Tag Archives: sharon soo

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

________________

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.’

________________

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.

________________

“… 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 

______________________

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.

______________________

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.

_________________________

“… 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.

29 January, Monday – On Privilege

29 January

_____________________

2 Samuel 15:13-14, 30, 16:5-13

A messenger came to tell David, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel are now with Absalom.’ So David said to all his officers who were with him in Jerusalem, ‘Let us be off, let us fly, or we shall never escape from Absalom. Leave as quickly as you can in case he mounts a surprise attack and worsts us and puts the city to the sword.’

David then made his way up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, his head covered and his feet bare. And all the people with him had their heads covered and made their way up, weeping as they went.

As David was reaching Bahurim, out came a man of the same clan as Saul’s family. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and as he came he uttered curse after curse and threw stones at David and at all King David’s officers, though the whole army and all the champions flanked the king right and left. The words of his curse were these, ‘Be off, be off, man of blood, scoundrel! the Lord has brought on you all the blood of the House of Saul whose sovereignty you have usurped; and the Lord has transferred that same sovereignty to Absalom your son. Now your doom has overtaken you, man of blood that you are.’ Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, ‘Is this dead dog to curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut his head off.’ But the king replied, ‘What business is it of mine and yours, sons of Zeruiah? Let him curse. If the Lord said to him, “Curse David,” what right has anyone to say, “Why have you done this?”’ David said to Abishai and all his officers, ‘Why, my own son, sprung from my body, is now seeking my life; so now how much the more this Benjaminite? Let him curse on if the Lord has told him to. Perhaps the Lord will look on my misery and repay me with good for his curse today.’ So David and his men went on their way.

______________________

Mark 5:1-20

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

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

_______________________

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

Privilege can be a toxic thing. If you’ve never known power and don’t understand the responsibilties that come with it, it’s hard to maintain a sense of perspective when it is suddenly thrust upon you. Such was King David’s struggle. His meteoric rise from lowly shepherd boy to commander-in-chief of God’s armies warped his sense of right and wrong. Powerful men acquire a false sense of infallibility, as if they’re not accountable like the rest of us. God himself said as much to David through Nathan the prophet, that “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own” (2 Samuel 12:10). It’s not an old adage for nothing – that with great power comes great responsibility.

We are all but stewards of that which has been entrusted to us. Whether what we have is great or small, nothing in our possession is truly our own. It’s a mindset that needs to be worked on constantly because it’s so easy to forget when you’re caught up with the excitement of secular things – chasing after partnership at the firm, throwing the next charity fete, watching our children excel, being congratulated at church for hosting a successful fundraiser. We might even catch ourselves saying “Look at me. Look at how far I’ve come. I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved”. That’s vanity speaking. Nothing that we have has been solely through the fruits of our own labor. We’ve all been helped along the way. Whether we choose to call it luck, serendipity or God’s grace, we’ve all had help getting to where we are.

Let’s have the humility to recognize the gifts we’ve been blessed with – and walk with full awareness of the responsibilities that come with them. At the gates of heaven, God will ask for a full account of how we’ve lived, and what we’ve witnessed to. Do we know what we will say to Him then?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the humility to recognize that everything that we have is on loan from God – and to treat His gifts more carefully.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people He has put in our lives, the opportunities He has laid before us, His mercies when we mess up, the second chances He accords to us.

28 January, Sunday – Better Versions Of Ourselves

28 January
______________________

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’

____________________

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband. I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.

__________________________

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his followers went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

________________________

“… for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes”

This year, we have to do better, try harder, be better versions of ourselves. I’m not saying this because it’s January, and in January we make resolutions that are broken in March. I say this because I agreed to become a sponsor to a young mother looking to receive her Rite of Confirmation this year. I almost said no because what a huge responsibility that is! I see her looking at me and I find myself second guessing my thoughts and actions. It is as if someone has suddenly shone a light on me and made me feel more accountable, certainly more aware that I have an accountability to God. My faith is something I sometimes take for granted. Her request of me has been a potent reminder that it should not be the case. All I do, all I say, is testament to my faith, and I ought to safeguard it better.

