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20 November, Wednesday – On Fear

20 November

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2 Maccabees 7:1,20-31

There were seven brothers who were arrested with their mother. The king tried to force them to taste pig’s flesh, which the Law forbids, by torturing them with whips and scourges. But the mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable remembrance, for she watched the death of seven sons in the course of a single day, and endured it resolutely because of her hopes in the Lord. Indeed she encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors; filled with noble conviction, she reinforced her womanly argument with manly courage, saying to them, ‘I do not know how you appeared in my womb; it was not I who endowed you with breath and life, I had not the shaping of your every part. It is the creator of the world, ordaining the process of man’s birth and presiding over the origin of all things, who in his mercy will most surely give you back both breath and life, seeing that you now despise your own existence for the sake of his laws.’

Antiochus thought he was being ridiculed, suspecting insult in the tone of her voice; and as the youngest was still alive he appealed to him not with mere words but with promises on oath to make him both rich and happy if he would abandon the traditions of his ancestors; he would make him his Friend and entrust him with public office. The young man took no notice at all, and so the king then appealed to the mother, urging her to advise the youth to save his life. After a great deal of urging on his part she agreed to try persuasion on her son. Bending over him, she fooled the cruel tyrant with these words, uttered in the language of their ancestors, ‘My son, have pity on me; I carried you nine months in my womb and suckled you three years, fed you and reared you to the age you are now (and cherished you). I implore you, my child, observe heaven and earth, consider all that is in them, and acknowledge that God made them out of what did not exist, and that mankind comes into being in the same way. Do not fear this executioner, but prove yourself worthy of your brothers, and make death welcome, so that in the day of mercy I may receive you back in your brothers’ company.’

She had scarcely ended when the young man said, ‘What are you all waiting for? I will not comply with the king’s ordinance; I obey the ordinance of the Law given to our ancestors through Moses. As for you, sir, who have contrived every kind of evil against the Hebrews, you will certainly not escape the hands of God.’

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Luke 19:11-28

While the people were listening, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and they imagined that the kingdom of God was going to show itself then and there. Accordingly he said, ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to be appointed king and afterwards return. He summoned ten of his servants and gave them ten pounds. “Do business with these” he told them “until I get back.” But his compatriots detested him and sent a delegation to follow him with this message, “We do not want this man to be our king.”

‘Now on his return, having received his appointment as king, he sent for those servants to whom he had given the money, to find out what profit each had made. The first came in and said, “Sir, your one pound has brought in ten.” “Well done, my good servant!” he replied “Since you have proved yourself faithful in a very small thing, you shall have the government of ten cities.” Then came the second and said, “Sir, your one pound has made five.” To this one also he said, “And you shall be in charge of five cities.” Next came the other and said, “Sir, here is your pound. I put it away safely in a piece of linen because I was afraid of you; for you are an exacting man: you pick up what you have not put down and reap what you have not sown.” “You wicked servant!” he said “Out of your own mouth I condemn you. So you knew I was an exacting man, picking up what I have not put down and reaping what I have not sown? Then why did you not put my money in the bank? On my return I could have drawn it out with interest.” And he said to those standing by, “Take the pound from him and give it to the man who has ten pounds.” And they said to him, “But, sir, he has ten pounds…”. “I tell you, to everyone who has will be given more; but from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

‘“But as for my enemies who did not want me for their king, bring them here and execute them in my presence.”’

When he had said this he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.

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“I put it away safely in a piece of linen because I was afraid of you”

I got my driver’s license a month ago. By some miracle of God, I went from zero to being able to take a car out to run errands on my own, in the space of a month. There’s some historical context here. I was in a car crash as a teenager. The experience of it was so traumatic the emotional scars continue to plague me twenty years on. Each time I get behind the wheel, the memory plays itself out like a re-run. I remember the spinning, the sound on impact, the incredulity at being unharmed, the feeling of being given a second chance. So each time I get behind the wheel, I pray. I pray when I change lanes, when I park, when I’m at four-way intersections waiting for my turn, when I arrive safely. I pray constantly when I’m behind the wheel. It has been a month but the feeling is still surreal. Who would’ve thought that a fear like this could be confronted and made into something worthwhile? For more than twenty years, this fear has held me back, kept me from doing things, so I lived only half the life I was capable of. The day I got my driver’s license, I felt like the men whose sight God restored – “Do you believe that I am able to do what you want?” They answered, “Yes, Lord!”. Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “As you have believed, so let it be”. And their eyes were opened.” (Matthew 9:27-30). This healing is a gift. I have not earned it. It is a gift. The fear is still there lurking, but I cannot give in to it. I have to embrace this healing because God intends for me to take this gift and use it.

Today’s gospel reading is Luke’s version of the Parable of the Talents (Gifts) that we are so familiar with from Matthew 25. The difference is in its context. Luke’s version comes after the conversion of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). God gives Zacchaeus the gift of faith. Zacchaeus experiences a conversion. He turns from his ways. It’s a gift; he has not earned it, but he puts it to use right away. Who amongst us remembers the day of our conversion? The day God opened our eyes and we believed? For me, the initial euphoria gave way to a crippling fear. Like the useless servant with the one gold coin, I was fearful and hid my faith away. I feared disapproval from my family, confrontation with my father, persecution from my friends. I was afraid and kept it stored away, and as a result, during those intervening years, my faith withered. “To everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Luke 19: 26)

Fear is like a sickness. It imprisons the mind, it holds us back. It will cripple us if we let it. Do not give in to it. God will heal those who reach out to Him. Do not be afraid. “If you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your stronghold, no harm will come upon you, no disaster will draw near your home. For He will command his angels to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91: 9-11)

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s healing, that He take from us the fear in our hearts that stops us from experiencing the fullness of life.  

