Tag Archives: sharon soo

8 November, Thursday – On Coming Home

8 November

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Philippians 3:3-8

We are the real people of the circumcision, we who worship in accordance with the Spirit of God; we have our own glory from Christ Jesus without having to rely on a physical operation. If it came to relying on physical evidence, I should be fully qualified myself. Take any man who thinks he can rely on what is physical: I am even better qualified. I was born of the race of Israel and of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents, and I was circumcised when I was eight days old. As for the Law, I was a Pharisee; as for working for religion, I was a persecutor of the Church; as far as the Law can make you perfect, I was faultless. But because of Christ, I have come to consider all these advantages that I had as disadvantages. Not only that, but I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

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Luke 15:1-10

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘What man among you with a hundred sheep, losing one, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the missing one till he found it? And when he found it, would he not joyfully take it on his shoulders and then, when he got home, call together his friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” he would say “I have found my sheep that was lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance.

‘Or again, what woman with ten drachmas would not, if she lost one, light a lamp and sweep out the house and search thoroughly till she found it? And then, when she had found it, call together her friends and neighbours? “Rejoice with me,” she would say “I have found the drachma I lost.” In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.’

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“… Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep”

Those of you reading this blog regularly will know that I stopped going to church briefly when the news of our Catholic Church’s scandals came to light. I have since found my way back to mass, albeit a little warily. The distrust that I feel for the ruling priestly elite hasn’t gone away. You can say that I have taken to heart Paul’s advice to “not put confidence in the flesh”. I am a committed Catholic. I identify myself as Catholic. I’m not afraid to speak of my faith, even now with all the scandal surrounding our Church. Outwardly, I tell everyone that this is surmountable, that we will emerge from this a stronger body of believers. But privately, I feel lost, like the proverbial sheep. The trust between myself and the political institution that is the Catholic Church has been broken. So, going to Mass has become challenging. Like the wife who has been cheated on, or the child whose innocence is lost, I am there physically — but things are not the same.

I have been re-reading the Bible a lot, grasping for a sign, for something. It’s ironic how familiar verses speak new meaning to us when our circumstances are different. I yearn for the homecoming that is described in today’s gospel, that great rejoicing when the shepherd finds his lost sheep. But to what exactly am I coming home to? God’s Church has been defiled. If this is our threshing moment, when wheat is separated from chaff, what will God’s Church look like when it is all over? And with all this anger, frustration and disillusionment in my heart, will there still be a place for me with Him?

As if to throw me a lifeline, God has led me to a small community of women that has formed within my own parish. We seem to all have this in common, this feeling of being scattered like sheep. We spend one morning a week, praying, poring over the Bible, processing our feelings of confusion about this whole thing – who knew what when, and what did they do about it. This must be what a support group feels like. Wow, am I thankful for it!! I’ve also taken to reading up on the history of the Catholic Church. We seem to go through cycles of renewal and purification; perhaps we are in the throes of one now. I wonder how it ends.

Christ’s words from the Book of Matthew have never been more significant to me than right now – “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves… a good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then you will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7: 15-20). If this is to be a threshing moment for all believers, I hope that at the end of it, I will not be found wanting. I pray that God will help me to process these feelings I hold in my heart, so that going to Mass becomes less of a struggle. Because I want that homecoming, to be that lost sheep that is found. I want to reclaim that trust that was lost. Don’t we all?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who are working towards healing the Church and restoring its credibility with believers.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the people that God puts in our lives to get us through difficult moments.

7 November, Wednesday – On Carrying Our Crosses

7 November

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Philippians 2:12-18

My dear friends, continue to do as I tell you, as you always have; not only as you did when I was there with you, but even more now that I am no longer there; and work for your salvation ‘in fear and trembling.’ It is God, for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you. Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing and then you will be innocent and genuine, perfect children of God among a deceitful and underhand brood, and you will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of life. This would give me something to be proud of for the Day of Christ, and would mean that I had not run in the race and exhausted myself for nothing. And then, if my blood has to be shed as part of your own sacrifice and offering-which is your faith I shall still be happy and rejoice with all of you, and you must be just as happy and rejoice with me.

