday, 13 Apr – Redemption Propels Us Onward

13 Apr – Memorial of Saint Martin, Pope, Martyr

Chosen 74th pope in 649 without imperial approval. Conducted the Lateran Council which condemned the patriach of Constantinople for Monothelitism, which claimed that Christ had no human will. This put him in opposition to the emperor who had him arrested and tortured. Paul, Patriarch of Constantinople, repented of his stance which saved Martin from execution, but the pope died soon after from damage done during his imprisonment, and is considered a martyr, the last martyred pope.

– Patron Saint Index

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Acts 4:23-31

As soon as Peter and John were released they went to the community and told them everything the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard it they lifted up their voice to God all together. ‘Master,’ they prayed ‘it is you who made heaven and earth and sea, and everything in them; you it is who said through the Holy Spirit and speaking through our ancestor David, your servant:

Why this arrogance among the nations,
these futile plots among the peoples?
Kings on earth setting out to war,
princes making an alliance,
against the Lord and against his Anointed.

‘This is what has come true: in this very city Herod and Pontius Pilate made an alliance with the pagan nations and the peoples of Israel, against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, but only to bring about the very thing that you in your strength and your wisdom had predetermined should happen. And now, Lord, take note of their threats and help your servants to proclaim your message with all boldness, by stretching out your hand to heal and to work miracles and marvels through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly.

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John 3:1-8 ©
There was one of the Pharisees called Nicodemus, a leading Jew, who came to Jesus by night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who comes from God; for no one could perform the signs that you do unless God were with him.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born from above,
he cannot see the kingdom of God.’

Nicodemus said, ‘How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born through water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God:
what is born of the flesh is flesh;
what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Do not be surprised when I say:
You must be born from above.
The wind blows wherever it pleases;
you hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’

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What is born of the flesh is flesh; what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

‘How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?’ asked Nicodemus. In times of trial, when I feel cornered by my circumstances and filled with regret over the way events and actions have unraveled, I ask the same. In essence, I cry out, “How can I ever start over on a clean slate again Lord!”

Certainly we cannot go back in time, and regret is a painful land of exile because little hurts and grave mistakes cannot be undone. Yet what if we cannot perceive a better way forward when it is hardest to fathom making peace or saying “Sorry”. We are stuck.

Yet our Christian faith proclaims another way. This way is made known to us through Jesus’ Resurrection. During Lent, we are brought to confront our sins and failings; we are asked die to our sinful nature and repent with a contrite heart. Many times after my sorrowful reflection, I resolve to repent but still wonder if my slate has truly been wiped clean. My sins may have been absolved with my Confession, but after I walk out, I admit I sometimes wonder where to from here? Even if God is OK with me, how will I be OK with the one whom I have hurt, or that person who has wounded me when we meet? What do I actually say or how should I act now? Sometimes, it’s not so simple.

In the Gospel passage, Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ question obliquely. He doesn’t answer directly whether a man could actually be returned to his mother’s womb to be “born again”, to start over. Instead, he says plainly and unapologetically,

‘I tell you most solemnly,
unless a man is born through water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God:
what is born of the flesh is flesh;
what is born of the Spirit is spirit.’

With these words of conviction, assurance, and promise, Jesus is teaching us that God is not interested in time travel or rewriting history. Our God is not a god of regrets. He is not one who looks back in time to condemn us or repeat our faults, like some may experience relationships where decades-long grievances are constantly dredged up. God offers us the way of the cross and the promise of resurrection because His infinite love and mercy is fundamentally a Redemption story.

The Lord’s promise of redemption because of our faith, is one that ceaselessly propels us forward into a new day and a clean slate. Therefore Jesus makes a distinction between being born of flesh and born of Spirit. Our fleshly nature cannot be denied nor revoked. God doesn’t ask this of us. Instead we are invited to move into a new state. Jesus relinquishes his earthly body so that new thing may come — Jesus departs, and in his place he leaves the first apostles with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In the reading of Acts, though Christ is no longer physically with them, the apostles call upon his name and the Holy Spirit descends upon them as the Paraclete, the Advocate and Counsellor in Jesus’ place. They are filled with this Spirit and no longer afraid: ‘As they prayed, the house where they were assembled rocked; they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim the word of God boldly’ (Acts 4:31).

As Catholics, we need to be an Easter people, not just in word but also in deed. As we proclaim Christ is risen, we need to also believe actively — by loving deeply, and loving in spite of our fears and wounds. Through our faith and acts of love for those hardest to love, we collaborate in God’s plan to redeem the regret and sorrow in our lives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Prayer: Abba Father, we seek the Your mercy to heal our hurting and frightened hearts; we desire to be channels of mercy for the people we love too.

Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, you took the thief who was hung beside you on the cross to Heaven because all he asked of you was “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” You said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). Thank you for showing us that you NEVER hold us captive to our past but you long to bring us onwards with you into your heavenly kingdom.