Tag Archives: sharon soo

8 April, Saturday – On Quarrelling

8 April 2017

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Ezekiel 37:21-28

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins.

I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them.

I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

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John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’

One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

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“Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”

I was at a church event recently, hosted by a group of women parishioners at my church who hate each other’s guts. While on the surface, everything seemed cordial enough, you could feel the tension when people spoke to one another. I’ve known this group for some time, so I was aware of the context going in to it. Everything was just a little forced – smiles, hugs, well-wishes. Why do we bother with false pretenses in church? Isn’t this the one place where we are allowed to be genuine with one another? So why do we pollute this space with our human angst? If God has a personal relationship with each one of us, how does He mediate when we fight amongst ourselves? How does He help us to find a path to peace?

We’ve always been a divided group of people, especially within the context of our beliefs. The people of the Sanhedrin in today’s gospel are no more quarrelsome and ambitious than the people of our parishes. We may not sit around and plot the death of prophets anymore, but that doesn’t mean we don’t actively participate in complaining, gossip and black balling. We are all accountable to each other, and for one another. If one person falters, the whole group stumbles as well. Knowing this, why do we still attack each other?

The reading from Ezekiel shows us an ideal that we can aspire to — that of a united church. One that does not focus on the small, insignificant human dramas of daily life. Christ died for us so that we might be free to live by his principles and teachings. God calls his church, but its members must still put in the hard work of living by that calling. That includes giving up that part of ourselves that does not serve His purpose. If our lives were ransomed with the precious blood of His son, isn’t it only fair then, that we try to honour him by putting an end to our quarrelsome ways?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the patience to overlook the slights and sharp words that are levelled at us by our brethren in Christ.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Holy Spirit, who mediates for us and tries to keep the peace amongst us.

6 April, Thursday – What’s in a name?

6 April 2017

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Genesis 17:3-9

Abram bowed to the ground and God said this to him, ‘Here now is my covenant with you: you shall become the father of a multitude of nations. You shall no longer be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I make you father of a multitude of nations. I will make you most fruitful. I will make you into nations, and your issue shall be kings. I will establish my Covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, a Covenant in perpetuity, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land you are living in, the whole land of Canaan, to own in perpetuity, and I will be your God.’

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John 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
whoever keeps my word
will never see death.’

The Jews said, ‘Now we know for certain that you are possessed. Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?’ Jesus answered:

‘If I were to seek my own glory
that would be no glory at all;
my glory is conferred by the Father,
by the one of whom you say, “He is our God”
although you do not know him.
But I know him,
and if I were to say: I do not know him,
I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves.
But I do know him, and I faithfully keep his word.
Your father Abraham rejoiced
to think that he would see my Day;
he saw it and was glad.’

The Jews then said, ‘You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
before Abraham ever was,
I Am.’

At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.

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“No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham”

Every year during Easter, our parish confirms about a dozen adults into the Catholic faith. In the run up to this, they spend 9 months learning about being a Catholic and take on a Saint’s name as part of the confirmation process. I was one of those adults 3 years ago. My confirmation name was Martha, after the patron saint of cooks, chefs and all who labor in service of others. I chose her because her cause resonated with my new vocation in life – being a housewife and taking care of my family.

In Scripture, there is much emphasis on how a person’s identity is tied to their name. For instance, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, a subtle pen-stroke which redefined him from simply ‘venerated father’ to ‘father of multitudes’. God always had this path in mind for him, but by formalizing it in a sacramental name, He gave Abraham the confidence and grace to rise to the calling of his new life. In the New testament, the Jews confront Jesus and pointedly demand of him, “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? … Who do you make yourself out to be?” The person that Jesus claims to be is a constant source of debate amongst the Jews. They saw him as simply Jesus, son of Joseph the carpenter and Mary. When Jesus tells them that he has existed before Abraham, that he is “I AM”, they grow indignant and  proceed to stone him. The tension over his identity defined Christ’s ministry.