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit and the angels that God sends to protect our comings and our goings.

19 November, Tuesday – On Leadership

19 November

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2 Maccabees 6:18-31

Eleazar, one of the foremost teachers of the Law, a man already advanced in years and of most noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth wide to swallow pig’s flesh. But he, resolving to die with honour rather than to live disgraced, went to the block of his own accord, spitting the stuff out, the plain duty of anyone with the courage to reject what it is not lawful to taste, even from a natural tenderness for his own life. Those in charge of the impious banquet, because of their long-standing friendship with him, took him aside and privately urged him to have meat brought of a kind he could properly use, prepared by himself, and only pretend to eat the portions of sacrificial meat as prescribed by the king; this action would enable him to escape death, by availing himself of an act of kindness prompted by their long friendship. But having taken a noble decision worthy of his years and the dignity of his great age and the well earned distinction of his grey hairs, worthy too of his impeccable conduct from boyhood, and above all of the holy legislation established by God himself, he publicly stated his convictions, telling them to send him at once to Hades. ‘Such pretence’ he said ‘does not square with our time of life; many young people would suppose that Eleazar at the age of ninety had conformed to the foreigners’ way of life, and because I had played this part for the sake of a paltry brief spell of life might themselves be led astray on my account; I should only bring defilement and disgrace on my old age. Even though for the moment I avoid execution by man, I can never, living or dead, elude the grasp of the Almighty. Therefore if I am man enough to quit this life here and now I shall prove myself worthy of my old age, and I shall have left the young a noble example of how to make a good death, eagerly and generously, for the venerable and holy laws.’

With these words he went straight to the block. His escorts, so recently well disposed towards him, turned against him after this declaration, which they regarded as sheer madness. Just before he died under the blows, he groaned aloud and said, ‘The Lord whose knowledge is holy sees clearly that, though I might have escaped death, whatever agonies of body I now endure under this bludgeoning, in my soul I am glad to suffer, because of the awe which he inspires in me.’

This was how he died, leaving his death as an example of nobility and a record of virtue not only for the young but for the great majority of the nation.

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Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town when a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance: he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He was anxious to see what kind of man Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him: ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

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“Should I thus pretend for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me”

Yesterday, we talked about the challenges of remaining faithful amidst the growing trend towards secularism and atheism. As more people increasingly identify themselves as ‘Nones’ or Atheists, how the rest of us live our faith has come under greater scrutiny. The Bible tells us that at the end of days, families will turn against one another on account of God. Some version of that has begun to play out in my household. Whenever the topic comes up, more often than not it devolves into hostility, anger, shouting and banging of doors. Though I refuse to let something as ‘medieval’ as religion drive a wedge in my family, people feel what they feel, and I have to respect that. Their criticism is not unfounded. It is very difficult to defend the evil that men have done allegedly in the name of God and His Church. And though these men are nothing to me, their actions have railroaded my own attempts to bear witness to my family, some of whom identify themselves as ‘Nones’. So what happens now? Where do Catholics like me go from here? How do we move on from this?

In today’s first reading, Eleazar shows us what it means to lead by example. One has to be honest beyond reproach. Even when he was offered a clever way out of his predicament, Eleazar chose the truth and adhered to the spirit of it. Authenticity and credibility go hand in hand. We can profess to be Catholic, but if we don’t behave like Catholics, we lead others astray with our bad witness. One also has to be ready to lose one’s friends (and maybe even one’s family!) in the process. People will think it mad that we persevere in our Catholic faith with all the scandal that is plaguing God’s house. But if we leave, don’t the bad guys win? Shouldn’t we stay and try to take back the Church, try to fight the good fight from within? That’s the line I have fallen back on when questioned by friends and family about my motivations. It’s a little radical, but maybe these are radical times? Finally, one has to be prepared to die to one’s self in order to lead by example. We have to put the good of others ahead of ourselves. This point was made clear to me at All Souls’ mass this month. Death comes for all of us; it is one of the certainties of life. When we are gone, we will be remembered by how we made others feel, not how we gratified ourselves. And as Catholics, we are duty-bound to reflect this other-centeredness. Were we selfish or loving, compassionate or calculating, humble or self-aggrandizing? Our actions speak volumes about who we truly are and the faith that we profess to live by. Words will fade away, but our works endure. Let us all take time this week to ponder on that.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage to live our faith authentically, even if it means being isolated from friends and family.  

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to discern God’s will for us, and the path that He wants us to follow.

18 Nov, Monday – Spiritual Blindness

Nov 18 – Memorial for the Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul

The Basilica of St. Peter is located within the Vatican City. It occupies a unique position as one of the holiest sites and as the greatest of all churches of Christendom. It is the burial site of St. Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, and, according to tradition, was the first Bishop of Antioch and later the first Bishop of Rome, and therefore the first in the line of the papal succession.
Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter’s tomb is below the altar of the basilica, which is why many popes, starting with the first ones, have been buried there.

There has been a church on this site since the fourth century. Construction on the present basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on Apr 18, 1506, and was completed in 1626.
While St. Peter’s is the most famous of Rome’s many churches, it is not the first in rank, an honour held by the Pope’s cathedral church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Contrary to popular misconception, St. Peter’s is not a cathedral, as it is not the seat of a bishop. It is properly termed a basilica.

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside The Walls is one of four churches considered to be the great ancient basilicas of Rome. This basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over what was believed to be the burial place of St. Paul where it was said that after the Apostle’s execution, his followers erected a memorial over his grave.