People want leadership that inspires, that is authentic, that they can believe in. Most people just think of themselves and what’s in it for them. So few people actually think about how they can serve to be good examples, how they can make things better for others. The Hebrews were looking for an inspirational example and they did not find it in the self-serving Pharisees. People today are looking for inspirational examples too – will they find it in us? In this new year, 2018, maybe we could all try to be that better version of ourselves, the ones we think we are in our heads, but know we fall short of in our hearts. We are all flawed but the heart can aspire and pray for God’s infinite grace to help us to bridge that gap. Where is the fault in trying?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the self-awareness and good judgement to be credible witnesses to our faith.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the opportunities that God gives us to be better versions of ourselves. He is truly a God of second chances.

22 January, Monday – Caught up in the moment

22 Jan – Memorial of Saint Vincent, Deacon, Martyr

Friend of Saint Valerius of Saragossa in Spain, and served as his deacon. Imprisoned and tortured in Valencia, Spain for his faith during the persecutions of Diocletian; part of his time was spent being burned on a gridiron. While in prison, he converted his jailer. Was finally offered release if he would give up the scripture texts for burning, but he refused. Martyr. Acts written by the poet Prudentius.

– Patron Saint Index

 

_____________

2 Samuel 5:1-7,10

All the tribes of Israel then came to David at Hebron. ‘Look’ they said ‘we are your own flesh and blood. In days past when Saul was our king, it was you who led Israel in all their exploits; and the Lord said to you, “You are the man who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you shall be the leader of Israel.”’ So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a pact with them at Hebron in the presence of the Lord, and they anointed David king of Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned for forty years. He reigned in Hebron over Judah for seven years and six months; then he reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel and Judah for thirty-three years.

David and his men marched on Jerusalem against the Jebusites living there. These said to David, ‘You will not get in here. The blind and the lame will hold you off. (That is to say: David will never get in here.) But David captured the fortress of Zion, that is, the Citadel of David.

David grew greater and greater, and the Lord, the God of Hosts, was with him.

_________________________

Mark 3:22-30

The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘Beelzebul is in him’ and, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts devils out.’ So he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last. And if a household is divided against itself, that household can never stand. Now if Satan has rebelled against himself and is divided, he cannot stand either – it is the end of him. But no one can make his way into a strong man’s house and burgle his property unless he has tied up the strong man first. Only then can he burgle his house.

‘I tell you solemnly, all men’s sins will be forgiven, and all their blasphemies; but let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ This was because they were saying, ‘An unclean spirit is in him.’

________________________

But let anyone blasphemes against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness

Strong opinions are dangerous. Strong opinions expressed too strongly push us to a place we find impossible to back down from. Caught up in the moment, we stake more and more on being right – our reputations are suddenly up for debate.

In today’s Scripture reading, the Jewish scribes viciously ‘defend their end zone’ with the collective weight of their knowledge and their position as religious elders of their time. Much is at stake here. Their whole self-worth is tied up in being right. In the heat of an argument, with tempers flaring, it is entirely possible that perhaps they weren’t thinking straight and let their pride do the talking for them. They talked themselves to a place they couldn’t back down from, a place where they undermined themselves and inadvertently, blasphemed against the work of the Holy Spirit. Did they knowingly do it? Maybe, but that’s what happens when reason takes flight to pride and passion. We get careless and say things we regret.

I’ve often wondered about the Unforgivable Sin. What if I’ve committed it out of carelessness? We’ve all been in heated arguments before. “The tongue… is in itself a whole world of evil. It infects the whole being and sets fire to our world with the very fire of hell… nobody can control the tongue. It is an untiring whip, full of deadly poison. We use it to bless God, our Father, and also to curse those made in God’s likeness.” (James 3: 6-9). Have I, like the Jewish scribes, undermined the Spirit’s work unwittingly, when in a moment of anger and carelessness, I criticized a brother in Christ?

For we all carry the Holy Spirit within us, the Spirit which inspires us to do His deeds. When I judge someone, am I also judging the Holy Spirit and in so doing, committing the Unpardonable Sin? Food for thought as we go about this week.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

________________________

Prayer: We pray for the strength to restrain ourselves, when tempers flare and arguments become too heated, lest we say something we regret.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who guides each of our actions. We pray for the wisdom to always be able to listen and practise restraint, despite the noise of our own passions.

16 December, Saturday – Doing vs Knowing

16 Dec

________________

Ecclesiasticus 48:1-4,9-12

The prophet Elijah arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch.

It was he who brought famine on the people, and who decimated them in his zeal.

By the word of the Lord, he shut up the heavens, he also, three times, brought down fire.

How glorious you were in your miracles, Elijah! Has anyone reason to boast as you have?