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Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds accompanied Jesus on his way and he turned and spoke to them. If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

‘And indeed, which of you here, intending to build a tower, would not first sit down and work out the cost to see if he had enough to complete it? Otherwise, if he laid the foundation and then found himself unable to finish the work, the onlookers would all start making fun of him and saying, “‘ Here is a man who started to build and was unable to finish.” Or again, what king marching to war against another king would not first sit down and consider whether with ten thousand men he could stand up to the other who advanced against him with twenty thousand? If not, then while the other king was still a long way off, he would send envoys to sue for peace. So in the same way, none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.’

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“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple”

Before we were Catholics, my family and I were Buddhists. I remember the first time I embraced Christianity.  At the time, I was a fresh-eyed fifteen year old. What did I know about what it would mean to embrace Christ?  Instead of encouragement and support, I was yelled at by my father for fraternizing with ‘those Christian fanatics’ (he had a real flair for hyperbole in his younger days!). Any talk of Christ at home was considered an act of rebellion. I remember countless dinner table conversations spiralling into shouting matches when I tried to witness to him. So I staged a revolt in my own way. I held my faith in my heart and continued praying and witnessing to him. When he dragged us for worship at the Buddhist temple, I would sit outside in the hot sun and resolutely refuse to enter. I wouldn’t pick up his joss sticks or pray at the ancestral altar in my grandmother’s house. Typical teenage behaviour, and then some! In the end, Dad relented and even found his own way to Christ. It took him 20 years, but that’s just a blink of an eye in God’s time. Dad is back with God now, and I know he is well and at peace.

Looking back, that act of rebellion as a willful 15yr old was my first taste of ‘carrying my cross’. I was completely out of my depth. What did I know about what I was doing? I didn’t know where to look for help. There was no internet, no Universalis or USCCB or Word On Fire homilies to give me hope. I didn’t have guidance. My father banned me from Christian Bible study groups and from going to mass, so I didn’t have a steady support network. I only had the Holy Bible, and a King James’ at that, not the easiest of versions to grasp. And I had prayer. So I turned to both.

Connecting the dots backwards, I can see that every trial back then was preparation for my faith journey today. With necessity and the Holy Spirit as my teachers, I reached for His Word because it was the only source of comfort that I had. It’s a common complaint these days that it’s hard to read the Bible, that the verses are difficult to decipher.  Yes, the Word can be hard to grasp, so I will always be thankful for the start that I got because of my circumstances.

God helped me to carry my cross as a 15yr old; He’s still helping me to carry my cross as an adult. The challenges are a little more complex now (family, marriage, children) and the path ahead, more obscured than before.  But His Word, the Holy Spirit and prayer are the same, reassuring constants I hold on to. God’s faithfulness to us truly never ends.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage, patience and fortitude to carry our crosses daily.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His Word, for the Holy Spirit’s inspiring power and for the people God puts in our lives to give us help, hope, encouragement and sustenance.

6 November, Tuesday – Pre-Holiday Stress And How To Manage It

6 November

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Philippians 2:5-11

In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus:

His state was divine,
yet he 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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Luke 14:15-24

One of those gathered round the table said to him, ‘Happy the man who will be at the feast in the kingdom of God!’ But he said to him, ‘There was a man who gave a great banquet, and he invited a large number of people. When the time for the banquet came, he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, “Come along: everything is ready now.” But all alike started to make excuses. The first said, “I have bought a piece of land and must go and see it. Please accept my apologies.” Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen and am on my way to try them out. Please accept my apologies.” Yet another said, “I have just got married and so am unable to come.”

‘The servant returned and reported this to his master. Then the householder, in a rage, said to his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in here the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” “Sir” said the servant “your orders have been carried out and there is still room.” Then the master said to his servant, “Go to the open roads and the hedgerows and force people to come in to make sure my house is full; because, I tell you, not one of those who were invited shall have a taste of my banquet.”’

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“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus”

Yesterday, we talked about the freeloaders in our families, and what Scripture says about that kind of nefarious behaviour. It’s funny how the holiday season, supposed to be a time of ‘joy and goodwill’, can fill so many of us with dread and foreboding. Will what we do be enough? Will we have enough to do what is deemed enough? What do we do if it’s not? When did it all become this race?! Is it the crowd I run in? Should I re-think the company I keep?