When we are baptized or confirmed, God finds us a name. That name identifies His purpose for us – whether it is to advocate for the causes of children (St Nicholas), to work in service of animals (St Francis), to fight for the homeless (St Benedict) or some other cause that resonates with us. Having a saint’s name as part of our identity can galvanize us to be better versions of ourselves, even if we don’t feel that way at the outset. We grow into it slowly, our hard edges sanded away by experience and prayer. As we move closer to the Easter Vigil, let us all take a minute to consider our baptism and Catholic names. What do they mean, and more importantly,  have we lived in adherence to His purpose for us?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who are being confirmed into the Catholic faith this year. May God give them the ability to discern His path for them through the noise of daily life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to all those who give their time, talent and treasure to help those who are new to come to the faith.

4 February, Saturday – A Purposeful Life

4 February 2017

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Hebrews 13:15-17,20-21

Through Christ, let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise, a verbal sacrifice that is offered every time we acknowledge his name. Keep doing good works and sharing your resources, for these are sacrifices that please God.

Obey your leaders and do as they tell you, because they must give an account of the way they look after your souls; make this a joy for them to do, and not a grief – you yourselves would be the losers. I pray that the God of peace, who brought our Lord Jesus back from the dead to become the great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant, may make you ready to do his will in any kind of good action; and turn us all into whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.

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Mark 6:30-34

The apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.

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“… furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will”

A prayer I like to repeat often to myself is, “God give me the strength to be a good wife, a good mother, a good sister and a good daughter. Help me to make good decisions for my family and the people you’ve put in my life. Guide these hands that they do your work. Guide this heart that my intent is true. And guide my thoughts that they’re right by you”. I repeat it often to myself because I find its rhythm and its message comforting. No one told me that being a wife and mother would be so challenging. Even as a banker, I had a ‘time out’ button! But when you’re a Mom and a wife, you’re always on your game! You’re ‘chief pick-up-after’ officer, resident event planner, cook, cleaner, hunter, gatherer, laundry fairy, IT help desk and family administrator – all rolled into one!

I’ve tried to dial the work back, and even to choose a different path. I went to school. I worked part time, trying to juggle family with having my own thing. But it seems like every single time I veered away, God would bring me back. My priorities were constantly being tested, and I seemed to always choose my family above everything else. So perhaps my purpose in life really IS to look after them. That’s a comforting thought. It means that all this effort is not in vain.

We need His help to discern His plan for us. It is what gives us purpose and what will bring us lasting peace. We might have ideas how we want to lead our lives. We might even choose those paths for a time. But ultimately we’ll come to realize that what He has planned for us is what’s going to bring us the greatest fulfilment. It is what our gifts were meant to be used for. You’ll know you’re on the right path because the Holy Spirit will put peace in your heart. It might be tough going but you’ll go to bed each night, filled with the peace that comes from having done a good day’s work. I can firmly attest to it.

“May the God of peace… fill you with all that is good, that you may do his will. May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him…”

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the capacity to be good stewards of the blesssings and gifts He has given to us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Holy Spirit for inspiring our decisions, so that we do what is pleasing to God. We give thanks for all the people God puts in our lives — those who watch over us and those whom we have been tasked to watch over. 

3 February, Friday – Good Decisions, Bad Decisions

 3 Feb – Memorial for St. Blaise, bishop and martyr; Memorial for St. Ansgar, bishop

Blaise (d. 316) was a physician and Bishop of Sebaste, Armenia. He lived in a cave on Mount Argeus. He was a healer of men and animals. According to legend, sick animals would come to him on their own for help, but would never disturb him in prayer.

Agricola, governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebaste to persecute Christians. His huntsmen went into the forests of Argeus to find wild animals for the arena games, and found many waiting outside Blaise’s cave. Discovered in prayer, Blaise was arrested, and Agricola tried to get him to recant his faith. While in prison, Blaise ministered to and healed his fellow prisoners, including saving a child who was choking on a fish bone; this led to the blessing of throats of Blaise’s feast day.

Thrown into a lake to drown, Blaise stood on the surface and invited his persecutors to walk out and prove the power of their gods; they drowned. When he returned to land, he was martyred by being beaten, his flesh torn out with wool combs (which led to his association with and patronage of those involved in the wool trade), and then beheaded.