In 386 Emperor Theodosius I began the erection of a much larger and more beautiful basilica with a nave and four aisles with a transept. The work, including the mosaics, was not completed till the pontificate of Leo I. Under Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), the basilica was again extensively modified. As it lay outside the Aurelian walls, this basilica was damaged during the Saracen invasions in the ninth century.

Consequently, Pope John VIII fortified it, the monastery, and the dwellings of the peasantry forming the town of Joannispolis which existed until 1348 when an earthquake totally destroyed it.

On 15 Jul 1823, the negligence of a workman repairing the roof resulted in a fire which almost totally destroyed the basilica. Alone of all the churches in Rome, it had preserved its primitive character for 1435 years. The whole world contributed to its reconstruction. The Viceroy of Egypt sent pillars of alabaster, and the Emperor of Russia sent the precious malachite and lapis lazuli of the tabernacle. The work on the principal façade, looking toward the Tiber, was completed by the Italian government, which declared the church a national monument.
The basilica was reopened in 1840 but was reconsecrated only 15 years later at the presence of Pope Pius IX with 50 cardinals. On 31 May 2005, Pope Benedict XVI ordered the basilica to come under the control of an archpriest. On the same day, he named Archbishop Andrew Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo as its first archpriest.

– Wikipedia

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1 Maccabees 1:10-15,41-43,54-57,62-64

There grew a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; once a hostage in Rome, he became king in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. It was then that there emerged from Israel a set of renegades who led many people astray. ‘Come,’ they said ‘let us reach an understanding with the pagans surrounding us, for since we separated ourselves from them many misfortunes have overtaken us.’ This proposal proved acceptable, and a number of the people eagerly approached the king, who authorised them to practise the pagan observances. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, such as the pagans have, disguised their circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant, submitting to the heathen rule as willing slaves of impiety.

Then the king issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each renouncing his particular customs. All the pagans conformed to the king’s decree, and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the sabbath. The king erected the abomination of desolation above the altar; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah and incense offered at the doors of houses and in the streets. Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned. Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practising the Law, the king’s decree sentenced him to death.

Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food. They chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed. It was a dreadful wrath that visited Israel.

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Luke 18:35-43

As Jesus drew near to Jericho there was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging. When he heard the crowd going past he asked what it was all about, and they told him that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by. So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’ The people in front scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ he replied ‘let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’ And instantly his sight returned and he followed him praising God, and all the people who saw it gave praise to God for what had happened.

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“He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God”

Living in California, I’ve found you need a pretty thick skin and a robust attitude to having your Christian faith questioned when you’re least expecting it. It’s happened to me often enough, each time instigated by people I consider good friends. You’re minding your own business, settling in to what you thought would be a relaxing evening – the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of a heated exchange about God, why He exists and why you’re Catholic. Whoa!! As one of the more liberal states in America, close to 40% of people in California identify as atheists (Gallup Survey 2017). A statistic ceases to be just a number though, when that ‘percentage’ is your neighbour. Or your volunteer buddy. Or a close friend. Atheism has grown exponentially at the expense of Catholicism. I can see its attraction. I can even intellectualize why some of its arguments are compelling. What is a young person to do? The Internet offers answers to most things. Why wonder about a higher power when the smartphone you hold in your hands is so empowering?

That’s likely the experience of Israel in our first reading from Maccabees. “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us”. That would’ve sounded like common sense in the context of that time. Why not align with those who can safeguard our livelihood and prosperity? Today, that conversation might sound a bit like, “Let’s be more liberal, not so conservative or so religious, so we can fit in here. Let’s go to this work thing instead of going to church. Let’s not tell people we observe Lent, we don’t want them to think we’re weird”. Sound a little familiar?

It’s ironic how the small compromises we make are often the most insidious. Don’t go to church for two weeks and the third week of absence no longer seems that big a deal. Miss a few days of prayer and you will begin to not notice it. Like the proverbial frog in a pot of slowly boiling water, we won’t even realize our role in abetting this wilful blindness. But all actions have consequences. And one day, all those small compromises we’ve made come home to roost and we find ourselves desperately crying out, “Jesus, have pity on me! Save me! Please let me see!”

While we can, let’s not be blind or unaware of the compromises that we make. We are all vulnerable to spiritual blindness when we allow ourselves to be separated from God for too long. The world’s view of self-reliance and empowerment seems noble, but those ambitions are an illusion. Only God endures. Let’s not be caught unawares and try to live more mindful of our faith. Our very souls are what’s at stake.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God, open our eyes and help us to be aware each time we seek our glory and not Yours, each time we choose our own independence over Your Will. Bring us back to the narrow way with compassion, love, mercy and grace.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to those God puts in our lives to keep us from straying too far.

17 November, Sunday – On Dogs

17 November

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Malachi 3:19-20

The day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble. The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, leaving them neither root nor stalk. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.

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2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

You know how you are supposed to imitate us: now we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we ever have our meals at anyone’s table without paying for them; no, we worked night and day, slaving and straining, so as not to be a burden on any of you. This was not because we had no right to be, but in order to make ourselves an example for you to follow.

We gave you a rule when we were with you: do not let anyone have any food if he refuses to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.

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Luke 21:5-19

When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’ And they put to him this question: ‘Master,’ they said ‘when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?’

‘Take care not to be deceived,’ he said ‘because many will come using my name and saying, “I am he” and, “The time is near at hand.” Refuse to join them. And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there; there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.