I long for the kind of Christmas depicted in the Nativity scene, one that is more simple, spiritual and meaningful. One that is about how people treat each other, instead of what treats they should be getting from who. Our culture of competitive consumerism is draining – financially, emotionally and spiritually. I feel so tired just thinking about it, and it’s only the beginning of November!

Perhaps the key to surviving the holidays and going back to a more simple practice of it, lies in the verse from today – “have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus” – a change in attitude. Christ’s way was to humble himself, to “do nothing through rivalry or vain conceit. On the contrary to let each … gently consider the others as more important than yourselves. Do not seek your own interest, but rather that of others. Your attitude should be the same as Jesus Christ” (Phil 2: 3-5). This is made possible only by the grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Left to our own devices, we would collapse from denying our selfish agendas because that’s just how we are – frail, feeble and lacking in fortitude. If we offer our weak selves up to Christ though, Paul assures us that all our angst will go away.

I ought to try it, and I mean really put rubber to the road and put it in practice. What else have I got to lose? We already know the other way doesn’t work. My sanity and my bank account will be a great deal healthier if the holiday season reverted back to a simpler way of being. I might actually learn to enjoy and appreciate the season again. At risk of sounding like the Grinch, perhaps this is the year we take back Christmas?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the clarity and self-awareness to revert back to a simpler way of doing things. We pray for the wisdom to focus on the people, instead of being caught up in the potlucks and the presents.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Holy Spirit, who lifts us up and inspires us to be better, kinder, more loving versions of ourselves.

5 November, Monday – #Freeloaders

5 November

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Philippians 2:1-4

If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. That is the one thing which would make me completely happy. There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, So that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.

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Luke 14:12-14

Jesus said to his host, one of the leading Pharisees, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’

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“Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you”

How do you know if the charity that you do goes towards a truly worthwhile cause, or if it is enabling freeloading behaviour? I’ve had reason to ask myself this over the last year. It’s particularly difficult to address when that freeloading behaviour comes from members of one’s own family. Do you risk fraying family ties by calling it out? Do you put up with it in the interest of maintaining household harmony? How can encouraging bad behaviour be a sustainable solution for the long term? Someone or something has to give at some point.

That old yarn about how ‘charity begins at home’ doesn’t tell us what to do when those who inhabit our ‘home’ are serial scroungers. These are the relatives who seem to have an endless supply of sob stories, who guilt us into giving up our time, effort and money yet think nothing of posting pictures on social media of how they’re living up #thisblessedlife. They’ll never have enough money to see to repairs at home or meet their credit card payments yet seem to always find the funds for #awesome vacations. How does the math add up?

Scripture tells us this about giving – “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind… because of their inability to repay you”. It also makes it abundantly clear that we are not to enable freeloading behaviour, “…keep away from any brother who lives an undisciplined life and not according to the tradition they received from us … if anyone is not willing to work, neither should he eat” (Thess 3: 6-10). The strong work ethic that was once the backbone of our great country now seems to have been replaced by an insidious kind of ‘victim complex’ entitlement. Didn’t work for it? Don’t worry you’re entitled to it because of your circumstances, connections and your ability to work the system. Whatever happened to pride in an honest day’s work?

The holiday season will be upon us soon; ‘high noon’ for those of us who grapple with the scroungers in our lives. Maybe this year, I will develop a backbone and call this behaviour out for what it is. All our treasure ultimately comes from God. As stewards of His capital, it is our job to figure out the best use for it. Funding someone’s show-off social media hashtags doesn’t seem to be the answer. And I become part of the problem if I enable this behaviour by saying and doing nothing.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the strength and fortitude our cross, and to make the difficult to carry and often unpopular decisions that come with it.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the prayers and support of those that God sends to help us with carrying our cross.

4 November, Sunday – About A Quiche

4 November 2018

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Deuteronomy 6:2-6

Moses said to the people: ‘If you fear the Lord your God all the days of your life and if you keep all his laws and commandments which I lay on you, you will have a long life, you and your son and your grandson. Listen then, Israel, keep and observe what will make you prosper and give you great increase, as the Lord the God of your fathers has promised you, giving you a land where milk and honey flow.