Blaise has been extremely popular for centuries in both the Eastern and Western Churches. In 1222, the Council of Oxford prohibited servile labour in England on his feast. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Ansgar (801-865) was born to the French nobility. He was a Benedictine monk at Old Corbie Abbey in Picardy, and New Corbie in Westphalia. He studied under St. Adelard and St. Paschasius Radbert. He accompanied the converted King Harold to Denmark when the exiled king returned home.

He was a missionary to Denmark and Sweden. He founded the first Christian church in Sweden in c.832. He was abbot of New Corbie c.834. He was ordained Archbishop of Hamburg by Pope Gregry IV. He was a papal legate to the Sacndanavian countries. He established the first Christian school in Denmark, but was run out by pagans, and the school was burned to the ground. He campaigned against slavery.

He was Archbishop of Bremen. He converted Erik, King of Jutland. He was a great preacher, a miracle worker, and greatly devoted to the poor and sick. Sadly, after his death most of his gains for the Church were lost to resurgent paganism.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Hebrews 13:1-8

Continue to love each other like brothers, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Keep in mind those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; and those who are being badly treated, since you too are in the one body. Marriage is to be honoured by all, and marriages are to be kept undefiled, because fornicators and adulterers will come under God’s judgement. Put greed out of your lives and be content with whatever you have; God himself has said: I will not fail you or desert you, and so we can say with confidence: With the Lord to help me, I fear nothing: what can man do to me?

Remember your leaders, who preached the word of God to you, and as you reflect on the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and as he will be for ever.

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Mark 6:14-29

King Herod had heard about Jesus, since by now his name was well-known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah’; others again, ‘He is a prophet, like the prophets we used to have.’ But when Herod heard this he said, ‘It is John whose head I cut off; he has risen from the dead.’

Now it was this same Herod who had sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, ‘It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.’ As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him; but she was not able to, because Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.

An opportunity came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.’ And he swore her an oath, ‘I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the Baptist’ The girl hurried straight back to the king and made her request, ‘I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, here and now, on a dish.’ The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. So the king at once sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded him in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

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“… for God will judge the immoral and adulterers”

The story of Herodias, Herod and John the Baptist is a study of what happens when bad decisions compound upon each other. We might think while reading the story, “Wow, that wouldn’t ever be me, the man is crazy?!” Sin works through the power of compounding. Our conscience is the compass that the Holy Spirit uses to guide us back to the path. When we let small sins build up, the boundaries of what is right and wrong blur out. We become desensitized to wrongdoing. Herod’s lust for his sister-in-law would likely have started as a ‘harmless flirtation’, but ended with them leaving their spouses to be united in incest. Herod’s birthday would have started of as just a few friends getting together, but ended up with the beheading of John the Baptist as things got out of hand. So easy for these things to happen. You could be at a party, minding your own business. Then someone whips out a joint. You want to say no, but don’t want to look weak, so you give in. And just like that, everything changes.

Small decisions are like doors we close or choose to walk through. If we walk through one door, we’ll inevitably be presented with another. At each juncture, we can choose to let our hearts be guided by God and a good conscience. Or we can choose to be governed by pride, vanity, lust, our refusal to look bad in front of our friends. We can choose. Even if we seem to be heading down a dark road, turning back to God is always a choice. Informed by his conscience, Herod is accorded the chance to repent at every turn – he was ‘very much perplexed’ when John spoke out against his incestuous union with Herodias but he did nothing. He was ‘deeply distressed’ when Salome requested for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, but he let her have it anyway. Upon learning of Jesus’ ministry, Herod is overcome by guilt, but he does nothing about it. His conscience recognizes at each juncture that he is heading down a bad road but he ignores it.

The psalmist says, “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom should I fear?” We are given shelter at each turn if we would only yield to the Lord and seek His guidance. But often, we are like Herod. We choose to go our own way. We make bad choices. That doesn’t have to be how it ends. We can repent and come back to God. We can let Him help us to fight your battles. Because repentance, turning back – that is also a choice. And we can make it. We can turn it all back.  All we have to do is choose, guided by our conscience.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the strength to turn back from a bad road.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who informs our conscience and inspires us to make good decisions.