Taken up in the whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses; designated in the prophecies of doom to allay God’s wrath before the fury breaks, to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob,

Happy shall they be who see you, and those who have fallen asleep in love.

________________ 

Matthew 17:10-13

As they came down from the mountain the disciples put this question to Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say then that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True;’ he replied ‘Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.’ The disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist.

________________

“… but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him… so also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands”

I often ask myself, would I be able to discern the Lord if he showed himself to me? What form would he come in? Would he be that homeless man I always want to buy breakfast for, but somehow never do? Or the old lady I often see diving in the dumpster outside of where I get my groceries? Have I walked past angels and not been aware? Or spoken out of turn to prophets because I was deaf to their message?

Would I be able to perceive Christ if He walked this earth again? I think the answer is no. And that’s really disappointing, because I like to think of myself as Catholic. I go to mass. I volunteer. I go to confession. I ‘do’ a whole bunch of things to check the boxes. But that’s all I do – check boxes. There is a ‘to-do’ list which I cross off as a matter of process and I go about it on autopilot. I don’t take the time to absorb the significance of why I am doing these things. In not doing so, I miss the point. And so I feel like I am just running errands all the time. Somewhere along the line, I put ‘doing’ above ‘knowing’ and shortchanged God in the process.

I became aware of this only recently, while moving house. My ‘to-do’ list exploded this past 3 weeks with all the things that needed to be sorted out when one moves house. Because I have tried to keep on top of everything, I’ve begun to behave with clockwork rigidity. Surprises are not welcome. I don’t do spontaneous. And there is no room for a change of plans. My husband looked visibly hurt one evening when he suggested we take a time-out for ourselves; instead of being loving and supportive, I angrily rattled off the litany of ‘to-do’s that were still outstanding and reminded him that he had things to accomplish too. So I shortchanged him in the process as well.

When we become all about ‘getting the job done’, when we’re so consumed with just crossing off the next thing, we lose sight of the ‘why’ in our lives. Why do we have friends? Why do we have family? Why do we have our faith? Why do we have a relationship with God? I lost sight of all of this while I was so busy trying to put together the ‘perfect’ house. But a house is not a home without family, without friends, without faith, without God.

We have just started to settle in and I am beginning to see clearly again. I hope that means that there will now be less ‘doing’ and more ‘knowing’. Being aware of our own compulsive disorder is the first step.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray that God makes us aware of the people in our lives, the relationships He has blessed us with and the evanescence of the time that we have with them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for family, friends and the gift of faith.

15 December, Friday – Disagreeableness

15 Dec

________________

Isaiah 48:17-19

Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is good for you, I lead you in the way that you must go. If only you had been alert to my commandments, your happiness would have been like a river, your integrity like the waves of the sea. Your children would have been numbered like the sand, your descendants as many as its grains. Never would your name have been cut off or blotted out before me.

________________ 

Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other as they sit in the market place:

“We played the pipes for you, and you wouldn’t dance; we sang dirges, and you wouldn’t be mourners.”

‘For John came, neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He is possessed.” The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet wisdom has been proved right by her actions.’

________________

“It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another”

My young nephew is almost two now. He’s a real wunderkind. At the tender age of 23 months, he has learned to have opinions and to voice them vociferously. He has acquired social graces. He has learned recall and the comforts of a daily routine. In short, he is learning to become a person and it’s a joy to watch. With children, the first acts of dissent and self-expression are empowering. Left unchecked though, they grow up to become adults who disagree for the sake of disagreeing. As the verse in Matthew puts it, they are like ‘children who sit in marketplace and call to one another’. Their own opinions are not necessarily grounded in arguments of any substance. They just want to be disagreeable.

One of Christ’s greatest challenges was dealing with exactly this sort of people. The Pharisees tried to thwart Jesus at every turn, manipulating his words to trap him, rabble rousing to cause unrest wherever he evangelized. We’ve all encountered such individuals at some point in our lives, people who block our progress, who scheme to thwart our plans, who disagree with whatever we say just for the sake of being disagreeable. They’re to be found everywhere – at our workplace, in our schools, in our churches, in our kids’ playgroups. When we’re faced with individuals like that, take a deep breath and remember the immortal words from Isaiah, that “I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go” (Isaiah 48:17-18).

Do not be afraid of their manoeuvres or be intimidated by their advances against you. If your intentions are good and premised on the truth, ‘wisdom is vindicated by her works’.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the tenacity to tolerate and rise above those who scheme, gossip and manoeuvre against us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who support us, who encourage us and pick us up when we’re beaten and laid down by the machinations of evil men.