‘Listen, Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart.’

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Hebrews 7:23-28

There used to be a great number of priests under the former covenant, because death put an end to each one of them; but this one, because he remains for ever, can never lose his priesthood. It follows, then, that his power to save is utterly certain, since he is living for ever to intercede for all who come to God through him.

To suit us, the ideal high priest would have to be holy, innocent and uncontaminated, beyond the influence of sinners, and raised up above the heavens; one who would not need to offer sacrifices every day, as the other high priests do for their own sins and then for those of the people, because he has done this once and for all by offering himself. The Law appoints high priests who are men subject to weakness; but the promise on oath, which came after the Law, appointed the Son who is made perfect for ever.

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Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came up to Jesus and put a question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ The scribe said to him, ‘Well spoken, Master; what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, this is far more important than any holocaust or sacrifice.’ Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to question him any more.

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“… to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength”

I went back to church recently after having been absent for some weeks. A leek and onion quiche made me do it. My church hosts a weekend-long parish fair every October and I’ve baked a quiche for it each year for as long as I’ve been here. A quiche is not the easiest thing to do. It’s an exercise in courage, commitment, patience and faith. A ‘quiche in progress’ is not a pretty thing. It’s unstable, it can leak and its unattractive demeanour can spook the novice baker into giving up the fight too soon. Not a bad analogy for a faith journey, when you think about it.

The quiche stand at the fair is run by a warm-hearted, soft-spoken woman called Anne. Anne has a way of getting you to say ‘yes’ to her, even when you mean to say no. When Anne called this year to ask me to bake something, I was in the middle of being angry at the bishops and priests who have scandalized our Church. Still, I said yes to Anne because, well, it seemed unfair that Anne be short-changed just because I can’t process my own anger and frustration. I’m convinced now that Anne was sent by God to break me out of my shell. As I delivered my quivering mass of custard and leeks to her, I felt moved to go for mass. At mass, I met an old friend who asked me to join her at a prayer group for people who, like me, were trying to process our angst and frustration. God knew what I needed – a support group to help me work through my angst in a loving manner. And that’s what I’ve found… all because of a leek and onion quiche.

The scripture verse from today’s gospel implores us to love God with all our heart, all our understanding and all our strength – even when we do that, it is still not enough because we’re flawed and can be swayed by our emotions to break faith with God; God never breaks faith with us. In my stubbornness and anger, I had refused to attend mass. But His love was so great, He found a way to reach me despite myself. And at my least deserving, He found a way for me to heal my anger. How great is the love that remains faithful even when we have lost faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the laity of the church who are trying to work through their feelings of betrayal, frustration, anger and despair. Hold on to God, as He has held on to you.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks over and over for God’s mercies; they never come to an end and are renewed every morning.

15 September, Saturday – Memorial of Our Lady Of Sorrows

15 September – Memorial for Our Lady of Sorrows

Different sorrows of Mary have been honoured in the Church’s history, but since the 14th century these seven have come to be regarded as the seven ‘dolors’ (sorrows) of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

  1. The Prophecy of Simeon
  2. The Flight into Egypt
  3. The Loss of the Child Jesus for Three Days
  4. Meeting Jesus on the Way to Calvary
  5. The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus
  6. Jesus Taken Down from the Cross
  7. Jesus Laid in the Tomb

By commemorating Our Lady of Sorrows, we call to mind the sufferings that Mary endured as part of her vocation as the Mother of the Redeemer. No one is closer to Christ than Mary, consequently no one has participated more intimately in the redemptive suffering of Christ than His Mother Mary.

– http://www.catholic.net/RCC/Periodicals/Faith/1998-03-04/sorrows.html

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1 Corinthians 10:14-22

My dear brothers, you must keep clear of idolatry. I say to you as sensible people: judge for yourselves what I am saying. The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf. Look at the other Israel, the race, where those who eat the sacrifices are in communion with the altar. Does this mean that the food sacrificed to idols has a real value, or that the idol itself is real? Not at all. It simply means that the sacrifices that they offer they sacrifice to demons who are not God. I have no desire to see you in communion with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot take your share at the table of the Lord and at the table of demons. Do we want to make the Lord angry; are we stronger than he is?