2 February, Thursday – Ask!

 2 Feb – Feast of the Presentation of the Lord; World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life

This feast celebrates an early episode in the life of Jesus. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Presentation is the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, it is one of the twelve Great Feasts. In many Western liturgical churches, Vespers (or Compline) on the Feast of the Presentation marks the end of the Epiphany season.

This feast is also known by other traditional names including Candelmas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, and the Meeting of the Lord. Prior to the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Candlemas marked the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season.

The Western term ‘Candlemas’ (or Candle Mass) referred to the practice whereby a priest on Feb 2 (forty days after Christmas) blessed beeswax candles with an aspergilium (liturgical implement used to sprinkle holy water) for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home.

Since the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, this feast has been referred to as the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, with references to candles and the purification of Mary de-emphasized in favour of the Prophecy of Simeon the Righteous. Pope John Paul II connected the feast day with the renewal of religious vows.

  • Wikipedia

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears?

For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.

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Luke 2:22-40

When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.

Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:

‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’

As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’

There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.

When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.

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“This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him”

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus tells us to “ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened”.

So often, we find ourselves afraid to ask. We don’t ask because I think on some level, we’re afraid to believe; afraid of being disappointed. We’ve been let down so often by the people around us that subconsciously, we don’t want God to join their ranks. So if we don’t ask, He never gets the chance to say no and remains that distant, perfect being. But then our faith doesn’t get the chance to exercise itself either, and we end up wondering, ‘what if’? Worse than that, our prayer life doesn’t get to mature. We know God only as a distant Sunday school being, and never develop the kind of close relationship that comes from prayerful ‘asking’.

We see different kinds of ‘asking’ in Scripture. There are the requests for assurance like when Gideon needs a sign of God’s plan (Judges 6:33-39). There are the desperate pleas, like when Hannah asks God to bless her with a child (1 Samuel 1:9-28). There are the half-serious requests, like when Moses asks God to choose someone else (Exodus 4:13). And then there are the deep, resonant prayers in Scripture, the ones that silence us with their humility and complete surrender to God’s plan – “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). When we pray deeply, devotedly and in full faith, God sends the Holy Spirit to tune our hearts so that our desires align with His. Simeon prayed with devotion that he would see the ‘consolation of Israel’. Through prayer, he was infused by the Holy Spirit so that he discerned things with his heart and correctly identified Christ the child, the moment he walked into the temple. “Seek and you will find”. It is in prayerful asking, in prayerful seeking that the Holy Spirit reveals and aligns us to God’s will for us. He has plans for us that we would not even dream for ourselves. Let’s not let our fears and insecurities stop us from experiencing the richness of a life lived according to His will for us. We might surprise ourselves with what He is able to do if we would just let Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God to work His will in our lives and to give us hearts tuned in to His plan for us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those that God sends to guide us onto the path He has set for us. May we recognize them when they show themselves to us. 

1 February, Wednesday – For Better or For Worse

1 February 2017

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Hebrews 12:4-7,11-15

In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.

Have you forgotten that encouraging text in which you are addressed as sons? My son, when the Lord corrects you, do not treat it lightly; but do not get discouraged when he reprimands you. For the Lord trains the ones that he loves and he punishes all those that he acknowledges as his sons. Suffering is part of your training; God is treating you as his sons. Has there ever been any son whose father did not train him? Of course, any punishment is most painful at the time, and far from pleasant; but later, in those on whom it has been used, it bears fruit in peace and goodness. So hold up your limp arms and steady your trembling knees and smooth out the path you tread; then the injured limb will not be wrenched, it will grow strong again.

Always be wanting peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord. Be careful that no one is deprived of the grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a whole community.