14 December, Thursday – Their Fruit

Dec 14 – Memorial for St. John of the Cross, priest, religious, doctor of the Church

John (1675–1726) was born in poverty. He cared for the poor in the hospital in Medina. He became a lay Carmelite brother in 1563 at age 21, though he lived stricter than their Rule. He studied at Salamanca. He was ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25.

He was persuaded by St. Teresa of Avila to begin the Discalced (or barefoot) reform within the Carmelite Order, and took on the name John of the Cross. He was a master of novices, and spiritual director and confessor at St. Teresa’s convent. His reforms did not sit well with some of his brothers, and he was ordered to return to Medina. He refused and was imprisoned at Toledo, Spain, and escaped after nine months.

He was vicar-general of Andalusia. His reforms revitalized the Order. He was a great contemplative and spiritual writer. On Aug 24, 1926, he was proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI.

  • – Patron Saint Index

________________

Isaiah 41:13-20

I, the Lord, your God, I am holding you by the right hand; I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid, I will help you.’

Do not be afraid, Jacob, poor worm, Israel, puny mite.’ I will help you – it is the Lord who speaks – the Holy One of Israel is your redeemer.

See, I turn you into a threshing-sled, new, with doubled teeth; you shall thresh and crush the mountains, and turn the hills to chaff.

You shall winnow them and the wind will blow them away, the gale will scatter them. But you yourself will rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

The poor and needy ask for water, and there is none, their tongue is parched with thirst. I, the Lord, will answer them, I, the God of Israel, will not abandon them.

I will make rivers well up on barren heights, and fountains in the midst of valleys; turn the wilderness into a lake, and dry ground into waterspring.

In the wilderness I will put cedar trees, acacias, myrtles, olives. In the desert I will plant juniper, plane tree and cypress side by side; so that men may see and know, may all observe and understand that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.

________________ 

Matthew 11:11-15

Jesus spoke to the crowds: ‘I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. Since John the Baptist came, up to this present time, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence and the violent are taking it by storm. Because it was towards John that all the prophecies of the prophets and of the Law were leading; and he, if you will believe me, is the Elijah who was to return. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen!’

________________

“… and the violent are taking it by force”

The image of ‘violent men’ is a strange one to be associated with the idea of a benevolent God. So often, ‘religious fervor’ is used as a means to justify Man’s end. In our time, the crimes committed against innocent, ordinary people in the name of ‘God’ have become something of a normal occurrence. That’s a sad indictment of our times. How did we arrive at this place?! These days, you can’t step into an airport or a crowded transportation hub without looking behind your back or casing the passengers around you. We live in a world that’s become warped by paranoia and rage, done allegedly in the name of ‘God’. When did anger become our ‘new normal’? How did we let ourselves get this way?

The violence inspired by the kingdom of heaven is not a new thing. From the time of Adam and Eve, Man has twisted God’s word to support his own cause and further his own end. People are not born angry and violent. Somewhere along the line, life events conditioned them to embrace the combative path for their own. God never asked us to wage a physical war with our brothers. Rather through Christ, He came to preach a message of love, acceptance and forgiveness. And John the Baptist paved the way for God’s message of redemption.

In the Book of Matthew, Christ chastises the Pharisees for misleading the people who looked to them for spiritual guidance. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt 23:13). That’s always resonated with me. One’s spiritual progress really can be thwarted by men with ill intentions. I have personally experienced the discomfort of being around someone who likes to put forward contentious spiritual arguments, just to further his own agenda. You feel like you’re being mentally accosted. At times like this, when we feel ourselves being challenged, it’s an idea to do a ‘fruit’ test – does he bear good fruit? Will the fruit of his message endure through the ages? Is his fruit borne of love or something else?

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit… therefore by their fruits you will know them” – Matthew 7:15-20

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to discern good men from those who would do us harm.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our spiritual directors, who through the good fruit of their hearts, pass on Christ’s message of love, repentance and redemption.

13 December, Wednesday – On January 3rd

Dec 13 – Memorial for St. Lucy, virgin, martyr

Lucy (c. 283) was a rich, young Christian of Greek ancestry. She was raised in a pious family, and vowed her life to Christ. Her Roman father died when she was young. Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her. For three years, she managed to keep the marriage on hold. To change the mother’s mind about the girl’s new faith, Lucy prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha, and her mother’s long haemorrhagic illness was cured. Her mother agreed with Lucy’s desire to live for God, and Lucy became known as a patron of those with maladies like her mother’s.