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Luke 2:33-35

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

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“… and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” 

In the Stabat Mater,a grieving Virgin Mary stands on the right of the crucified Christ, heartbroken but unflinching. The opening lines of the hymn – “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last” – are of her fidelity to Christ in his darkest hour. It’s a fitting symbol for us as the Catholic Church reels from the latest revelations of sexual abuse and cover-ups. Our news cycle is relentless, the details almost too gruesome to bear.If you have been paying attention, your first response would have been of revulsion and horror. How could this have happened in our house, on our watch? Did we not see? Were we wilfully blind, too trusting, too much like sheep? More importantly, now that it has come to light, what are we, the laity, going to do about it?

We are on a long and painful road,but one that is necessary if God’s house is to be purified and this rotrouted from our midst. It isn’t enough for us to say, “What happened is a human sin, it has nothing to do with me or why I go to church”. A refusal to inform one’s self is as bad as looking the other way while it is happening. That is removing yourself from the seriousness of the matter. “Because… we though many, are one Body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor 10: 17). What happens to one of us, happens to ALL of us. What has happened here in America, affects all of us as Catholics around the world. All of our testimonies, all our evangelical efforts, all our hard work witnessing – ALL that has been compromised because the credibility of God’s house has been compromised. So this is everybody’s fight, not just that of Catholics in America.What’s at stake is the continuity of this place we all call home, our Church, where we have all grown up spiritually, where we go for confession, for communion, for baptism, for worship.

For us the laity, our beacon is Christ and Our Lady. It’s easy to be angry, to let the hurt overcome us and fall away. I am certainly guilty of it. I’ve been angry and broken for what feels like weeks now. In this state of despair, I’ve gone back to the one thing I know is unassailable – the Word of God. Our hurt and anger should not be the end-all of our response. See the quiet courage with which Our Lady gazed upon the devastation before her, the unwavering focus she had for Christ. It’s fitting that this is the symbol the Holy Spirit has chosen for us now, because unflinching focus on Christ is what will save us during this chaotic time. God help us all.

“O sweet Mother! font of love,

Touch my spirit from above,

Make my hear with yours accord.

Make me feel as you have felt;

Make my soul to glow and melt

With the love of Christ, my Lord” – Stabat Mater

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the courage to gaze unflinchingly, to walk unwaveringly, this difficult road ahead. We pray for the prophets and judges that God will raise up in this time of purification, that He guides their hands and strengthens their hearts.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, our divine guiding light when all things are dark and dim around us.

14 September, Friday – Feast Of The Exaltation Of The Holy Cross

13 September – Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The feast was celebrated in Rome before the end of the 7th century. Its purpose is to commemorate the recovering of that portion of the Holy Cross which was preserved at Jerusalem, and which had fallen into the hands of the Persians. Emperor Heraclius recovered this precious relic and brought it back to Jerusalem on 3 May 629.

– Patron Saints Index

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Numbers 21:4-9

On the way through the wilderness the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’

At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

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Philippians 2:6-11

Jesus Christ’s state was divine,
yet he 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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John 3:13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘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.
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.’

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“So must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” 

My 2.5yr old nephew believes he can see Jesus Christ. He describes with some detail, the figure of Christ, surrounded by a holy fire, and wonders why we can’t see him. He says he can see his deceased grandfather too, surrounded by the same holy fire. He says all this matter-of-factly, as if it’s the most natural thing. Is this what Christ means when he says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 19:14)? We don’t quite know what to make of all this, so we have just let him be, instead of trying to talk him down from it. Faith is a beautiful thing, and that he has learnt it at such a young age is a blessing.