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Mark 6:1-6

Jesus went to his home town and his disciples accompanied him. With the coming of the sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue and most of them were astonished when they heard him. They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’ And they would not accept him. And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house’; and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

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 “… that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble through which many may become defiled”

My in-laws celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last year. Imagine being married for 60 years! I’m into my 3rd year and I can already see how things would go awry if we are not disciplined about treating each other with mindfulness and love. The bad habit of taking someone for granted can just creep up on you. That old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is never more true than when it applies to marriage. Why is it that when we’re around someone a lot, we naturally become the lazier, less polite, less ‘edited’ versions of ourselves? My in-laws may have been together for 60 years, but I don’t for one moment believe that they were blissful and happy years. That they’re still together is a testatment to the sustaining power of God. You don’t stick it out through all that unless there is divine intervention; unless God himself has blessed you both with the grace to endure it.

Jesus nailed it when he said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house”. That’s especially true for spouses. A word harshly spoken, a wrongdoing unforgiven produces bitter roots that “spring up and cause trouble through which many become defiled”. Life is often all about timing, and divorce is what happens when two people want out of a marriage at the same time. I get angry sometimes with my husband, as most wives must do. And when that happens, I have to catch myself so it doesn’t spiral. It takes prayer and discipline to remember that its up to me to break the cycle of bad feelings. I need to forgive and, more importantly, forget instead of holding on to my hurt. Because bitter roots can take hold if you tend to them enough with all of your resentment. Before you know it, 10, 20, 30… 60 years would have passed that you’ve been looking back in anger, and you’ll be left wondering where all the time went.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to forgive our loved ones for their trespasses against us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, the peacekeeper and divine presence in every successful marriage.

31 January, Tuesday – Focus!

31 Jan – Memorial for St. John Bosco, priest

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was the son of Venerable Margaret Bosco. His father died when he was just two years old, and as soon as he was old enough to do odd jobs, he did so for extra money for his family. Bosco would go to circuses, fairs, and carnivals, practise the tricks he saw the magicians perform, and then present one-boy shows. After his performance, while he still had an audience of boys, he would repeat the homily he had heard earlier in church.

He worked as a tailor, baker, shoemaker, and carpenter while attending college and the seminary. He was ordained in 1841. He was a teacher, and he worked with youth, finding places where they could meet, play and pray. He taught catechism to orphans and apprentices, and was chaplain in a hospice for girls.

He wrote short treatises aimed at explaining the faith to children, and then taught children how to print them. He was a friend of St. Joseph Cafasson, whose biography he wrote. He was confessor to Blessed Joseph Allamano. He founded the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) in 1859, a community of priests who work with and educate boys, under the protection of Our Lady, Help of Christians, and St. Francis de Sales. He founded the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, in 1872, and the Union of Cooperator Salesians in 1875.

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Hebrews 12:1-4

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne.

Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.

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Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered round him and he stayed by the lakeside. Then one of the synagogue officials came up, Jairus by name, and seeing him, fell at his feet and pleaded with him earnestly, saying, ‘My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.’ Jesus went with him and a large crowd followed him; they were pressing all round him.

Now there was a woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she spent all she had without being any the better for it, in fact, she was getting worse. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his cloak. ‘If I can touch even his clothes,’ she had told herself ‘I shall be well again.’ And the source of the bleeding dried up instantly, and she felt in herself that she was cured of her complaint. Immediately aware that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned round in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ His disciples said to him, ‘You see how the crowd is pressing round you and yet you say, “Who touched me?”’ But he continued to look all round to see who had done it. Then the woman came forward, frightened and trembling because she knew what had happened to her, and she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. ‘My daughter,’ he said ‘your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free from your complaint.’

While he was still speaking some people arrived from the house of the synagogue official to say, ‘Your daughter is dead: why put the Master to any further trouble?’ But Jesus had overheard this remark of theirs and he said to the official, ‘Do not be afraid; only have faith.’ And he allowed no one to go with him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. So they came to the official’s house and Jesus noticed all the commotion, with people weeping and wailing unrestrainedly. He went in and said to them, ‘Why all this commotion and crying? The child is not dead, but asleep.’ But they laughed at him. So he turned them all out and, taking with him the child’s father and mother and his own companions, he went into the place where the child lay. And taking the child by the hand he said to her, ‘Talitha, kum!’ which means, ‘Little girl, I tell you to get up.’ The little girl got up at once and began to walk about, for she was twelve years old. At this they were overcome with astonishment, and he ordered them strictly not to let anyone know about it, and told them to give her something to eat.