‘But before all this happens, men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’

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“All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”

I started fostering a couple of dogs in the last 2 months. One of them is a retired service dog, an 8-yr old Golden Retriever with melancholic eyes. His handler passed away last Christmas. People say dogs get over things quickly. I find that to be untrue – the golden is still grieving, as far as I can tell. The other is a 12-yr old Cocker Spaniel, who, despite her small stature, has figured out the secret to aging with joy and grace. She has more spunk than I do on a good day. Running after the both of them, and my own hyperactive Labradoodle has taken up the lion’s share of my time.

When I first agreed to this, I probably didn’t think it through. I figured I was doing someone a favour, that I would have more help and that things would work themselves out. I assumed (wrongly!) that they would be like my own Labradoodle – biddable, responsive and open to bribes. I’ve since learned that dogs, like people, have their own personalities and, like people, will do as they please. What applies to one breed does not work for another. I’ve also discovered things about myself in the process. I am a stickler for the invisible, unspoken math behind the perceived rights and wrongs done to me. I went into this thinking I was doing someone a favour, but when that favour became burdensome (as any form of caregiving often does), I found myself doing intricate mental calculations around what I was being owed, who owed me and how I was going to be justified. I can tell you now that as clever as they are, dogs can’t do math. And obsessing over this kind of sorry mental arithmetic anyway, is a misery-inducing exercise. Yes, the reading from Thessalonians assures us that “those who are unwilling to work, neither should that one eat”. But seriously, who is going to enforce this in a time frame that is satisfactory to me?

On good days, when the dogs are being cooperative, I’ve found myself wondering at the road that has led me here and how much my heart has expanded. I didn’t even like dogs 6 years ago. I was terrified of them. I thought they smelled. How’d I end up with three? On bad days, when they’ve trashed the lawn, messed up the house and trekked mud onto the upholstery, I’ve found myself asking God what the bigger picture is. What’s the point to all this? And every now and again, if I am not so preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself, God’s quiet voice reminds me that “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down”. Nothing lasts forever – one day this will pass, and what will I feel then? Emptiness? Sorrow? Will I miss their capacity for joy and their unconditional devotion? Might it not be a better idea to embrace it all now, to drink my fill of their spontaneity, their joy and their ability to find happiness in chaos? Dogs and God have one thing in common – they only do Love. It is people that do math.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for the patience, love and fortitude to be a good steward to the dogs that have been placed in my care. May God and the good St Francis help me to be a good caregiver to them.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the angels that God sends to help me climb out of my sorry pit of despair. I give thanks for His faithfulness, even when I am being faithless, self-pitying and weak.

27 September, Friday – The Long Game

Sep 27 – Memorial for St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

Vincent (1581-1660) spent four years with the Franciscan friars getting an education. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, then freed when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. He started organisations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).

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Haggai 1:15-2:9

In the second year of King Darius, on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord was addressed through the prophet Haggai, as follows, ‘You are to speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, the high commissioner of Judah, to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people. Say this, “Who is there left among you that saw this Temple in its former glory? And how does it look to you now? Does it seem nothing to you? But take courage now, Zerubbabel – it is the Lord who speaks. Courage, High Priest Joshua son of Jehozadak! Courage, all you people of the country! – it is the Lord who speaks. To work! I am with you – it is the Lord of Hosts who speaks – and my spirit remains among you. Do not be afraid! For the Lord of Hosts says this: A little while now, and I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all the nations and the treasures of all the nations shall flow in, and I will fill this Temple with glory, says the Lord of Hosts. Mine is the silver, mine the gold! – it is the Lord of Hosts who speaks. The new glory of this Temple is going to surpass the old, says the Lord of Hosts, and in this place I will give peace – it is the Lord of Hosts who speaks.”’

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Luke 9:18-22

One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter who spoke up. ‘The Christ of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.
‘The Son of Man’ he said ‘is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’

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Greater will be the future glory of this house than the former… And in this place I will give you peace, says the Lord of hosts!

Early in our marriage, my husband and I made the decision that we would not have children together. He had been married previously and already had two wonderful children. There was no need for us to complicate their lives by introducing another sibling. I was despondent at first, at the prospect of never being able to experience motherhood. I’ve since come to realize that nurturing happens no matter if they’re biologically yours. Biology is only part of the criteria for motherhood. God will find you where you are. He thinks out of the box and His is the long game – with emphasis on the word ‘long’.

Motherhood has come late to me. When I wasn’t looking, it snuck up on me, eased itself in at the breakfast table, at family dinners, at school plays and graduations, proms and milestone moments. I didn’t ruminate over it because when you’re a stepmother, you don’t want to overthink it. You’re happy with what time you have with your stepchildren. You don’t try to push for more. It isn’t your place to, and I never wanted to impose on them. I was just glad for their company and thankful to be able to watch them discover the world as young adults. One day though, out of the blue, I got a beautiful handwritten Mother’s Day card. And then a Christmas card. And a birthday card. And another Mother’s Day card, with my official title on it – stepmother. Then a heartfelt letter. Soon I had a small collection of them, these precious cards and letters, tangible evidence that in some radical, unconventional kind of way, I too, had earned the responsibility of motherhood. God’s is the long game. He thinks out of the box. I have come to appreciate this now and marvel at it with the wonder of the humbled. He found a path for me where there was none. I didn’t even realize as it was unfolding, not even after that first Mother’s Day card. How blind was I? And how lucky am I to have been blessed thus, when all along I had thought it was too late?

The people of Haggai’s time would similarly not have guessed that the ‘house of glory’ being referred to was Christ, our Saviour. Who would’ve thought it? It was so out of the box, such a radical idea, so impossible! And it took so long! Even when Jesus walked among His people, few saw him for who he was. Only Peter was inspired enough to proclaim, “You are the Christ of God” (Luke 9:20).