Child-like faith does not get caught up with the difficult questions of adulthood. It does not fret about the small details or question the boundaries of reality and imagination. Child-like faith accepts the risen state of Christ without tripping up on the mystery of the Eucharist. Believe and it will be! This was essentially what Moses asked the Hebrews to do – believe and you will be saved! You will be cured! You will be liberated! As an adult, one of the biggest stumbling blocks to being confirmed a Catholic is the Eucharist. To submit to the mystery of the cross goes against our fact-based instincts. We may, at one time, have had the child-like faith of my 2.5yr old nephew but, we grew up, life got in the way, and now we suffer from that adult affliction – scepticism. Can we reclaim that innocence? Yes, if we believe that Christ died for our sins, “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” If we embrace him into our lives, He can heal us from our cynicism, he can restore us. But to do that requires humility and the willingness to accept, like a child does, that some things are simply a mystery. The risen Christ is a mystery – and that’s ok. We don’t have to have all the answers. It is ok not to know.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those struggling with their faith. In these chaotic times, hold on tight to one another in prayer and meditate on the Word of God. May the Holy Spirit guide you to the conclusion you are seeking.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who labour in God’s name. They are an inspiration to those of us who are seeking purposeful vocations.

13 September, Thursday – Marie Kondo And Forgiveness

13 September – Memorial for St. John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor

John’s (347-407) father died when he was young and he was raised by a very pious mother. It was for his sermons that John earned the title “Chrysostom” (golden-mouthed). They were always on point, they explained the scriptures with clarity, and they sometimes went on for hours.

As bishop, he criticised the rich for not sharing their wealth, fought to reform the clergy, prevented the sale of ecclesiastical offices, called for fidelity in marriage, and encouraged practices of justice and charity. St. John’s sermons caused nobles and bishops to work to remove him from his diocese; and he was twice exiled from his diocese. He was proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 451.

– Patron Saints Index

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1 Corinthians 8:1-7,11-13

Now about food sacrificed to idols. ‘We all have knowledge’; yes, that is so, but knowledge gives self-importance – it is love that makes the building grow. A man may imagine he understands something, but still not understand anything in the way that he ought to. But any man who loves God is known by him. Well then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: we know that idols do not really exist in the world and that there is no god but the One. And even if there were things called gods, either in the sky or on earth – where there certainly seem to be ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ in plenty – still for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things come and for whom we exist; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things come and through whom we exist.

Some people, however, do not have this knowledge. There are some who have been so long used to idols that they eat this food as though it really had been sacrificed to the idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled by it. In this way your knowledge could become the ruin of someone weak, of a brother for whom Christ died. By sinning in this way against your brothers, and injuring their weak consciences, it would be Christ against whom you sinned. That is why, since food can be the occasion of my brother’s downfall, I shall never eat meat again in case I am the cause of a brother’s downfall.

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Luke 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I say this to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly. To the man who slaps you on one cheek, present the other cheek too; to the man who takes your cloak from you, do not refuse your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? For even sinners do that much. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what thanks can you expect? Even sinners lend to sinners to get back the same amount. Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return. You will have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’

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“… forgive and you will be forgiven”

Fall always makes me a little melancholic. Yes, it’s my favourite season of the year; I mean, I love the family gatherings, the start of football season, the smell of pumpkin spice latte at the coffee shops. But there’s also a kind of sadness to it. You see, Fall is when I ‘KonMari’ out my house. The closets are cleaned out, the pantry is stripped down, drawers are emptied, half-used bottles of nonsense thrown out. Any object that does not ‘spark joy’ (as per Ms Marie Kondo) is put in a pile to be disposed or repurposed. It’s a cathartic experience. The fact that I have moved homes three times in the last 5 years means I don’t actually have a lot of stuff. I’d like to think that everything I have held on to has significance. If you don’t stay on top of it though, ‘stuff’ builds up like you wouldn’t believe it! A truly clutter-free home requires near religious fervour! Yes, it’s physically exhausting, but it is also very liberating. I remember feeling euphoric the moment I realized that I could get by with relatively little. There’s been no turning back since!

Knowing all this about myself then, it’s a little ironic that I don’t apply Marie Kondo’s principles of housekeeping to my own heart. Why am I still carrying around the hurts and slights from high school?! So what if people used to make fun of my weight/looks/economic status, etc? Wasn’t all of that ancient history? Why was all this angst still hanging around? So what if there were double standards in my childhood home, or my workplace? So what if I didn’t get that promotion? Does it really matter anymore? So what if my ex was a loser who checked out of our relationship and left me holding a sham? Wasn’t that why we went ‘ex’? Did it even matter in the end?

