Tag Archives: sharon soo

11 April, Wednesday – Easter’s Love Story

11 Apr – St Stanislaus, bishop and martyr 

Stanislaus of Szczepanów, or Stanis?aw Szczepanowski, was a Bishop of Kraków known chiefly for having been martyred by the Polish king Boles?aw II the Bold. Stanislaus is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Stanislaus the Martyr.

  • Wikipedia
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Acts 5:17-26

The high priest intervened with all his supporters from the party of the Sadducees. Prompted by jealousy, they arrested the apostles and had them put in the common gaol.

But at night the angel of the Lord opened the prison gates and said as he led them out, ‘Go and stand in the Temple, and tell the people all about this new Life.’ They did as they were told; they went into the Temple at dawn and began to preach.

When the high priest arrived, he and his supporters convened the Sanhedrin – this was the full Senate of Israel – and sent to the gaol for them to be brought. But when the officials arrived at the prison they found they were not inside, so they went back and reported, ‘We found the gaol securely locked and the warders on duty at the gates, but when we unlocked the door we found no one inside.’ When the captain of the Temple and the chief priests heard this news they wondered what this could mean. Then a man arrived with fresh news. ‘At this very moment’ he said, ‘the men you imprisoned are in the Temple. They are standing there preaching to the people.’ The captain went with his men and fetched them. They were afraid to use force in case the people stoned them.
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John 3:16-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’

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For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

John 3:16 for many of us, was the first verse we memorized as children. My grandmother was the one who taught it to me. A born-again Christian, she found God late in life and embraced her faith wholeheartedly. She would often sing hymns to us instead of lullabies. In fact, my first encounter with the Holy Bible was a beautiful illustrated version at my grandparents’ home. I was a practising Buddhist back then, so there was always something special about the Holy Bible because it was ‘forbidden fruit’ to me. The stories from the Old Testament, of heroism, of sacrifice and faith captured my imagination.

We all have a similar memory of that first encounter with God. I didn’t even know I was being called at the time. But on looking back, I can see how the dots connected forward. As I grew older, my relationship with God deepened despite myself. I say ‘despite’ because I never actively sought God out, yet He was constantly a part of my life. Like John Newton’s famous lyrics, “thru many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”. I know that all I am, and all I have is because of the grace of God.

The apostles in today’s first reading never imagined that their lives would play out the way it did. That’s the thing about completely trusting God to direct your life – you never know what you’re going to get, or where you’re going to end up. “Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God” (John 3: 21). When we commit to living in the light, we find ourselves instinctively giving up our old ways. We find contentment and peace in Him, even if we are in the midst of chaos. Our lives simplify, our priorities become clearer. It may take a year, it may take ten. He changes lives in His time. This Easter, let us remember the promise of John 3:16 offered up to all of us who believe. The great love story of Easter is captured in those simple lines – God’s love for us is so great that He opened up a path for us back to Him, despite ourselves. Embrace it and watch your life change!

(Today’s OXGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who have committed themselves to God. We pray they find peace and calm, even if they may be surrounded by chaos.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who work in apostolic vocations. We give thanks for their tireless efforts and courage at spreading His word. Thank you for the inspiration.

10 April, Tuesday – Born From Above

10 April
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Acts 4:32-37

The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common.

The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all given great respect.

None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any members who might be in need.

There was a Levite of Cypriot origin called Joseph whom the apostles surnamed Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He owned a piece of land and he sold it and brought the money, and presented it to the apostles.
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John 3:7-15

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘Do not be surprised when I say:
You must be born from above.
The wind blows wherever it pleases;
you hear its sound,
but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
That is how it is with all who are born of the Spirit.’

‘How can that be possible?’ asked Nicodemus. ‘You, a teacher in Israel, and you do not know these things!’ replied Jesus.

‘I tell you most solemnly,
we speak only about what we know
and witness only to what we have seen
and yet you people reject our evidence.
If you do not believe me when I speak about things in this world,
how are you going to believe me when I speak to you about heavenly things?
No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who came down from heaven,
the Son of Man who is in heaven;
and the Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’
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You must be born from above

After the romance of baptism is over, the hard task of living our faith sets in. What does it mean to be ‘born from above’? What does it actually look like in practice? I had the chance to mull over this during Lent, as I stood at the crossroads of important life decisions. Living as one who is ‘born from above’ requires us to break new ground, to find new ways of being. The first step after conversion has to be a prayerful re-examination of our priorities. Where we stand on things like money and time, and how we manage our relationships are a reflection of where we are in our Christian growth. I’ve been a Christian for almost twenty years now, and a Catholic for four. I have to admit I am only now scratching the surface of what it means to let God drive my life decisions.

After their conversion, the apostles set up communities where property rights were shared as a public good. This is a radical idea even by today’s standards yet it worked for the apostles, because “there was no needy person among them”. Those who were able contributed more, like Joseph, who “sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the Apostles” (Acts 4:36-37). It takes men of great faith to make something like that work. It takes men of great strength and humility to walk in the faith and be good stewards of God. Too often we are weak. We are tempted by greed and pride, driven by vanity and the thirst for power. Too often, we give in to our human impulses especially when confronted with so much bounty. In the end, the ones who end up paying for this folly are the parishioners. And faith once betrayed, is never quite the same again.