Her rejected pagan bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian to the governor of Sicily, who sentenced her to forced prostitution. But when the guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger. Her name is listed in the prayer “Nobis quoque peccatoribus” in the Canon of the Mass.

Legend says that her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her connection with eyes, the blind, eye trouble, etc.

  • Patron Saint Index

________________

Isaiah 40:25-31

‘To whom could you liken me and who could be my equal?’ says the Holy One.

Lift your eyes and look. Who made these stars if not he who drills them like an army, calling each one by name?

So mighty is his power, so great his strength, that not one fails to answer.

How can you say, Jacob, how can you insist, Israel, ‘My destiny is hidden from the Lord, my rights are ignored by my God’?

Did you not know? Had you not heard?

The Lord is an everlasting God, he created the boundaries of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming. He gives strength to the wearied, he strengthens the powerless.

Young men may grow tired and weary, youths may stumble, but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles.

They run and do not grow weary, walk and never tire.

________________ 

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

________________

“They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar with eagles’ wings”

On January 3rd, it will be 2 years since my father passed away. It feels like he has been gone longer than that. Maybe it’s because I’ve held on resolutely to my grief. It’s the only thing I have left of him. If I let it go, I’m afraid the memory of him might fade. At his wake, they sang “On Eagle’s Wings”, one of his favorite songs. A line from the chorus goes, “And He will raise you up on eagles’ wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of His hand”. Those lines perfectly capture my Dad. He fought so hard for so long. I think of him when I hear those lines. I’m hoping that where he is now, there is no exhaustion, no suffering, no regrets.

Dad wasn’t the perfect father. He could be stubborn and unreasonable, prone to selfishness even. And they certainly did not have the perfect marriage. But my parents gave me the greatest gift two people can give their child – my faith. They engaged God in every aspect of life, not just on the bad days when they were struggling. Cancer is one of the most traumatic events that can happen to a family. We can attest to that. Ironically, it also helped my family discover a deeper relationship with God. My parents would often text me the verse from Mathew, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest”, and tell me to give my distress up to God, as they had. On the especially bad days, my mother would say to me that she could “…do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). Dad must have been fearful of death, but he would always say, “I’m not afraid of dying, I will just give it to God. Let Him decide”. They experienced their faith so deeply, on a daily basis. It was as if God was right there in their midst, like He walked them through their exhaustion and the futility of their circumstances.

As we approach the anniversary of my father’s passing, I realize that I never thanked him for giving me this gift of faith. The last words we exchanged were angry ones. Not one day goes by that I wish it hadn’t been so. The weight of regret is a heavy one. My father is gone, there is no taking back the harsh things I have said. The verse from Matthew says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves”. It seems I will find no peace until I humble my own heart, surrender up my sadness and give my regrets up to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray that wherever he might be, my father will know that I love him and deeply regret that our parting words were angry ones.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our parents, teachers and spiritual mentors who have guided our faith and helped us to grow as Christians.

12 December, Tuesday – On Knowing

Dec 12 – Memorial for Our Lady of Guadalupe

Guadalupe is, strictly speaking, the name of a picture, but the name was extended to the church containing the picture and to the town which grew up around the church. It marks the shrine, it occasions the devotion, it illustrates Our Lady. It is taken as representing the Immaculate Conception, being the lone figure of a woman with the sun, moon, and star accompaniments of the great apocalyptic sign with a supporting angel under the crescent. The word is Spanish Arabic, but in Mexico, it may represent certain Aztec sounds.

Its tradition is long-standing and constant, and in sources both oral and written, Indian and Spanish, the account is unwavering. The Blessed Virgin appeared on Saturday, 9 December 1531 to a 55-year-old neophyte named Juan Diego, who was hurrying down Tepeyac Hill to hear Mass in Mexico City. She sent him to Bishop Zumarraga to have a temple built where she stood. She was at the same place that evening and Sunday evening to get the bishop’s answer.

The bishop did not immediately believe the messenger, had him cross-examined and watched, and he finally told him to ask the lady who said she was the mother of the true God for a sign. The neophyte agreed readily to ask for the sign desired, and the bishop released him.

