Tag Archives: sharon soo

28 March, Saturday – Mob Mentality

28 March

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Jeremiah 11:18-20

The Lord revealed it to me; I was warned. O Lord, that was when you opened my eyes to their scheming. I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughter-house, not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me, ‘Let us destroy the tree in its strength, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name may be quickly forgotten!’

But you, the Lord of Hosts, who pronounce a just sentence,
who probe the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.

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John 7:40-52

Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’ One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’
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But this crowd which does not know the law is accursed

I need to turn off my Twitter feed, I think. It’s become an angry mob. Or at least, I need to reset my preferences to mute out the chaos. There’s enough of that now in my life, I don’t need an echo chamber cranking up the volume. The thing about mobs is that they’re emotional. And they’re loud. With a mob, perception is truth, whether or not it’s justified. Once stirred up, a mob has the power to move people into making bad decisions; decisions that change lives, not necessarily for the better. And a mob’s fluid, amorphous nature is easily manipulated by people with less than noble intent. We saw this during our last election. We’re seeing it again now.

The Pharisees did exactly that, manipulate the mob to their own ends. Maybe they didn’t do it overtly, but by planting doubt and fear, the Pharisees turned the people against Jesus. Some of these people would have been at his sermons, might even have witnessed his miracles or experienced his healing power. How quickly people forget when they’re trapped in a hive mind and buoyed along by sentiment.

As we all struggle to deal with the global pandemic that’s upon us, let’s try to remember this. We have Christ as our moral compass. We have His Word to hold on to, to anchor ourselves while the rest of the world is losing its mind. Let’s not give in to the temptation to lash out at our neighbors, let’s not yield to our paranoia, our need for control, our instincts toward self preservation. Let’s hold on instead, to the ever faithful, ever constant Word of God, as we try to navigate ourselves out of these treacherous waters. May the healing power of Christ be on us all.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for deliverance from this pandemic. May we come out of this humbler, kinder and with greater self awareness of our shared responsibility towards each other.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the peacemakers in our lives. We give thanks for those who put the greater good of others over themselves. We give thanks for all the unsung heroes who have taken on the fight to keep us all together during these difficult times.

27 March, Friday – Finding Kindness

27 March

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Wisdom 2:1,12-22

The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning:

‘Our life is short and dreary,
nor is there any relief when man’s end comes,
nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a son of the Lord.
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men’s,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth;
he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

This is the way they reason, but they are misled,
their malice makes them blind.
They do not know the hidden things of God,
they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded,
they can see no reward for blameless souls.

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John 7:1-2,10,25-30

Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him.
As the Jewish feast of Tabernacles drew near, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went up as well, but quite privately, without drawing attention to himself. Meanwhile some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Isn’t this the man they want to kill? And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true the authorities have made up their minds that he is the Christ? Yet we all know where he comes from, but when the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from.’
Then, as Jesus taught in the Temple, he cried out:

‘Yes, you know me
and you know where I came from.
Yet I have not come of myself:
no, there is one who sent me
and I really come from him,
and you do not know him,
but I know him because I have come from him
and it was he who sent me.’

They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.

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Because his life is not like that of the others, and different are his ways.

Amidst the storm of angry tweets clogging up my Twitter last week, one stood out for me, giving me hope that we have not all become debased hoarders of bread, eggs, cleaning products and toilet paper. One Augie Nash wrote that while he was standing in the checkout line at Sam’s Club, he witnessed a younger man offering an older couple, “bread and anything else you didn’t manage to find” from his own shopping cart. Wowzers! I’ve had similar experiences of my own. While on a flight to NYC two weeks ago, a woman in the next aisle offered me her spare mask and alcohol wipes. And last week, while at the grocery store searching desperately for eggs, a woman offered to split the last 4 boxes in the shelf with me, instead of grabbing them all for herself. Anyone who has been in an American grocery store or tried to order wipes, masks or sanitizer on Amazon will know that right now, this stuff is worth its weight in gold.

Scarcity brings out the worst in human nature. I’m sure that by now, we’ve all seen the videos of people fighting over stuff at grocery stores. But I believe that these difficult times also separate the wheat from the chaff. Right now, when kindness and generosity have mostly given way to fear and self-preservation, these random acts of kindness remind us all that there is still goodness in us. There are still those of us whose lives are not like others, whose ways are different. There are still remnants of us who are not selfish or self-preserving. And God has always rebuilt a people for Himself from remnants.

Now is the time to rise up and be counted. To come together, to put aside the things that divide us and find common ground. Now is the time to be strong for those around us, to be kind to one another, to live and not just preach the principles of our faith. Because we are all in this together — and either we learn to heal as a people, or we’ll die fighting each other.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for protection and safety of all those battling this plague at its frontline. We pray for God to give them strength, good health, courage for the battle and wisdom to make good decisions.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who are putting their own lives on the line, to get us through this difficult time.

26 March, Thursday – Self-Quarantine

26 March

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Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Why let the Egyptians say, “Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth”? Leave your burning wrath; relent and do not bring this disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.’

So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

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John 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘Were I to testify on my own behalf,
my testimony would not be valid;
but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf,
and I know that his testimony is valid.
You sent messengers to John,
and he gave his testimony to the truth:
not that I depend on human testimony;
no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this.
John was a lamp alight and shining
and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.
But my testimony is greater than John’s:
the works my Father has given me to carry out,
these same works of mine testify
that the Father has sent me.
Besides, the Father who sent me
bears witness to me himself.
You have never heard his voice,
you have never seen his shape,
and his word finds no home in you
because you do not believe in the one he has sent.