The kingdom of heaven on earth needs men, ‘born from above’, as Jesus tried to tell Nicodemus. And men born from above are made possible only by the grace of God. This Easter season, bring God in to all your thoughts and plans, let Him drive your decisions. Give Him the chance to show you what He is capable of. Because nothing is impossible for God. You could surprise yourself by what He can achieve in your life if you let Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God, change my heart, change my life as only You know how. Let me not hold You back with my stubbornness, cowardice and inertia.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the spiritual mentors in our lives who encourage us when we grow weary and falter in our faith journeys.

30 March, Friday – On Pilate

30 Mar – Good Friday

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute,
he shall divide the spoil with the mighty,
for surrendering himself to death
and letting himself be taken for a sinner,
while he was bearing the faults of many
and praying all the time for sinners.
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Hebrews 4:14-16,5:7-9

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

During his life on earth, he offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had the power to save him out of death, and he submitted so humbly that his prayer was heard. Although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.
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John 18:1-19:42

Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kedron valley. There was a garden there, and he went into it with his disciples. Judas the traitor knew the place well, since Jesus had often met his disciples there, and he brought the cohort to this place together with a detachment of guards sent by the chief priests and the Pharisees, all with lanterns and torches and weapons. Knowing everything that was going to happen to him, Jesus then came forward and said, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They answered, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ He said, ‘I am he.’ Now Judas the traitor was standing among them. When Jesus said, ‘I am he’, they moved back and fell to the ground. He asked them a second time, ‘Who are you looking for?’ They said, ‘Jesus the Nazarene.’ ‘I have told you that I am he,’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.’ This was to fulfil the words he had spoken, ‘Not one of those you gave me have I lost.’

Simon Peter, who carried a sword, drew it and wounded the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’

The cohort and its captain and the Jewish guards seized Jesus and bound him. They took him first to Annas, because Annas was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had suggested to the Jews, ‘It is better for one man to die for the people.’

Simon Peter, with another disciple, followed Jesus. This disciple, who was known to the high priest, went with Jesus into the high priest’s palace, but Peter stayed outside the door. So the other disciple, the one known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who was keeping the door and brought Peter in. The maid on duty at the door said to Peter, ‘Aren’t you another of that man’s disciples?’ He answered, ‘I am not.’ Now it was cold, and the servants and guards had lit a charcoal fire and were standing there warming themselves; so Peter stood there too, warming himself with the others.

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly for all the world to hear; I have always taught in the synagogue and in the Temple where all the Jews meet together: I have said nothing in secret. But why ask me? Ask my hearers what I taught: they know what I said.’ At these words, one of the guards standing by gave Jesus a slap in the face, saying, ‘Is that the way to answer the high priest?’ Jesus replied, ‘If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?’ Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood there warming himself, someone said to him, ‘Aren’t you another of his disciples?’ He denied it saying, ‘I am not.’ One of the high priest’s servants, a relation of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, said, ‘Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?’ Again Peter denied it; and at once a cock crew.

They then led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium. It was now morning. They did not go into the Praetorium themselves or they would be defiled and unable to eat the passover. So Pilate came outside to them and said, ‘What charge do you bring against this man?’ They replied, ‘If he were not a criminal, we should not be handing him over to you.’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves, and try him by your own Law.’ The Jews answered, ‘We are not allowed to put a man to death.’ This was to fulfil the words Jesus had spoken indicating the way he was going to die.

So Pilate went back into the Praetorium and called Jesus to him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ he asked. Jesus replied, ‘Do you ask this of your own accord, or have others spoken to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? It is your own people and the chief priests who have handed you over to me: what have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind.’ ‘So you are a king then?’ said Pilate. ‘It is you who say it’ answered Jesus. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this, I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.’ ‘Truth?’ said Pilate ‘What is that?’; and with that he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no case against him. But according to a custom of yours I should release one prisoner at the Passover; would you like me, then, to release the king of the Jews?’ At this they shouted: ‘Not this man,’ they said ‘but Barabbas.’ Barabbas was a brigand.

Pilate then had Jesus taken away and scourged; and after this, the soldiers twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’; and they slapped him in the face.

Pilate came outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case.’ Jesus then came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said, ‘Here is the man.’ When they saw him the chief priests and the guards shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him: I can find no case against him.’ ‘We have a Law,’ the Jews replied ‘and according to that Law he ought to die, because he has claimed to be the Son of God.’

When Pilate heard them say this his fears increased. Re-entering the Praetorium, he said to Jesus, ‘Where do you come from?’ But Jesus made no answer. Pilate then said to him, ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no power over me’ replied Jesus ‘if it had not been given you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt.’

From that moment Pilate was anxious to set him free, but the Jews shouted, ‘If you set him free you are no friend of Caesar’s; anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar.’ Hearing these words, Pilate had Jesus brought out, and seated himself on the chair of judgement at a place called the Pavement, in Hebrew Gabbatha. It was Passover Preparation Day, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king’ said Pilate to the Jews. ‘Take him away, take him away!’ they said. ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Do you want me to crucify your king?’ said Pilate. The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’ So in the end Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out of the city to the place of the skull or, as it was called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was not far from the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews,” but “This man said: I am King of the Jews.”’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’

When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled:
They shared out my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my clothes.
This is exactly what the soldiers did.

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son. Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that moment the disciple made a place for her in his home.

After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed, and to fulfil the scripture perfectly he said:
‘I am thirsty.’
A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in the vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.

It was Preparation Day, and to prevent the bodies remaining on the cross during the sabbath – since that sabbath was a day of special solemnity – the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken away. Consequently the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with him and then of the other. When they came to Jesus, they found he was already dead, and so instead of breaking his legs one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance; and immediately there came out blood and water. This is the evidence of one who saw it – trustworthy evidence, and he knows he speaks the truth – and he gives it so that you may believe as well. Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture:

Not one bone of his will be broken;

and again, in another place scripture says:

They will look on the one whom they have pierced.