God’s is the long game. He hears even the prayers we are afraid to whisper, the ones we don’t ruminate too hard on in case we’re building up false hope for ourselves. But be certain of this – God will find you wherever you are. And in His wonderful, loving, radical way, He will change your life in ways that will surprise you – when you’re least expecting it.

 (Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who think their time in life has passed them by. Do not lose hope. God’s is the long game! Be open to it, because His blessings will come when you least expect it.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the work that God has done in our lives, for the way He has shaped us, when we weren’t looking or expecting it. We give thanks and are truly humbled by His grace and His blessings. 

26 September, Thursday – On Empty Pursuits

26 Sep 2019

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Haggai 1:1-8

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord was addressed through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, high commissioner of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, as follows, ‘The Lord of Hosts says this, “This people says: The time has not yet come to rebuild the Temple of the Lord. (And the word of the Lord was addressed through the prophet Haggai, as follows:) Is this a time for you to live in your panelled houses, when this House lies in ruins? So now, the Lord of Hosts says this: Reflect carefully how things have gone for you. You have sown much and harvested little; you eat but never have enough, drink but never have your fill, put on clothes but do not feel warm. The wage earner gets his wages only to put them in a purse riddled with holes. So go to the hill country, fetch wood, and rebuild the House: I shall then take pleasure in it, and be glorified there, says the Lord.”’

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Luke 9:7-9

Herod the tetrarch had heard about all that was being done by Jesus; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life. But Herod said, ‘John? I beheaded him. So who is this I hear such reports about?’ And he was anxious to see Jesus.

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You have sown much, but harvested little

The latest Michelin Guide for Singapore was announced last week. My Instagram account was inundated when I woke up, and stayed inundated for the next 24 hours – who got 3 stars, who got 2, who didn’t make the list – with all the joy and indignation around it. In my twenties, a Michelin Guide announcement in my adopted cities of Singapore, HK, London and NYC was a big deal. It would have caused me to pause, analyse and make travel plans around. There would have been flights and hotels to book, dinner reservations to secure (a huge effort once a restaurant received or was upgraded a star) and meetings to rearrange, just so I could go eat at the latest and greatest tables, as determined by the gods of Michelin. In my mid-forties, that whole game has gotten old. Looking back, I’ve often wondered, what all that was for? Did I really derive joy from it? And what do I have to show for it now? What was the whole point in the end?

Today’s verse from Haggai is an apt indictment of my former days – “You have sown much, but harvested little, you eat and drink but are not satisfied, you clothe yourselves but still feel cold, and the labourer puts the money he earns in a tattered purse” (Hg 1:6). We’re all susceptible to falling into the trap of mistaking activity for achievement. And if you like food as much as I used to, a Michelin announcement is a catalyst for lots of activity. But not everything that seems urgent is important… or worth doing. And though it was an enjoyable enough endeavour at the time, it all seems hollow now. I would say the confusion I felt last week reading the Michelin announcement, was similar to Herod’s head scratching — you labour to one set of goals, thinking they’re the be-all and end-all of your existence only to find at the end, that it was all meaningless. What was the point of it all anyway? I really couldn’t tell you. And shame on me, I have nothing to show for it except perhaps a little self-realization.

“Do not store up treasure for yourself here on earth where moth and rust destroy it, and where thieves can steal it. Store up treasure for yourself with God, where no moth or rust can destroy nor thief come and steal it” – Matthew 6: 19-20

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the self-awareness to abandon the futile, empty desires of our heart that have no meaning and lead to no fruitful end.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who gives us wisdom and directs our efforts so that we might be a children of God who bear good fruit.

3 Aug, Saturday – On Saving Face

3 Aug 2019

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Leviticus 25:1, 8-17

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai. He said:

‘You are to count seven weeks of years – seven times seven years, that is to say a period of seven weeks of years, forty-nine years. And on the tenth day of the seventh month you shall sound the trumpet; on the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout the land. You will declare this fiftieth year sacred and proclaim the liberation of all the inhabitants of the land. This is to be a jubilee for you; each of you will return to his ancestral home, each to his own clan. This fiftieth year is to be a jubilee year for you: you will not sow, you will not harvest the ungathered corn, you will not gather from the untrimmed vine. The jubilee is to be a holy thing to you, you will eat what comes from the fields.

‘In this year of jubilee each of you is to return to his ancestral home. If you buy or sell with your neighbour, let no one wrong his brother. If you buy from your neighbour, this must take into account the number of years since the jubilee: according to the number of productive years he will fix the price. The greater the number of years, the higher shall be the price demanded; the less the number of years, the greater the reduction; for what he is selling you is a certain number of harvests. Let none of you wrong his neighbour, but fear your God; I am the Lord your God.’

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Matthew 14:1-12

Herod the tetrarch heard about the reputation of Jesus, and said to his court, ‘This is John the Baptist himself; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’

Now it was Herod who had arrested John, chained him up and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had told him, ‘It is against the Law for you to have her.’ He had wanted to kill him but was afraid of the people, who regarded John as a prophet. Then, during the celebrations for Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company, and so delighted Herod that he promised on oath to give her anything she asked. Prompted by her mother she said, ‘Give me John the Baptist’s head, here, on a dish.’ The king was distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he ordered it to be given her, and sent and had John beheaded in the prison. The head was brought in on a dish and given to the girl who took it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it; then they went off to tell Jesus.

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but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison.