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“… persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” 

I’m learning how to drive at the moment. You get three attempts at the behind-the-wheel exam in America. I’ve failed it all three times now. One of my issues seems to be an inability to decide what to focus on. It terrifies me that I have to watch so many things – the speed gauge, side mirrors, rearview mirror, my blind spots, the road around me, the road signs AND my GPS – all at the same time! I was always rubbish at multi-tasking, never mind doing it at high speed while barreling down the freeway. I’ve also developed the bad habit of obsessing over my rear and side mirrors. Where your focus goes, in that direction, as well as whether the car moves. All this glancing and bobbing my head around makes me veer the car alarmingly. It’s a completely miserable business! If I could, I would just Uber everywhere, all of the time!

‘Focus’ is the key theme in our readings today. How we orientate ourselves, where we look, what we choose to concentrate on, drives all of our actions. The woman who touched Jesus’ cloak was focused on healing. Jairus was focused on getting Jesus to his daughter. Jesus was focused on fulfiling God’s purpose for him. They were all orientated towards doing one thing – just one thing. A singular purpose.

I’ve noticed that while writing this column, I’ve stopped countless of times now to look on Amazon to see what’s new, checked my schedule to see what’s on for tomorrow, ordered dinner online, checked the weather forecast online, scrolled through my Instagram account, scrolled through my Facebook account, browsed my Netflix account – and that’s just been in the last 15 minutes. What have I achieved in these 15 minutes though? Not very much. A lot of restless flitting around, with nothing worthwhile to show for except tired eyes and a tired brain.

A distracted heart is the devil’s way of keeping us from running God’s race for us. Scripture is filled with examples of ordinary people achieving extraordinary things because they set their minds singularly on it and made it their sole purpose. Do one thing, just one thing. What a novel idea in this age of media overload and multi-tasking! And why not? We might be happier and feel more purposeful for it. We might even feel less exhausted all of the time!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the focus to finish what we have been tasked to do without veering off in all directions.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit who brings us back when we wander off.

30 January, Monday – Evelyn

30 January 2017

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Hebrews 11:32-40

Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets – these were men who through faith conquered kingdoms, did what is right and earned the promises. They could keep a lion’s mouth shut, put out blazing fires and emerge unscathed from battle. They were weak people who were given strength, to be brave in war and drive back foreign invaders.

Some came back to their wives from the dead, by resurrection; and others submitted to torture, refusing release so that they would rise again to a better life. Some had to bear being pilloried and flogged, or even chained up in prison. They were stoned, or sawn in half, or beheaded; they were homeless, and dressed in the skins of sheep and goats; they were penniless and were given nothing but ill-treatment.

They were too good for the world and they went out to live in deserts and mountains and in caves and ravines. These are all heroes of faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had made provision for us to have something better, and they were not to reach perfection except with us.

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Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples reached the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the lake, and no sooner had Jesus left the boat than a man with an unclean spirit came out from the tombs towards him. The man lived in the tombs and no one could secure him any more, even with a chain; because he had often been secured with fetters and chains but had snapped the chains and broken the fetters, and no one had the strength to control him. All night and all day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would howl and gash himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear by God you will not torture me!’ – For Jesus had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit.’ ‘What is your name?’ Jesus asked. ‘My name is legion,’ he answered ‘for there are many of us.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district.

Now there was there on the mountainside a great herd of pigs feeding, and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us to the pigs, let us go into them.’ So he gave them leave. With that, the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand pigs charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned. The swineherds ran off and told their story in the town and in the country round about; and the people came to see what had really happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his full senses – the very man who had had the legion in him before – and they were afraid. And those who had witnessed it reported what had happened to the demoniac and what had become of the pigs. Then they began to implore Jesus to leave the neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed begged to be allowed to stay with him. Jesus would not let him but said to him, ‘Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you.’ So the man went off and proceeded to spread throughout the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.