After this, Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a disciple of Jesus – though a secret one because he was afraid of the Jews – asked Pilate to let him remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave permission, so they came and took it away. Nicodemus came as well – the same one who had first come to Jesus at night-time – and he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, following the Jewish burial custom. At the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in this garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been buried. Since it was the Jewish Day of Preparation and the tomb was near at hand, they laid Jesus there.
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“I find no guilt in him” 
It has become very difficult to be openly Catholic in my adopted country, America. We seem to be caught in the throes of a form of ‘liberalism’ that, viewed through the lens of history, is frighteningly similar to some of the more nefarious ideologies of the 20th century. I don’t know why we have let ourselves get to this place, why we have abandoned kindness, tolerance, moderation and respect for our neighbor, to embrace this extreme, ‘self-righteous’ anger. It’s as if the mob (or social media) has become our arbiter of truth. Because a mob derives its strength from chaos, he who speaks the loudest, who espouses the most extreme views, is the most powerful. Our politicians and the media understand this. To remain relevant, they know that they too must adopt the extreme, even if they don’t necessarily agree with it – and they do. So we are all caught in this vicious spiral of hate and vitriol, all of it our own doing. How do we dig ourselves out of this mess? I honestly don’t know.
Pilate was dealing with a mob that Good Friday. Though he was Roman, his brief encounter with Christ touched him, enough for him to try reasoning with the crowd. We see him declare Christ’s innocence repeatedly, to no avail. Pilate is often painted as the one who ordered for Christ to be flogged and executed. I don’t think Pilate had a choice; he would have been attacked, maybe even executed, if he had not handed Christ over. Scripture says that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:23-26). That perfectly encapsulates Pilate’s dilemma. Do the right thing but lose it all, or stay out of it and leave the Jews to sort themselves out?
Pilate was not all good, nor all bad; his greatest sin was that of self-preservation. Elected to be a steward of the people, Pilate was forced to do something he didn’t believe in because that’s what the people wanted! Wasn’t that the whole point of democracy after all, to do what the people want? Wasn’t he just doing his job? Right to the end, we see Pilate try to appease his own conscience, eg when he washes his hands, and when he writes ‘King of the Jews’ on Jesus’ plaque and defies the crowd who demand that he change the wording. Pilate must have realized that a great injustice had happened on his watch, and he sensed the role he had played in it. But he was one man against a mob; and there was so much on the line for him. The emotional conflict must have been impossible to bear. Christ said, “for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25). Faced with the angry mob outside the praetorium, Pilate chose to save his own life. What would we have chosen in his shoes, I wonder? And what of my own predicament right now? Confronted with the prospect of being ostracized for my beliefs, why don’t I stand up for God against these angry liberals anyway? Why should I care what they think of me? Pilate may not have had the full benefit of Jesus’ teachings because he was raised a Roman – what excuse do I have to stay quiet?
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer : We pray for the courage to stand up for our convictions, even if it means that we are persecuted and ostracized for them. 
Thanksgiving : We give thanks for Jesus, who paved the way for us, who stood up to his detractors with calm, grace and dignity and became a shining example of what it means to live our faith.

29 March, Thursday – Faith Anew

29 March – Maundy Thursday

Here are the readings for the morning Chrism Mass:

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Isaiah 61:1-3,6,8-9

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up hearts that are broken;

to proclaim liberty to captives,
freedom to those in prison;
to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord,
a day of vengeance for our God,

to comfort all those who mourn and to give them
for ashes a garland;
for mourning robe the oil of gladness,
for despondency, praise.

But you, you will be named ‘priests of the Lord’,
they will call you ‘ministers of our God.’
I reward them faithfully
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

Their race will be famous throughout the nations,
their descendants throughout the peoples.
All who see them will admit
that they are a race whom the Lord has blessed.

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Apocalypse 1:5-8

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the First-Born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood, and made us a line of kings, priests to serve his God and Father; to him, then, be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. It is he who is coming on the clouds; everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him. This is the truth. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

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Luke 4:16-21

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

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“The Spirit of The Lord is upon me”
I have often wondered how I would react if Christ returned in my lifetime. Would I recognize him? Or would I let my conservatism get the better of me? We look with judgment on those who failed to see Jesus the first time round; but would we have perceived otherwise? I don’t know. We can be a little too ingrained in our ways.
My husband is a cradle Catholic who fell away from the faith. He is now tentatively finding his way back to church, one mass at a time. Mass is both new and familiar to him; some things have changed, some things have stayed the same. I want him to have a good experience each time he is in God’s house. I want to show him that the Catholic faith is loving, compassionate and accepting. That it is not the harsh, overbearing faith he grew up with. Very often though, I find I am on the defensive, standing up for God and the Church against his questions and ‘pointy’ comments. His observations are not groundless. If Christ returned, might he ask the same questions of the faith he founded? Some examples of ‘pointy’ remarks I’ve had to field – “Why is there so much focus on fund raising during mass, 5 mins for the homily, 15 mins for the fundraiser?”, “Why do only some masses ‘count’, it’s not like God keeps office hours?”, “Why are people so ‘clique-ish’ at church, like they’re part of a cool kids crowd and I’m not?” , “Why doesn’t the church make the Bible easier to understand, why can’t it be in simple English?”
All that aside, I think my husband’s faith is more authentic than mine. He is often moved to tears at mass. He notices the old man with the walker two pews in front, and observes how great his faith must be, to be showing up for communion despite his pain. My husband bothers to count, and marvels at the number of people who show up at daily mass on a Saturday morning, ‘just to see God’. He is aware of a homily’s message, whether it has touched him or not. I don’t see or hear any of this. I’ve become numb in so many ways, as if worship is a box I have to tick. So have a lot of us, I think.
This Holy Week, when Christ is closest to us, let us take the opportunity to seek the authenticity that the first Christians experienced, when Jesus walked in their midst. Perhaps we can try to worship with new eyes, and seek for ourselves a more authentic way of practicing our Catholic faith. We have much to learn still, especially from those who seek God with “childlike faith”, who are unafraid to ask the honest questions. I know I have much to learn from my ‘renewed again’ Catholic husband.
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer : I pray for the wisdom and the awareness to be a better, more humble steward of the faith. 
Thanksgiving : I give thanks to God, for allowing my husband and I to share a faith journey together. I give thanks to God that He has been willing to be the cornerstone of our married life. 