‘Face’ or ‘mian zi’, I have discovered, is not just a Chinese infirmity. I used to think that it was just us who were obsessed with ‘mian zi’. Since coming to America though, I’ve realized that it affects all universally. Other people just have different names for it, e.g. pride. At the root of ‘mian zi’ lies deep-seated cultural attitudes about respect –- who gets it, who gives it, whether it has been earned, whether it can be earned, what one has to do to earn it, what happens when it is lost, etc

The need for ‘mian zi’ can compel people to do extreme things. I broke off an engagement with a man who was perfect on paper because his parents disrespected me and my family. They showed us no ‘mian zi’ because we had no money and no social standing. When it came down to it, I couldn’t contemplate a marriage without mutual respect; so I packed up, moved abroad and started a new life.

Since coming to America, I’ve heard versions of my own story, told to me by people from every demographic of American life – Chinese, Caucasian, Hispanic, African American, straight, lesbian, gay, you name it! The need to be shown respect, the need to be shown ‘face’ is a universal affliction. Just like I did, people will reboot their lives because of it. Sometimes things work out for the better — I would have been trapped in a loveless marriage if I had stayed. Other times, the relentless need to be shown ‘mian zi’ can rob you of your soul. In Herod’s case, it was more important to ‘save face’ than to save an innocent life. Overcome with pride and lust for Herodias’ daughter, he allowed himself to be manipulated into a corner, one he couldn’t back out of without a huge ‘loss of face’. In the end, John the Baptist lost his life. Herod though, lost something more valuable – his peace and his soul.

We all seem to take offence a lot more easily these days. You hear of fights breaking out at shopping malls and parking lots, of people getting shot and killed because someone was rude to them or disrespected them or ‘flipped them off’. We have no tolerance for being disrespected. Extreme actions have far-reaching consequences though. Taking a leaf out of Herod’s book, let’s all exercise a little caution the next time we go chasing after ‘mian zi’. It’s important we don’t lose sight of the things that truly matter while we’re busy saving ‘face’.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: Lord, help me to discern wisely, between the things that are of this world and the things that truly matter.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, the source of wisdom, that allows us to make good decisions. We pray that God save us from ourselves and our impulses.

2 Aug, Friday – On School Reunions

Aug 2 – Memorial for St. Eusebius of Vercelli, bishop; St Peter Julian Eymard, bishop

Eusebius (283-371) was a priest and lector in Rome, Italy. He was consecrated bishop of Vercelli, Italy in 340, but was exiled to Palestine and Cappadocia due to his struggle against Arianism. He was a friend of St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He was a prolific writer according to his contemporaries, but none of his works have survived. He was the first bishop to live with and follow the same rule as his priests. He may be been martyred by Arians, but reports vary. Many consider him a martyr as he may have died as a result of his sufferings in exile.

– Patron Saint Index

 Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) had a strong Marian devotion, and travelled to the assorted Marian shrines and apparition sites in France. He organised lay societies under the direction of the Marists, preached and taught, and worked for Eucharistic devotion. He felt a call to found a new religious society, and founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and the lay Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. His work encountered a series of setbacks, including have to close his nascent houses and move twice, and the houses not being able to support themselves financially. However, his vision of priests, deacons, sisters, and lay people dedicated to the spiritual values celebrated in the Mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament anticipated many of the renewals brought about by Vatican Councils I and II.

– Patron Saint Index

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Leviticus 23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34-37

The Lord spoke to Moses. He said:

‘These are the Lord’s solemn festivals, the sacred assemblies to which you are to summon the sons of Israel on the appointed day.

‘The fourteenth day of the first month, between the two evenings, is the Passover of the Lord; and the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of Unleavened Bread for the Lord. For seven days you shall eat bread without leaven. On the first day you are to hold a sacred assembly; you must do no heavy work. For seven days you shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord. The seventh day is to be a day of sacred assembly; you must do no work.’

The Lord spoke to Moses. He said:

‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them:

‘“When you enter the land that I give you, and gather in the harvest there, you must bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest, and he is to present it to the Lord with the gesture of offering, so that you may be acceptable. The priest shall make this offering on the day after the sabbath.

‘“From the day after the sabbath, the day on which you bring the sheaf of offering, you are to count seven full weeks. You are to count fifty days, to the day after the seventh sabbath, and then you are to offer the Lord a new oblation.

‘“The tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. You are to hold a sacred assembly. You must fast, and you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord.

‘“The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of Tabernacles for the Lord, lasting seven days. The first day is a day of sacred assembly; you must do no heavy work. For seven days you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord. On the eighth day you are to hold a sacred assembly, you must offer a burnt offering to the Lord. It is a day of solemn meeting; you must do no heavy work.

‘“These are the solemn festivals of the Lord to which you are to summon the children of Israel, sacred assemblies for the purpose of offering burnt offerings, holocausts, oblations, sacrifices and libations to the Lord, according to the ritual of each day.”’

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Matthew 13:54-58

Coming to his home town, Jesus taught the people in their synagogue in such a way that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely? Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? His sisters, too, are they not all here with us? So where did the man get it all?’ And they would not accept him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country and in his own house’, and he did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

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Is he not the carpenter’s son? … Where did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him

An ex-boyfriend is getting married this fall. In his enthusiasm to introduce the love of his life to the people he grew up with, he invited all of us to his wedding. “It will be like a school reunion! You’ll get to see everyone again!” he exclaimed, when we spoke about it. I am happy for him, I truly am, but I have an aversion to reunions. Some lives are meant to be lived just once. I have no desire to rip the scabs off old wounds or face-off with the ghosts of mean girls past. There’s nothing like a ‘reunion’ to stir up old animosities. It takes a thick skin to go to one of these things, something I just can’t conjure up at the moment. So I wished him well and declined his kind invitation.