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“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you”

My cousin, Evelyn, had serious bouts of epilepsy when she was a child. It was so bad that it hampered her development. So Evelyn, in her old age, still behaves as she did when she was 6. In those days, not a lot was understood about her condition. The family whispered amongst themselves, shaking their heads, wringing their hands. How could this have happened? People searched for ways to explain it. My grandmother blamed it on my aunt. Not everyone was kind.

Despite all this, Evelyn grew to know Christ and embraced Him as her saviour. Evelyn went to church. She understood happiness and sorrow. She had a deep sense of moral justice. And she was filled with joy, always laughing or smiling. She also prayed a lot. She told me once that she asked God something and He responded to her and it made me think, “…God has chosen what the world considers foolish, to shame the wise; he has chosen what the world considers weak to shame the strong…” (1 Cor 1:27-28). Evelyn likely had a closer relationship with God than any of us. She may even have tried to communicate that, but we dismissed her because we all thought she was ‘slow’.

I wonder what kind of resistance the man in today’s gospel faced from his family. Would they have dismissed his testimony as the chatter of an unsound mind? Or would their faith have allowed them to see that he had been touched by God? How we view life speaks to what we hold in our hearts. Are we cynical? We will view everything with skepticism. Are we resentful? We will try to compete with everyone. Are we proud? We will look down our noses at everything. Evelyn’s simpler life saved her from the illnesses of the ‘sound mind’ like pride, selfishness, greed, prejudice. Evelyn was wholly open to God because what else was she going to do? Seek affirmation from her mean-girl cousins? Those who love us are the ones most capable of hurting us. Evelyn might have seemed unaware but I think she knew what we were saying all those times we were sharp to her. And she would have been hurting even if she was smiling. In our suffering, we can all think of Christ on the cross – singular in his focus, hopeful in the worst of circumstances, faithful till the end. Perhaps that was the source of Evelyn’s joy – Christ – and he was enough to make her forget how hard life was. I sometimes wonder why she never said anything. But perhaps it is I that never really heard her in the first place.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the ability to discern Christ even in the most unlikely of individuals.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His grace and mercy, that despite our past wrongdoings, He is merciful in His forgiveness.

29 January, Sunday – The Pursuit of Happiness

29 January 2017

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Zephaniah 2:3,3:12-13

Seek the Lord,
all you, the humble of the earth,
who obey his commands.
Seek integrity,
seek humility:
you may perhaps find shelter
on the day of the anger of the Lord.

In your midst I will leave
a humble and lowly people,
and those who are left in Israel will seek refuge in the name of the Lord.
They will do no wrong,
will tell no lies;
and the perjured tongue will no longer
be found in their mouths.
But they will be able to graze and rest
with no one to disturb them.

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1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Take yourselves for instance, brothers, at the time when you were called: how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many were influential people, or came from noble families? No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything.

The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you, God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: if anyone wants to boast, let him boast about the Lord.

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Matthew 5:1-12

Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up the hill. There he sat down and was joined by his disciples. Then he began to speak. This is what he taught them:

‘How happy are the poor in spirit;
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Happy the gentle:
they shall have the earth for their heritage.
Happy those who mourn:
they shall be comforted.
Happy those who hunger and thirst for what is right:
they shall be satisfied.
Happy the merciful:
they shall have mercy shown them.
Happy the pure in heart:
they shall see God.
Happy the peacemakers:
they shall be called sons of God.
Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right:
theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.’

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Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What is the secret to happiness? That’s the eternal question, isn’t it? Often the pursuit of what we think will bring us fulfilment leaves us feeling spent and hollow. We seek wealth, power, pleasure and the respect of our fellow men, yet when we attain it, our thirst is not quenched. Chase after the wrong things in life and there lies the road to certain ruin.

With the Beautitudes, Jesus offers us a new and radical way to orientate our hearts. He asks us to give it all up! Give up your attachment to material security so that you may be free of its corrupting influence and become a good steward of it. Give up your need for pleasure and gratification because the path to lasting fulfilment lies in acting out your purpose, not your ambitious desires. Give up your pride because humility is the necessary condition for us to become the conduit of His love. Give it ALL up and empty yourself so that you may be filled with Him, and only in Him is there lasting happiness. That’s the radical message of the Beautitudes!