28 March, Wednesday – Judas and Us

28 March – Wednesday of Holy Week

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Isaiah 50:4-9

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

My vindicator is here at hand. Does anyone start proceedings against me?
Then let us go to court together.
Who thinks he has a case against me?
Let him approach me.

The Lord is coming to my help,
who will dare to condemn me?

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Matthew 26:14-25

One of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?’ They paid him thirty silver pieces, and from that moment he looked for an opportunity to betray him.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ ‘Go to so-and-so in the city’ he replied ‘and say to him, “The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples.”’ The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he was at table with the twelve disciples. And while they were eating he said ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me.’ They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, ‘Not I, Lord, surely?’ He answered, ‘Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’ Judas, who was to betray him; asked in his turn, ‘Not I, Rabbi, surely?’ ‘They are your own words’ answered Jesus.

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“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you”
“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you” – such cold words, bartering one’s soul for a few silver dollars. And then the feigned surprise, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” when confronted with the truth.
It’s easy to hate on Judas, and see him as that one-dimensional villain when we have history on our side. We know how his story ends. But being self-righteous about this is akin to obsessing over the speck of dust in our brother’s eye, while we miss the plank in our own. Let’s be honest, we have all danced with the Devil. Our language might not be as overt; we may not even have exchanged any words. But every time we’ve told a little lie to save ourselves, every time we’ve been sharp-tongued instead of compassionate, every time we’ve joined in the gossip instead of halting it — we’ve danced with the Devil.
“How is that the same?!”, you say. “I didn’t sell Jesus out to his enemies?!” Judas probably didn’t think Jesus was going to be crucified either. He failed to grasp the enormity of the moment and placed his trust in the wrong people. A fall from grace does not occur overnight. It’s the result of countless bad decisions compounded over several years — the company we keep, how we choose to spend our time, our approach to money, how we treat the people in our lives. All these add up so that when crunch time comes, we make a fatal decision. “If you are faithful in the little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in the little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (Luke 16:10). Sin is an innocuous thing. It starts off harmlessly, but when we get away with things often enough, a kind of carelessness sets in. And at the end of it, that’s what Judas was. He was careless, with the greatest living treasure no less.
This Holy Week, take some time to reflect on the ‘little things’ in your life. Could you be more kind, more humble, more patient, more compassionate, more honest? Is there a wrong that has been gnawing at you, that needs to be made right before the start of Easter? Judas wasn’t born evil — that behavior was learned and conditioned into him. How are we conditioning ourselves? Are we setting ourselves up for a fall too?
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer : We pray for the humility to recognize and change the things about ourselves that are not right with God. 
Thanksgiving : We give thanks for those who remind us what right living should look like. We give thanks for all the positive role models that God sends our way. 

27 March, Tuesday – Whose Cause Is It?

Dear Readers,

We apologies for today’s erroneous post. Please find the correct readings and reflection for today.

27 March – Tuesday of Holy Week

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Isaiah 49:1-6

Islands, listen to me,
pay attention, remotest peoples.
The Lord called me before I was born,
from my mother’s womb he pronounced my name.

He made my mouth a sharp sword,
and hid me in the shadow of his hand.
He made me into a sharpened arrow,
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, ‘You are my servant (Israel)
in whom I shall be glorified’;
while I was thinking, ‘I have toiled in vain,
I have exhausted myself for nothing’;

and all the while my cause was with the Lord,
my reward with my God.
I was honoured in the eyes of the Lord,
my God was my strength.

And now the Lord has spoken,
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
to gather Israel to him:

‘It is not enough for you to be my servant,
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel;
I will make you the light of the nations
so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’

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John 13:21-33,36-38

While at supper with his disciples, Jesus was troubled in spirit and declared, ‘I tell you most solemnly, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, wondering which he meant. The disciple Jesus loved was reclining next to Jesus; Simon Peter signed to him and said, ‘Ask who it is he means’, so leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said, ‘Who is it, Lord?’ ‘It is the one’ replied Jesus ‘to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.’ He dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus then said, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ None of the others at table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’, or telling him to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread he went out. Night had fallen.
When he had gone Jesus said:

‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.

‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
You will look for me,
And, as I told the Jews,
where I am going, you cannot come.’

Simon Peter said, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now; you will follow me later.’ Peter said to him, ‘Why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ ‘Lay down your life for me?’ answered Jesus. ‘I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.’