I’ve set aside a week this Fall to clear out all the chaff that’s clogging up my heart. Marie Kondo was really on to something! If something doesn’t spark joy, let it go! That’s the crux of forgiveness isn’t it? Letting things go. Loving your enemies or, at least, being able to accept them for who they are, so you can move forward. When we feel we’ve been wronged, when our pride is wounded, we tend to hold on to that hurt as if storing away fuel to keep our anger burning. But why? Does it serve us? It most certainly doesn’t make us joyful people. Worse than that, it keeps us from having a meaningful relationship with God and the people around us. Who wants to be around an angry person all the time? So stop now – “stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6: 37). We don’t know when our time on earth comes to an end. Shouldn’t it be our prerogative to live as joyful and free a life as we possibly can?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, who have hurt us with their sharp words and wounded us with their insensitive actions. We pray for the maturity to let go of all our anger towards them.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who inspires wisdom and insight. We ask that it guide us to make good decisions, not just for ourselves but also those that God has placed in our lives.

12 September, Wednesday – The Sermon On The Plain

12 September – Holy Name of Mary

This feast is a counterpart to the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus (January 3); both have the possibility of uniting people easily divided on other matters. The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary began in Spain in 1513 and in 1671 was extended to all of Spain and the Kingdom of Naples. In 1683, John Sobieski, king of Poland, brought an army to the outskirts of Vienna to stop the advance of Muslim armies loyal to Mohammed IV in Constantinople. After Sobieski entrusted himself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he and his soldiers thoroughly defeated the Muslims. Pope Innocent XI extended this feast to the entire Church.

– Patron Saints Index

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1 Corinthians 7:25-31

About remaining celibate, I have no directions from the Lord but give my own opinion as one who, by the Lord’s mercy, has stayed faithful. Well then, I believe that in these present times of stress this is right: that it is good for a man to stay as he is. If you are tied to a wife, do not look for freedom; if you are free of a wife, then do not look for one. But if you marry, it is no sin, and it is not a sin for a young girl to get married. They will have their troubles, though, in their married life, and I should like to spare you that.

Brothers, this is what I mean: our time is growing short. Those who have wives should live as though they had none, and those who mourn should live as though they had nothing to mourn for; those who are enjoying life should live as though there were nothing to laugh about; those whose life is buying things should live as though they had nothing of their own; and those who have to deal with the world should not become engrossed in it. I say this because the world as we know it is passing away.

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Luke 6:20-26

Fixing his eyes on his disciples Jesus said:

‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.

Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.

‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.

‘Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.’

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“For the world in its present form is passing away”

Imagine the setting – Jesus has been praying all night. At the crack of dawn, he stirs. His disciples are still as they watch him. He chooses twelve men from amongst them, men he thinks will take his new church forward, who will do his father’s work. He smiles, tired but satisfied. He comes slowly down the hill. His disciples follow tentatively behind. Everyone is hushed, overwhelmed by their thoughts. The rays of sunlight illuminate the thirteen men as they come into sight. Flushed from exhilaration, overcome by emotion, awed by the nearness of Christ, the apostles glow from within.

Standing on the plain that morning watching the whole scene play out, the significance of that visual would not have been lost on the crowd gathered there. They would have remembered the old Hebrew stories of another saviour generations before, one who had liberated his people from slavery, who went up the mountain to bring down God’s commandments. Here, as Jesus addressed the throng, that sense of a new order would not have been lost on them. This was God’s plan for humanity, a plan to save them from their sins, a plan to set them free. Jesus was the new Messiah.

“The world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31), cries Paul. This is the fundamental message of the Sermon On The Plain, a message of rebirth and renewal. Through Christ, the old order would give way to the new. Jesus himself had proclaimed as such just a few verses before, in the parable of the ‘old and new’ – “No one tears a piece from a new coat to put it on an old one… no one puts new wine into old wineskins… new wine must be put in fresh skins” (Luke 5: 36-38). This message of renewal is all the more relevant now as our Church struggles to purify itself. There will be some of us whose faith will be shaken, some who will give up and fall away, some who will go back to their old ways. In this time of chaos, when you can’t tell the difference between what’s real or false, or who God’s prophets are, go back to the one thing that is unshakeable – the Word of God. Read the Bible, meditate on its truths. Read them to your children, to your families, to all those close to you. Hold on to it, pray on it. It will be your anchor and your filter. Its message will cut through the noise. In every age, Christ has been the source of all renewal. He will not fail us now if we call to him and hold on to him. Like the throng gathered on the plain that morning, remember that you too have been called, you too are blessed, and you are to rejoice when you are denounced for holding on to Christ.

“Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven!”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the endurance and spiritual maturity to be able to withstand this time of chaos in our Church. We pray that God helps us to discern His true prophets.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who silently toil for the good of God’s house, who live their faith on the understanding that God’s is the only opinion that matters.

11 September, Tuesday – Bad Witness

11 September

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1 Corinthians 6:1-11

How dare one of your members take up a complaint against another in the law courts of the unjust instead of before the saints? As you know, it is the saints who are to ‘judge the world’; and if the world is to be judged by you, how can you be unfit to judge trifling cases? Since we are also to judge angels, it follows that we can judge matters of everyday life; but when you have had cases of that kind, the people you appointed to try them were not even respected in the Church. You should be ashamed: is there really not one reliable man among you to settle differences between brothers and so one brother brings a court case against another in front of unbelievers? It is bad enough for you to have lawsuits at all against one another: oughtn’t you to let yourselves be wronged, and let yourselves be cheated? But you are doing the wronging and the cheating, and to your own brothers.

You know perfectly well that people who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God: people of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, usurers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will never inherit the kingdom of God. These are the sort of people some of you were once, but now you have been washed clean, and sanctified, and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God.

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Luke 6:12-19

Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

He then came down with them and stopped at a piece of level ground where there was a large gathering of his disciples with a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.

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“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the Kingdom of God?”

Corinth during the time of Paul was a thriving hub of political, spiritual and sexual liberalism. It’s hard to find a modern equivalent to it – an extreme version of San Francisco, maybe? Corinth was also a centre of the Imperial Cult who practiced the worship of Rome’s emperors as divine beings. As a result, the city enjoyed a great deal of wealth. Corinth was where you would go, if you wished to live an unfettered, hedonistic kind of life. The funny thing about that kind of liberalism is that taken too far, it can be exhausting. People ultimately want order in their lives, something lasting to build their life around. God brought Paul to Corinth to tap into this emotional wellspring, this yearning for a simpler and more purposeful way of life.

Within this context, we can understand Paul’s indignation with the elders of Corinth. Christ’s newly established church was to serve as a shining example to the rest of the city. Its elders were supposed to be paragons of the faith. But they let themselves be dragged into the same mud as everyone else. Who wants to join a church if it is led by a bunch of hypocrites? The Corinthians were ruled by Romans! They already knew all about that way of life! No, the people of Corinth were looking for leadership they could get behind, someone to inspire them, someone who would take them to higher ground! They were hungry for it! There was going to be no tolerance for bad witness if Christ’s newly established church was to have any credibility. And Paul understood this.

The world we live in today is not so different than the Corinth of Paul’s time. We are all hungering for credible leadership, seeking a more authentic way of life, looking for something enduring that we can build our lives around. We’re tired of the hypocrisy, the politics, tired of not knowing who we can trust, what is fake news, what is not. We’re tired! And our Catholic Church today, is not so different than Paul’s church in Corinth. We can’t afford any further bad witnesses; the credibility of the Catholic Church is at stake. If we are going to profess that we are Catholic, we too must bear the responsibility of rebuilding that credibility. And we do that by ensuring our own witness is beyond reproach. Our Church has already taken too much of a beating with these recent scandals. Right now, the whole world is watching. The rebuilding and healing starts here – in our communities, in our homes, in our schools. It’s up to each one of us to rise to the occasion, to bear good witness, if we are to begin to right the wrongs and take back God’s house. To borrow a phrase from Gandhi – “Be the change that you wish to see”

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom, the love and the courage to be good witnesses of our Catholic faith, that we might reflect the light of Christ in these dark times.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who support us in our faith journeys; those who help us to carry our crosses when they get too heavy to bear.