Juan was occupied all Monday with Bernardino, an uncle who was dying of fever. Indian medicine had failed and Bernardino seemed at death’s door. At daybreak on Tuesday 12 December 1531, Juan ran to nearby St. James’ convent to ask for a priest. To avoid the apparition and the untimely message to the bishop, he slipped round where the well chapel now stands. But the Blessed Virgin crossed down to meet him and said, “What road is this thou takest son?”

A tender dialogue ensued. She reassured Juan about his uncle, to whom she also briefly appeared and instantly cured. Calling herself “Holy Mary of Guadalupe”, she told Juan to return to the bishop. He asked for the sign he required. Mary told him to go to the rocks and gather roses. Juan knew it was neither the time nor the place for roses, but he went and found them. Gathering many into the lap of his tilma (a long cloak or wrapper used by Mexican Indians), he came back. The Holy Mother rearranged the roses, and told him to keep them untouched and unseen until he reached the bishop.

When Juan met with Zumarraga, Juan offered the sign to the bishop. As he unfolded his cloak, the roses, fresh and wet with dew, fell out. Juan was startled to see the bishop and his attendants kneeling before him. The life-size figure of the Virgin Mary, just as Juan had described her, was glowing on the tilma. The picture was venerated, guarded in the bishop’s chapel, and soon after, carried in procession to the preliminary shrine.

Painters have not understood the laying on of the colours. They have deposed that the “canvas” was not only unfit but unprepared, and they have marvelled at the apparent oil, water, distemper, etc. colouring in the same figure. They are left in equal admiration for the flower-like tints and the abundant gold. They, and other artists, find the proportions perfect for a maiden of fifteen. The figure and the attitude are of one advancing. There is flight and rest in the eager supporting angel. The chief colours are deep gold in the rays and stars, blue green in the mantle, and rose in the flowered tunic.

The clergy, secular and regular, has been remarkably faithful to the devotion towards Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bishops fostering it, even to the extent of making a protestation of faith in the miracle a matter of occasional obligation. Pope Benedict XIV decreed that Our Lady of Guadalupe should be the national patron, and made 12 December a holiday of obligation with an octave, and ordered a special Mass and Office.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

Isaiah 40:1-11

‘Console my people, console them’ says your God.

‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice commands, ‘Cry!’ and I answered, ‘What shall I cry?’” – ‘All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them. (The grass is without doubt the people.) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains for ever.’

Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion. Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem. Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’ Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him. The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

________________ 

Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Tell me. Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all. Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’

________________

“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word”

Earlier this week, we read about how “with The Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). It’s a difficult concept to grasp. Our human understanding is mostly limited to events that happen within our lifetime – where do I see myself in 5 years? What are we doing this weekend? How do I get through the week? How do I get the kids through college? We plan for the next 5 years, 10 years at most. But God sees generations ahead, connecting the dots forward for his faithful beloved. He allows us to ‘glimpse’ at His plans by grace. We, in turn, accept this grace in faith.

As I box up the memories in my old house, I’ve been overcome by both melancholy and wonder. God has moved me through so many places. I’ve lived so many lives. At every step, I feel He has laid the foundations for the next 5-10 years. I could have never planned things out myself to the degree that He has done, with the kind of attention to detail that He has seen to. Looking back, things have happened exactly as they were supposed to. Surrendering my fate to God, He put in place all that I needed even before I realized what was necessary.

In today’s gospel reading, Mary is called ‘full of grace’ because she was given a glimpse of God’s plan for the salvation of humankind. Though she saw it only as a faint sketch, she accepted the role she was to play in full confidence. When the Holy Spirit prompts us, it is manifest as a kind of ‘feeling’ that there is something we have to do or that we are meant to be some place. This sense of ‘knowing’ speaks in soft tones. You have to strain to hear it. Some people call it intuition. Scripture calls it the “gentle whisper” of the Holy Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). Not all of us will heed its promptings. Sometimes, we let human judgment get the better of us. We overthink things, overanalyze the costs and benefits. Witness Eve’s more calculated response. Eve was shown the beauty of God’s paradise yet still reached for more. The Spirit’s promptings were there; she knew what she was not supposed to do. But she chose against it.

‘Grace’ is a gift of faith. If we believe, God lets us see the broad sketches. It might only be an inkling, a feeling that this is the right path, as impossible as it might seem. But often, that’s all that is needed, a feeling. He asks us to trust Him. And in so doing, we gain a life we would never even have dreamed for ourselves.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to discern His purpose for us, even if that means upending the normalcy of our daily life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to God for helping us to connect the dots forward. We give thanks for His providence, that even before we knew what was needed, He was already laying the foundation of our life ahead.