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“Amen, amen I say to you, one of you will betray me” 
Yesterday, we talked about the different kinds of believers and touched briefly on one group — those who subvert Christ’s cause for their own ends. Anyone who has ever volunteered at church can attest to how ambition, greed and pride often overwhelm the best of intentions. No one ever starts off being self-serving. Most people volunteer wanting what is best for the parish. Yet, personal agendas always seem to find a way to muddy the waters. Before you know it, you’re making decisions that affirm your point of view, that support your needs. I used to serve on the board of a charity.
I thought that some of the women I worked with were kindred spirits. But a disagreement over something small blew up into a boardroom fight to oust dissenting voices, and I saw my friends with new eyes. You think you know someone but really, you don’t until your friendship has been tested. These women are not bad women. They’re good mothers, and daughters, and sisters. They’re responsible members of the community. They care about social justice. So how did we end up here? Many, like me, have left because dealing with all that anger is exhausting. It is easier to walk away and leave the politics to those who have the endurance for it.
When we think about Jesus, and all the craziness he had to deal with — running a ministry, managing the apostles, dealing with the Pharisees, trying to side-step the Romans — it’s mentally exhausting! People are hard work. Love thy neighbor? I’m sure he wanted to throttle them sometimes. It must have hurt to watch his ministry undermined like that, and then to be betrayed by someone within his inner circle, someone he called a friend. The traditional view of Judas is that of the one-dimensional ‘bad guy’. But, perhaps he started out with good intentions too, just that pride and greed got in the way. Good people can make bad choices too.
While I had the option of throwing in the towel, Jesus did not; and that’s the crux of the reading from Isaiah today : “Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, Yet my reward is with the LORD, my recompense if with my God.”
God will find a way to sustain you if you’re fighting the good fight, even when it seems all is lost. And if you seek fulfillment not from worldly success, but from being a part of His bigger mission, God will be your strength. You’ll be impervious to all the politics, you’ll rise above the craziness because He will hold you up. If your cause is faithful to Him, God will see it to its end for you.
So to all of us who are trapped in untenable circumstances, take a step back and see — have we let ourselves drift away from His purpose for us? Is what we are doing still honoring Him? If not, perhaps it is time to shift our focus back to fighting the good fight.
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the awareness to step away from causes that appear to be good, but that in reality, serve things other than Him.  
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who toil tirelessly at their work, despite being under-resourced, overworked and underpaid. To all the people who labor unjustly, may God give them strength and courage to rise above their circumstances

26 March, Monday – What Kind Of Believer

26 March – Monday of Holy Week

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Isaiah 42:1-7

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
for the islands are awaiting his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
he who created the heavens and spread them out,
who gave shape to the earth and what comes from it,
who gave breath to its people
and life to the creatures that move in it:

‘I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right;
I have taken you by the hand and formed you;
I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations,

‘to open the eyes of the blind,
to free captives from prison,
and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.’

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John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment.

Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

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“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”
What is the quality of our worship? And against what yardstick are we to measure this? Those are the questions posed to us as we ponder today’s gospel story of Mary and her bottle of spikenard oil. The players in today’s gospel each represent a particular type of believer – Mary, Martha, Judas Iscariot and the Chief Priests and finally, the throng of Jews. Let’s take each one in turn:
Mary – The significance of Mary anointing Jesus with spikenard, using her hair to wipe his feet, was not lost on Jesus. Spikenard oil, in Jesus’ time, was used for consecration and worship at the tabernacle. Costing a year’s wages, the oil was likely Mary’s prized possession. She gave her most precious belongings – her treasure and her hair, her crowning glory – to honor him. Mary’s worship was like “Christ’s fragrance rising up to God, and perceived by those who are saved as well as by those who are lost” (2 Cor 15). Mary represents the believer who through faith, perceives Christ for who he is and understands the significance of the moment. Mary is the kind of believer whose faith is so pure, she inspires us to be faithful as well.
 Martha – When we first meet Martha, she is obviously the alpha female of the house (Luke 10:38-41), opinionated and unafraid of confrontation. Then she experiences the life-changing miracle of her brother’s resurrection (John 11:1-44) and is transformed. Today’s gospel reading shows a humbled Martha, serving dinner, at peace with her vocation. Gone is the smart-mouthing; in its place instead is quiet contentment. Martha represents the believer who, through a deeply personal experience of Christ, opens her eyes, sees Christ for who he is, and finds her peace – “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).
 
Judas Iscariot and the Chief Priests – Both of these are really the same kind of believer. They may have started off with good intentions, but they let money and power corrupt their perspective. Judas and the Chief Priests are like those who have subverted Christ’s cause for their own purpose. We see these believers all the time, usually aspiring to positions of higher office in church. We may even possess shades of Judas ourselves, if we have ever served with intentions other than to do God’s work. These believers are like the Pharisees who “appear as religious to others, but are full of hypocrisy and wickedness within” (Mat 23:28). They’re more interested in the things of the world – money, position, politics and power – than in God’s purpose.
The throng of Jews – These are the believers who are searching for any form of authentic worship, whose hearts are open, but whose spirits may not necessarily be ready for the long haul. Jesus described them in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13:20) as those who accept the Word with joy, but who lack the tenacity to hold on when they are subjected to trials.
Wherever we are in our faith journey, there are shades of each of these believers in all of us. We are neither wholly good, nor wholly bad, not so perfect that we don’t need salvation, not so evil that we’re beyond redemption. The question is, in what general direction have we been moving lately?
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray that God will open our eyes so we may perceive as Mary and Martha did, the things that are truly significant in our lives. 
 