The mysteries of life are sometimes glimpsed through the movements of nature. In this instance, our giving up of our old selves is not unlike the beautiful metamorphosis of the lowly caterpillar. It sheds its awkward, flightless shell – to emerge reborn as this glorious, ethereal being. Perhaps our own metamorphosis will be just as radical, just as beautiful if we only gave Jesus a chance to work that change in us. Perhaps if we gave the Beautitudes a chance, we might experience happiness that endures. We might actually be free.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for Jesus to work that change in our lives, to guide us to be better daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends, to be better children of God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who inspires us and helps us to see.

25 December, Midnight Mass – Love and Sacrifice

Dec 25 – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

The name “Christmas” was derived from Old English: “Cristes Maesse”, Christ’s Mass. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church there was no such feast; the Saviour’s birth was commemorated with the Epiphany by the Greek and other Eastern Churches.

The first mention of the feast, then kept on May 20, was made by Clement of Alexandria in the year 200. The Latin Church began in the year 300 to observe it on Dec 25, though there is no certainty that our Lord was born on that day.

Priests have, on this day, the privilege of saying three Masses, at midnight; daybreak, and morning. This was originally reserved for the pope alone; beginning about the fourth century, he celebrated a midnight Mass in the Lateran Basilica (in which according to tradition, the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the church of St. Anastasia, whose feast comes on Dec 25, and a third at the Vatican Basilica.

Many peculiar customs of the day are the outcome of the pagan celebrations of the January calends. The Christmas tree, of which the first known mention was made in 1605 at Strasbourg, was introduced into France and England in 1840. The feast is a holy day of obligation, preceded by the preparatory season of Advent and by a special vigil; should it fall on a Friday it abrogates the law of abstinence.

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Isaiah 9:1-7

The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.

For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.

For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.

For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

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Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

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Luke 2:1-14

Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken. This census – the first – took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and travelled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace to men who enjoy his favour.’

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

Each holiday season, the people at my parish organize something called ‘Adopt A Family’ for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The program matches us with lower-income families, to help them with financing family dinners and gifts for their children. While the intentions of the program are noble, I often get discouraged by some of the requests I see on wishlists. This year, I was matched with a single mother and her spoiled 11-yr old son. She asked for warm blankets and a new iron. He wanted the latest Beats 2 headphones and a pair of fancy Jordan basketball shoes. What must the conversation be like in their household? It made me reflect on the meaning of Christmas. When parents struggle to make ends meet, yet children have unreasonable demands, the meaning of Christmas is overshadowed by the weight of unmet expectations and resentment on both sides. As a parent, how do you cope with that?

I think of Mary and the demands that were made of her as she travelled with Joseph to Bethlehem. It can’t be much fun being pregnant and stressed out from traveling. Behind the candlelit romance of the nativity scene, we forget that Jesus’ birth was nothing short of traumatic for his mother. The manger would have smelled. It would have been cold. She would have been exhausted, but she just kept going.

A parent’s love transcends all suffering. That’s a universal truth. We see that even in this dubious age of conspicuous consumption. A mother will work two jobs just to provide her child the luxuries she can’t afford. Why? Because the ultimate expression of love is sacrifice as Mary, and Christ, showed us. This season, as parents, there will be times when we will grit our teeth with frustration from the unreasonable demands that are made of us. Giving, like love requires sacrifice, but sometimes we give with doubt and resentment in our hearts. Let’s not let our anger stop us from experiencing the true meaning of Christmas. Like Mary, or the mother of that spoiled 11-yr old, God will find us where we are and give us the resources – financial, spiritual, emotional and physical – to see us through. Have faith that there will be deliverance into the light, even for those of us who are beleaguered parents.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all families who struggle with providing for their children this season.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the individuals who sacrificed to give us better lives, even when we were too spoiled and self-absorbed to fully appreciate their efforts.