Today’s gospel reading shows Jesus dealing with some ‘reunion’ angst of his own. It’s almost a universal truth that the people you grew up around, the people of your ‘native place’, are the ones who will discount your success the most. They’ll make you fit in their little boxes and try to tear you down every chance they get. You’ll hear it in their barbed comments – “They live in that neighbourhood! What good ever comes out of there?” Or “They used to only have hand me downs, how did she manage to do that?” In Jesus’ case, it was “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? Is he not the carpenter’s son?… Where did this man get all this?” (Matt 13: 54-57)

Preconceived notions about someone discount the transforming power of God’s grace. Scripture is full of ordinary characters doing great things through Him – the lowly shepherd boy who slew a giant and became a great king; the exiled prince who led his people out of captivity in Egypt; the frustrated fisherman who became the rock of Christ’s church. These were ordinary people who rose above their humble origins and went on to live extraordinary lives because they were open to God’s grace. They didn’t forget their roots; they were rooted in God. They said yes to Him and He changed their lives. Their peers probably mocked them, but so what? Who needs the affirmation of envious peers when one has God on one’s side?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me – 2 Cor 12:9

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who are stuck in toxic friendships, may God give them the strength to walk away from them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the kind and compassionate individuals who showed us encouragement instead of criticism, positivity instead of negativity, faith instead of doubt. 

11 June, Tuesday – On Barnabas

11 June – Feast of St. Barnabas, apostle

St. Barnabas (martyred AD61) founded the Church in Antioch. He was a Levite Jewish convert, coming to the faith soon after Pentecost. Barnabas is mentioned frequently in the Acts of the Apostles, and is included among the prophets and doctors at Antioch. Like Paul, Barnabas believed in the Church’s mission to Gentiles, and worked with him in Cyprus and Asia, but split with him over a non-theological matter. At the time of his death he was carrying a copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew that he had copied by hand.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 11:21-26,13:1-3 

A great number believed and were converted to the Lord.
The church in Jerusalem heard about this and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. There he could see for himself that God had given grace, and this pleased him, and he urged them all to remain faithful to the Lord with heartfelt devotion; for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith. And a large number of people were won over to the Lord.
  Barnabas then left for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch. As things turned out they were to live together in that church a whole year, instructing a large number of people. It was at Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.’
In the church at Antioch the following were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were offering worship to the Lord and keeping a fast, the Holy Spirit said, ‘I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them.’ So it was that after fasting and prayer they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

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Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes tasteless, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled underfoot by men.
‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.’

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Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand

St Barnabas, together with St Paul, evangelized to the earliest Christians and was instrumental in establishing Christianity among the many non-Jewish communities of that time. Barnabas was born to wealthy Jewish parents, and, as was customary amongst privileged young men of his time, was given an education, possibly with the same teacher who had taught St Paul. Scriptural accounts of Barnabas tell of a gentleman, filled with the Holy Spirit, focused on his work of evangelizing. His commitment ran so deep, he donated his inheritance to the early Christian Church. And despite his conservative Jewish roots, Barnabas was a staunch advocate of ‘inclusivity’ in the early Christian Church. He wanted Gentiles to feel like they belonged. This caused a bit of a scandal, that led to the Council of Jerusalem acknowledging that the Old Testament practices did not apply to Christians.

The Romans during the time of St Paul and St Barnabas were deep thinkers and cosmopolitan-minded. Their cities teemed with cultures from across the empire. They believed that commerce flourished only if peace prevailed. That peace hinged on strong leadership at the grassroots levels. Establishing the early Church threatened the uneasy power dynamic between the Romans and the Jews, so Paul and Barnabas found themselves persecuted quite often. In the end, Barnabas was martyred in Cyprus, where it is believed he was stoned to death.

By all accounts, St Barnabas’ life was filled with improbabilities. He was the son of a wealthy Jewish man, raised in privilege, shielded from the rough and tumble of daily life by his family’s money and status. Yet he gave this all up to walk with God. He could have had a comfortable, cookie cutter lifestyle, but he eschewed that for the struggle of being a first generation apostle. In the end, he was killed for it. Some would say this was a ‘waste’ of a life. But God uses the foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor 1:27). What is crazy from a distance makes complete sense when looked at closely, through the filter of faith and the Holy Spirit.

In our dark days of shameless self-promotion, rampant corruption and ruthless partisan politics, let us ponder for a while on a character such as St Barnabas – unassuming, humble, patient, peace-loving, a leader of the people. There are the politicians who scheme and plot to get themselves elected. And then there are leaders like Barnabas. Wouldn’t it be something if out of the dregs of humanity now, someone like such rose to be a leader amongst us?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for leaders who are guided by their moral compass, not their financial calculators and personal balance sheets.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all who selflessly go into public service.

19 April, Good Friday – All of our Crosses

19 April 2019

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will prosper,
he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.

As the crowds were appalled on seeing him
– so disfigured did he look
that he seemed no longer human –
so will the crowds be astonished at him,
and kings stand speechless before him;
for they shall see something never told
and witness something never heard before:
‘Who could believe what we have heard,
and to whom has the power of the Lord been revealed?’

Like a sapling he grew up in front of us,
like a root in arid ground.
Without beauty, without majesty we saw him,
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
he was despised and we took no account of him.

And yet ours were the sufferings he bore,
ours the sorrows he carried.
But we, we thought of him as someone punished,
struck by God, and brought low.
Yet he was pierced through for our faults,
crushed for our sins.
On him lies a punishment that brings us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each taking his own way,
and the Lord burdened him
with the sins of all of us.
Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly,
he never opened his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers
never opening its mouth.