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the examples in Scripture that so vividly depict our human condition, and all that ails us. 

25 March, Sunday – The Passion Story for 2-year olds

25 March – Palm Sunday

The Gospel is read at the procession with palms before Mass.

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Mark 11:1-10

When they were approaching Jerusalem, in sight of Bethphage and Bethany, close by the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go off to the village facing you, and as soon as you enter it you will find a tethered colt that no one has yet ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, “What are you doing?” say, “The Master needs it and will send it back here directly”.’ They went off and found a colt tethered near a door in the open street. As they untied it, some men standing there said, ‘What are you doing, untying that colt?’ They gave the answer Jesus had told them, and the men let them go. Then they took the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on its back, and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, others greenery which they had cut in the fields. And those who went in front and those who followed were all shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heavens!’

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Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.

For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.

The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.

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Philippians 2:6-11

His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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Mark 14:1-15:47

It was two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by some trick and have him put to death. For they said, ‘It must not be during the festivities, or there will be a disturbance among the people.’

Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper; he was at dinner when a woman came in with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the ointment on his head. Some who were there said to one another indignantly, ‘Why this waste of ointment? Ointment like this could have been sold for over three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor’; and they were angry with her. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why are you upsetting her? What she has done for me is one of the good works. You have the poor with you always, and you can be kind to them whenever you wish, but you will not always have me. She has done what was in her power to do: she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. I tell you solemnly, wherever throughout all the world the Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told also, in remembrance of her.’

Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, approached the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over to them. They were delighted to hear it, and promised to give him money; and he looked for a way of betraying him when the opportunity should occur.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the passover?’ So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him, and say to the owner of the house which he enters, “The Master says: Where is my dining room in which I can eat the passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large upper room furnished with couches, all prepared. Make the preparations for us there,’ The disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them, and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he arrived with the Twelve. And while they were at table eating, Jesus said, ‘I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me, one of you eating with me.’ They were distressed and asked him, one after another, ‘Not I, surely?’ He said to them, ‘It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping into the same dish with me. Yes, the Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!’

And as they were eating he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them. ‘Take it,’ he said ‘this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, ‘This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many. I tell you solemnly, I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.’

After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all lose faith, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered, however after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.’ Peter said, ‘Even if all lose faith, I will not.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you solemnly, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.’ But he repeated still more earnestly, ‘If I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ And they all said the same.

They came to a small estate called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Stay here while I pray.’ Then he took Peter and James and John with him. And a sudden fear came over him, and great distress. And he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here, and keep awake.’ And going on a little further he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by. ‘Abba (Father)!’ he said ‘Everything is possible for you. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it.’ He came back and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Had you not the strength to keep awake one hour? You should be awake, and praying not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came back and found them sleeping, their eyes were so heavy; and they could find no answer for him. He came back a third time and said to them, ‘You can sleep on now and take your rest. It is all over. The hour has come. Now the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is close at hand already.’

Even while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came up with a number of men armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the traitor had arranged a signal with them. ‘The one I kiss,’ he had said ‘he is the man. Take him in charge, and see he is well guarded when you lead him away.’ So when the traitor came, he went straight up to Jesus and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. The others seized him and took him in charge. Then one of the bystanders drew his sword and struck out at the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear.

Then Jesus spoke. ‘Am I a brigand’ he said ‘that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I was among you teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me. But this is to fulfil the scriptures.’ And they all deserted him and ran away. A young man who followed him had nothing on but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the cloth in their hands and ran away naked.

They led Jesus off to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes assembled there. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the high priest’s palace, and was sitting with the attendants warming himself at the fire.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus on which they might pass the death sentence. But they could not find any. Several, indeed, brought false evidence against him, but their evidence was conflicting. Some stood up and submitted this false evidence against him, ‘We heard him say, “I am going to destroy this Temple made by human hands, and in three days build another, not made by human hands.”’ But even on this point their evidence was conflicting. The high priest then stood up before the whole assembly and put this question to Jesus, ‘Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?’ But he was silent and made no answer at all. The high priest put a second question to him, ‘Are you the Christ,’ he said, ‘the Son of the Blessed One?’ ‘I am,’ said Jesus ‘and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ The high priest tore his robes, ‘What need of witnesses have we now?’ he said. ‘You heard the blasphemy. What is your finding?’ And they all gave their verdict: he deserved to die.

Some of them started spitting at him and, blindfolding him, began hitting him with their fists and shouting, ‘Play the prophet!’ And the attendants rained blows on him.

While Peter was down below in the courtyard, one of the high priest’s servant-girls came up. She saw Peter warming himself there, stared at him and said, ‘You too were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ But he denied it. ‘I do not know, I do not understand, what you are talking about’ he said. And he went out into the forecourt. The servant-girl saw him and again started telling the bystanders, ‘This fellow is one of them.’ But again he denied it. A little later the bystanders themselves said to Peter, ‘You are one of them for sure! Why, you are a Galilean.’ But he started calling down curses on himself and swearing, ‘I do not know the man you speak of.’ At that moment the cock crew for the second time, and Peter recalled how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.’ And he burst into tears.

First thing in the morning, the chief priests together with the elders and scribes, in short the whole Sanhedrin, had their plan ready. They had Jesus bound and took him away and handed him over to Pilate.