‘You study the scriptures,
believing that in them you have eternal life;
now these same scriptures testify to me,
and yet you refuse to come to me for life!
As for human approval, this means nothing to me.
Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.
I have come in the name of my Father
and you refuse to accept me;
if someone else comes in his own name
you will accept him.
How can you believe,
since you look to one another for approval
and are not concerned
with the approval that comes from the one God?
Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father:
you place your hopes on Moses,
and Moses will be your accuser.
If you really believed him
you would believe me too,
since it was I that he was writing about;
but if you refuse to believe what he wrote,
how can you believe what I say?’

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They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them

Week 1 of California’s coronavirus ‘self-quarantine’ measures has been a complete joke. For one, there’s been a near-apocalyptic rush for groceries. Makes you wonder why we’re bothering with the travel bans. All you have to do to catch the virus is go to Costco. Hordes of people queue to get in at dawn. They queue for trolleys. They queue to check out. No one is respecting the 6ft rule. People are pushing and shoving to clear products from aisles. Even during the worst days of the Great Financial Crisis in 2008, we never fought over milk and eggs. We are now.

On some level, this rabid behavior is about maintaining control. When you obsessively hoard toilet paper, face masks, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes, what you’re really doing is trying to ‘control’ your life. And perhaps that’s what the Hebrews were doing with their golden calf — trying to preserve a way of life. We’ve all grown accustomed to the years of peace and plenty. We’re now being forced to reckon with what may be years of famine. It will be a shock to a lot of us. Just like the Hebrews in the desert, we’re not ready to give up the lives we led. All that wining, dining, latte drinking, online shopping; we can’t fathom it. I can’t fathom it.

It’s probably no coincidence that all this is happening during the holy season of Lent. As we face the loneliness and isolation of self-quarantine, maybe now is a good time to give up this need for control and hand the reins back to God. What else are we going to do? Lent is a time of repentance, of quiet prayer, of reflection, of conversion. Lent is also a time of self awareness. Did we go too far? Did we become distracted and lose our way?

I haven’t been to confession in a long while. I don’t even know if they’re doing them anymore with all these church closures and bans on public gatherings. I’d really like to tell God, “Wow, I really screwed up this time. I got distracted, forgot Your priorities, forgot your blessings. I lost my way. I’m done with all that noise now. Please find me here. Please.”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We ask for God’s forgiveness for our arrogance and complacency during the years of peace and plenty. We pray for His mercy and His guidance during these uncertain times.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our families and loved ones. We give thanks for God’s protection of them and His love for us, even while we are difficult to love.

25 March, Wednesday – Surreal

25 Mar – Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

The annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Gabriel the archangel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke 1), the Word being made flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The feast probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c. 431), and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (d. 496).

The Annunciation has been a key topic in Christian art in general, as well as in Roman Catholic Marian art, particularly during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.

This feast is celebrated on March 25, nine months before the feast of the Nativity of Jesus (Christmas) on Dec 25.

The Annunciation is also mentioned twice in the Quran, the holy book for the Muslims.

  • Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’
Then Isaiah said:

‘Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means “God-is-with-us.”’

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Hebrews 10:4-10

Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and this is what Christ said, on coming into the world:

You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation,
prepared a body for me.
You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin;
then I said,
just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book,
‘God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.’

Notice that he says first: You did not want what the Law lays down as the things to be offered, that is: the sacrifices, the oblations, the holocausts and the sacrifices for sin, and you took no pleasure in them; and then he says: Here I am! I am coming to obey your will. He is abolishing the first sort to replace it with the second. And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ.

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God?

Things have gotten a bit surreal here in America. Schools have closed, grocery stores have been mobbed, and all over, there’s an eerie sense of America hunkering down for what’s shaping up to be a lost year. Who would’ve thought that in the space of a month, the world as I’ve always known it would have upended itself and turned completely on its head? It’s only March but already I feel worn down. I’m tired. Like Ahaz, I’m afraid to hope, afraid of what’s to come, afraid even to pray because I can’t find the words.

When you’re exhausted, it’s easy to let fatigue cloud your judgment. The isolation and loneliness from all this ‘social distancing’ isn’t helping either. I’m trying to hold on to the light. Whether it be turning off the doomsayers on TV or weeding in the garden or listening to a Lenten podcast, I’m trying to stay positive. But positivity takes effort. Holding on to hope takes effort. Happiness takes effort. And some days, I feel like I just haven’t got it. I’ve seen a lot of panics before but not one quite like this. Will life go back to the way it used to be? I really don’t know.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like, for Israel to hold on to the hope of a Savior for so long. I feel like such a wimp by comparison. Some people are just built for the long haul. They’re made of the strong stuff. They find reserves to keep the flame burning. I don’t think that person is me. How did Mary find the nerve to say, “Let it be done unto me”? Did she know the full extent of what she was getting into or did it not matter to her? Is that what it means for the “Holy Spirit to come upon you, and the power of the Most High to overshadow you”? Because I could really do with some of that right now. I don’t think I’ve lost my faith, but I am shaken by what’s happened and the speed at which it’s happening. God be with all of us now.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for faith, for strength, for positivity and patience during this difficult and surreal time in the world. We pray that God sustains us emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually, so that we in turn can be strong for our friends and families. And we pray for the wisdom to make good decisions during this difficult time.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the first responders, doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who are at the front line of this global health crisis. God keep them safe, give them strength, give them courage. All things are possible through you, Lord! All things!

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.