By force and by law he was taken;
would anyone plead his cause?
Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living;
for our faults struck down in death.
They gave him a grave with the wicked,
a tomb with the rich,
though he had done no wrong
and there had been no perjury in his mouth.

The Lord has been pleased to crush him with suffering.
If he offers his life in atonement,
he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life
and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.

His soul’s anguish over
he shall see the light and be content.
By his sufferings shall my servant justify many,
taking their faults on himself.

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.

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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

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.

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

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John 18:1-19:42
 
Key: N. Narrator. ? Jesus. O. Other single speaker. C. Crowd, or more than one speaker.

  N. Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said,
  ? Who are you looking for?
  N. They answered,
  C. Jesus the Nazarene.
  N. He said,
  ? I am he.
  N. Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time,
  ? Who are you looking for?
  N. They said,
  C. Jesus the Nazarene.
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? I have told you that I am he. If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.
  N. This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’
  Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter,
  ? Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?
  N. The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’
  Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter,
  O. Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?
  N. He answered,
  O. I am not.
  N. Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.
  The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered,
  ? I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.
  N. At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying,
  O. Is that the way to answer the high priest?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?
  N. Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.
  As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him,
  O. Aren’t you another of his disciples?
  N. He denied it, saying,
  O. I am not.
  N. One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said,
  O. Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?
  N. Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.
  They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said,
  O. What charge do you bring against this man?
  N. They replied,
  C. If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.
  N. The Jews answered,
  C. We are not allowed to put a man to death.
  N. This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.
  So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, and asked,
  O. Are you the king of the Jews?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?
  N. Pilate answered,
  O. Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. So you are a king, then?
  N. Jesus answered,
  ? It is you who say it. Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Truth? What is that?
  N. and with that he went out again to the Jews and said,
  O. I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?
  N. At this they shouted:
  C. Not this man, but Barabbas.
  N. Barabbas was a brigand.
  Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying,
  C. Hail, king of the Jews!
  N. and they slapped him in the face.
  Pilate came outside again and said to them,
  O. Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.
  N. Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said,
  O. Here is the man.
  N. When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted,
  C. Crucify him! Crucify him!
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.
  N. The Jews replied,
  C. We have a Law, and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.
  N. When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus
  O. Where do you come from?
  N. But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him,
  O. Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?
  N. Jesus replied,
  ? You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.
  N. From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted,
  C. If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.
  N. Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. Pilate said to the Jews,
  O. Here is your king.
  N. They said,
  C. Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!
  N. Pilate said,
  O. Do you want me to crucify your king?
  N. The chief priests answered,
  C. We have no king except Caesar.
  N. So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
  They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate,
  C. You should not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but ‘This man said: “I am King of the Jews.”’
  N. Pilate answered,
  O. What I have written, I have written.
  N. When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another,
  C. Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.
  N. In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:
  They shared out my clothing among them.
  They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.
  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother,
  ? Woman, this is your son.
  N. Then to the disciple he said,
  ? This is your mother.
  N. And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.
  After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:
  ? I am thirsty.
  N. A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said,
  ? It is accomplished;
  N. and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.
  Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
  It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:
  Not one bone of his will be broken;
and again, in another place scripture says:
  They will look on the one whom they have pierced.
After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.

______________________

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala

For a lot of us, tonight is traditionally the night that the Passion of Christ is staged at church by the younger members of our parish. Those of us who have young children in our families will typically jostle for good seats. We crane our necks, stick our mobile recording devices in people’s faces, all to get a good shot of our kids in Easter costume. The pageantry of the Passion almost supersedes its sombre message. This familiar story takes on new meaning when staged by our young. Our hearts are filled with love as we watch them bring it to life.

But what must John, Jesus’ mother Mary, his aunt Salome, Mary of Clopas and Mary of Magdala have felt watching it in real time at the foot of Jesus’ cross? Love, heartbreak, horror, hopelessness, despair, confusion…? How could this be the fulfilment of God’s plan? Where was the happy ending? Surely it couldn’t be this?

The Passion story has meant different things to me as I’ve grown older. The layers have begun to peel back and I’ve found myself looking with fresh eyes at the other characters that make up the Easter story. And now that I am an aunt and have watched my sister blossom into a loving mother, I’ve begun to wonder about the women who stood at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Is this what family love is about? How strong must be their devotion to Jesus and to each other, that they would stay till the very end. This is what steadfast love looks like – holding on to each other through the gut-wrenching, bone-crushing gruesomeness. Holding on, despite their own fear, despite the whip of the Roman lash, the wild screaming of the mob, the heat, the stench of the dirt and blood. Yet they prevailed. This is what carrying your cross looks like.

Though Jesus is the one overtly carrying a cross in this story, everyone else is in some way, carrying one too. At that moment, Mary’s cross was her motherhood, that she was the mother of Christ. John, Mary of Clopas and Mary Magdala’s cross was that of devoted discipleship. Pilate’s cross was self-preservation – he let Jesus die to appease the mob and save his own skin. Joseph of Arimathea’s cross was redemption from his wealth – he used his vast resources and stature in the community to give Jesus a dignified burial. Peter’s cross was Christ’s forgiveness despite Peter’s denial of him. Everyone is carrying a cross in this story. And if we look and listen very closely, we’ll be able to see ourselves in each of their stories. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for steadfastness and tenacity, as we pick up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Christ. 

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s love and mercy, in that when we were sinners, He deemed us enough and sent his beloved Son to redeem us.