Pilate questioned him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘It is you who say it’ he answered. And the chief priests brought many accusations against him. Pilate questioned him again, ‘Have you no reply at all? See how many accusations they are bringing against you!’ But, to Pilate’s amazement, Jesus made no further reply.

At festival time Pilate used to release a prisoner for them, anyone they asked for. Now a man called Barabbas was then in prison with the rioters who had committed murder during the uprising. When the crowd went up and began to ask Pilate the customary favour, Pilate answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?’ For he realised it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. The chief priests, however, had incited the crowd to demand that he should release Barabbas for them instead. Then Pilate spoke again. ‘But in that case,’ he said to them ‘what am I to do with the man you call king of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ ‘Why?’ Pilate asked them ‘What harm has he done?’ But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, anxious to placate the crowd, released Barabbas for them and, having ordered Jesus to be scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers led him away to the inner part of the palace, that is, the Praetorium, and called the whole cohort together. They dressed him up in purple, twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed and spat on him; and they went down on their knees to do him homage. And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the purple and dressed him in his own clothes.

They enlisted a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means the place of the skull.

They offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he refused it. Then they crucified him, and shared out his clothing, casting lots to decide what each should get. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The inscription giving the charge against him read: ‘The King of the Jews.’ And they crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads and said, ‘Aha! So you would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days! Then save yourself: come down from the cross!’ The chief priests and the scribes mocked him among themselves in the same way. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, for us to see it and believe.’ Even those who were crucified with him taunted him.

When the sixth hour came there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’ When some of those who stood by heard this, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling on Elijah.’ Someone ran and soaked a sponge in vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink saying; ‘Wait and see if Elijah will come to take him down.’ But Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion, who was standing in front of him, had seen how he had died, and he said, ‘In truth this man was a son of God.’

There were some women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary who was the mother of James the younger and Joset, and Salome. These used to follow him and look after him when he was in Galilee. And there were many other women there who had come up to Jerusalem with him.

It was now evening, and since it was Preparation Day (that is, the vigil of the sabbath), there came Joseph of Arimathaea, a prominent member of the Council, who himself lived in the hope of seeing the kingdom of God, and he boldly went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate, astonished that he should have died so soon, summoned the centurion and enquired if he was already dead. Having been assured of this by the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph who bought a shroud, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary of Magdala and Mary the mother of Joset were watching and took note of where he was laid.

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“Morning after morning, he opens my ear that I may hear”
My two year old nephew Josh, has started to read and, in the process, is discovering Jesus Christ and the Christian faith for the first time. His mother and grandmother have taught him to say grace, to pray and punctuate his prayers with ‘Amen’. Before he goes to bed, he bids goodnight to Jesus (“and Mother Mary too, okay?”). His mother has even caught him whispering his thoughts and hopes to Jesus. How cute!
To Josh’s great credit, he has embraced his introduction to the faith with enthusiasm. None of us were raised Catholic. We came to our faith as adults. Josh will be the first in our family to discover Jesus as a child, free of the cynicism and doubt that trip up most adults. He’ll discover Jesus with that childlike faith that Christ talks about in the Book of Mark. What a blessing it is, to be wide-eyed and wondrous about our faith! And what a responsibility for the adults who have been tasked to teach it to him! For instance, how do we tell the Easter story to Josh, in a way that is faithful to its message yet relatable to child’s view of the world?
For a two year old, life is fairly simple – there are good guys, and there are bad guys. And in his small circle, he identifies us as belonging to one tribe or the other. There are no grey areas (“Why did Peter say he didn’t know Jesus? Aren’t they friends?”), no existential crises (“Why did Judas throw away the money after he gave Jesus to the bad guys”). Jesus said so himself, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15). So how do we view the Passion story with child-like eyes? 
The crux of Christ’s Passion is that God loved us so much, He sent Jesus, His Son, to show us how to live as good people, and to die for us so that we could join Him in Heaven. Simple enough? Not so much!
 
“If he was a good man, why did Jesus have to die?” my nephew will inevitably ask. How does one talk about God’s divine love in a way that a two-year-old can understand? The consequences of sin are death and separation from God. But did Jesus have to endure such cruelty, and die betrayed and alone, so that we could join him in heaven? Were we really worth it? How do we explain ‘unworthiness’ to Josh?
“Why didn’t God save Jesus from the bad guys? Doesn’t God love him?!!?”, another difficult question. God gave Jesus a role to fulfill, and because he was a good and faithful man, Jesus fulfilled it. God lets us choose, but if we love God, we have to respect what He wants from us. Would a two-year-old understand the concept of sacrifice and suffering? And on that scale? Do I understand it even?
“Does that mean that if I do something wrong, all I have to do is say I’m sorry to God and I can go to heaven?!” – undoubtedly the next zinger that comes my way. And that’s exactly the mystery of it. God embraced us as His own, despite our failures. God believed that we could be redeemed, despite ourselves. Jesus believed that we were worth redeeming, that we were worth dying for, even when we behaved so poorly towards him. How do we do justice to this grace, this love? How do we tell this story so we don’t edit out the scale of Jesus’ sacrifice?
Josh’s intrepid tracks into the kingdom of God have allowed us as a family to re-examine our faith. No question is unworthy here. His mother thinks Josh “will freak out” if he finds out that Jesus was nailed to a cross. I don’t blame him, it’s hard for us even as adults. Seen through the eyes of a two-year-old, the injustice that Jesus endured so we could have a relationship with God is beyond anything we can grasp. And that’s ok, we don’t have to grasp it, or have to wrap our heads around it. That’s part of the mystery of our faith. Not everything can be known. We can accept it as something we will never understand and hold on to the things that we can grasp. We can try to be the best versions of ourselves, so that he wouldn’t have died in vain. We can celebrate the love that God had for us. We can remember that our lives are worth something. We can rejoice that Jesus overcame Death and arose again, just as we will when we join him in the everlasting.
(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)
Prayer: We pray for the ability to see our faith with the eyes of a child, and to accept the things we don’t understand with humility and grace. 
 
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the children in our lives who remind us that we don’t have all the answers, even when we think that we do. 

3 February, Saturday – On Noise And Knowledge

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 Scandinavian 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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1 Kings 3:4-13

King Solomon went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, since that was the greatest of the high places – Solomon offered a thousand holocausts on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared in a dream to Solomon during the night. God said, ‘Ask what you would like me to give you.’ Solomon replied, ‘You showed great kindness to your servant David, my father, when he lived his life before you in faithfulness and justice and integrity of heart; you have continued this great kindness to him by allowing a son of his to sit on his throne today. Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in succession to David my father. But I am a very young man, unskilled in leadership. Your servant finds himself in the midst of this people of yours that you have chosen, a people so many its number cannot be counted or reckoned. Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, for who could govern this people of yours that is so great?’ It pleased the Lord that Solomon should have asked for this. ‘Since you have asked for this’ the Lord said ‘and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgement for yourself, here and now I do what you ask. I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you. What you have not asked I shall give you too: such riches and glory as no other king ever had.’

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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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“… but for understanding so you may know what is right…”

In the Tao Te Ching, there is a famous saying, that “those who know are not learned; those who are learned do not know”. It used to bother me that the Tao Te Ching was advocating for us to remain blissfully ignorant. And then I grew up, started reading the news and realized that the more ‘knowledge’ you acquire, the more ‘noise’ you have to deal with. Noise can seem important if you dress it up with enough bells and whistles, but it serves no purpose other than to waste our time. How do we tell the differnce between knowledge that harms and knowledge that heals? Solomon’s request was for exactly that – to be able to discern truth from the noise.

It’s so easy to be misled. You won’t even feel like you’re going astray. How often have we mindlessly surfed the Internet only to look up and find that we’ve lost half a day? For instance, it has taken me an entire day to write this reflection. Why? Because I’ve been faffing about, looking at headlines, allegedly so I can ‘stay engaged and informed’. Noise throws you off your purpose, and you may not even be aware that it’s happening.

Whatever our ambitions, we are finite beings. We grow weary, our days on earth are numbered, our efforts are not inexhaustible. So how we apply ourselves is important. We may think that wisdom lies in the acquistion of knowledge, but that isn’t the case. Will we live more meaningful lives by chasing every headline out there? I don’t think so. Wisdom comes from living simply, according to His commandments. Wisdom comes from making Him our unwavering purpose. Without Christ as our focus – and our filter – we are exactly as he decribed the crowd; lost like sheep without a shepherd. We’ll fall for every distraction that calls our name.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to discern between things that are of God, and things that are of this world.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who resides within us and guides our thoughts and actions.

Thursday, 1 February – Shake The Dust Off Your Feet

1 February 

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1 Kings 2:1-4,10-12

As David’s life drew to its close he laid this charge on his son Solomon, ‘I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong and show yourself a man. Observe the injunctions of the Lord your God, following his ways and keeping his laws, his commandments, his customs and his decrees, as it stands written in the Law of Moses, that so you may be successful in all you do and undertake, so that the Lord may fulfil the promise he made me, “If your sons are careful how they behave, and walk loyally before me with all their heart and soul, you shall never lack for a man on the throne of Israel.”’

So David slept with his ancestors and was buried in the Citadel of David. David’s reign over Israel lasted forty years: he reigned in Hebron for seven years, and in Jerusalem for thirty-three.

Solomon was seated upon the throne of David, and his sovereignty was securely established.

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Mark 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’ And he said to them, ‘If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district. And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.

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“… leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them”

We had the houseguests from hell stay with us recently. I feel like God sent them as a test of my commitment to keep His commands – and I failed most spectacularly. There was not any one thing that set me off, though I can think of a few incidents that marked new lows for me. Rather, it was the compounding of all that they did and failed to do. When you’re trying to observe God’s commands and people consistently take advantage of your generosity, how do you know where to draw the line? How much bad behavior are we expected to put up with before we shake the proverbial dust off our feet?

In Luke 17:4, Christ says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to say, ‘I repent’, you must forgive him”. Does that also apply to people who are indifferent to the pain they cause you, who say nothing and do nothing to repent of it? Does God’s forgiveness apply to them too? I think so, because as Scripture reminds us, His mercy is inexhaustible. I am not inexhaustible though. It’s been a real struggle to resolve my conflicted feelings about this. I am angry and hurt, but it seems like there is little I can do about it.

As if right on cue, I received an Instagram this week that read, “I choose love because hate is too great a burden to bear”. It was like a sign from God, tryign to bring me back to the light. Maybe I’ve been exhausted because I’ve been carrying these dark feelings around. If I released them and gave up trying to find a resolution, might I feel happier and lighter? Perhaps I should just leave it up to God to deal with them? Is rhat what shaking the dust off your feet means, to walk away with no anger or resentment?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the strength to deal with the people in our lives who cause us pain but seem oblivious to it. We also pray for the wisdom to know when to cut out the toxic relationships in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people whom God sends to lend us support and encouragement.