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10 June, Saturday – On Prioritising

10 June 2017

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Tobit 12:1,5-15,20

When the feasting was over, Tobit called his son Tobias and said, ‘My son, you ought to think about paying the amount due to your fellow traveller; give him more than the figure agreed on.’ So Tobias called his companion and said, ‘Take half of what you brought back, in payment for all you have done, and go in peace.’

Then Raphael took them both aside and said, ‘Bless God, utter his praise before all the living for all the favours he has given you. Bless and extol his name. Proclaim before all men the deeds of God as they deserve, and never tire of giving him thanks. It is right to keep the secret of a king, yet right to reveal and publish the works of God. Thank him worthily. Do what is good, and no evil can befall you.

‘Prayer with fasting and alms with right conduct are better than riches with iniquity. Better to practise almsgiving than to hoard up gold. Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin. Those who give alms have their fill of days; those who commit sin and do evil, bring harm on themselves.

‘I am going to tell you the whole truth, hiding nothing from you. I have already told you that it is right to keep the secret of a king, yet right too to reveal in worthy fashion the works of God. So you must know that when you and Sarah were at prayer, it was I who offered your supplications before the glory of the Lord and who read them; so too when you were burying the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave the table to go and bury a dead man, I was sent to test your faith, and at the same time God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand ever ready to enter the presence of the glory of the Lord.

‘Now bless the Lord on earth and give thanks to God. I am about to return to him above who sent me.’

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Mark 12:38-44

In his teaching Jesus said, ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; these are the men who swallow the property of widows, while making a show of lengthy prayers. The more severe will be the sentence they receive.’

He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the treasury, and many of the rich put in a great deal. A poor widow came and put in two small coins, the equivalent of a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘I tell you solemnly, this poor widow has put more in than all who have contributed to the treasury; for they have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed, all she had to live on.’

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“But she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had.”

When we think of the resources at our disposal, two come to mind most prominently – Time and Money. How we commit either speaks volumes about how we view our priorities. Time, especially, becomes more valuable as we get older. There are more commitments fighting for space in our day. We have more responsibilities. But not everything that is urgent, is important or even necessary. My biggest hurdle on weekends is to find time to go to church. There are 5 masses on Sundays at my church, 6 if you count the Saturday evening mass. So it’s funny that trying to find the time to attend weekend mass should be such a challenge. Is it because I don’t make it a non-negotiable priority? My mother goes to mass like clockwork on weekends. She’s committed to it and has made it part of her routine. Wouldn’t it actually be easier if I made the same level of commitment as well? Then I wouldn’t waste so much time agonizing over it?

The woman from the gospel who gave from her poverty reminds us of the value of prioritizing correctly. She looked beyond her present life and gazed into the everlasting. Most of us see only this life, and all the things that we could be doing instead of being at church. Taking the long view though, most of the things that compete for our time will fade away – our jobs, the dinner parties we think are so indispensable, our fair weather friends, the endless charities we sponsor. All these will come to nothing in the end – only God remains. At the gates of reckoning, it won’t be enough to say we couldn’t do the right thing because it wasn’t convenient at the time. Or that we weren’t able to walk away from that conference call to spend an hour with Our Father. Those excuses are feeble even now, never mind at the gates of Heaven. When has God ever said, “It isn’t convenient for me to hear your prayers at the moment” or “Can we take a raincheck, I’m tied up with something else right now”? He meets us when we call, wherever we are; He is always just a prayer away. What kind of children are we to only come to Him when we need something?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to portion our time and money wisely, between God’s needs and our needs.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who comforts us, calms us and aids our faith journeys, wherever we stand.

8 June, Thursday – Tough Love

8 June 2017

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Tobit 6:10-11,7:1,9-14,8:4-9

Raphael and Tobit entered Media and had nearly reached Ecbetana when Raphael said to the boy, ‘Brother Tobias.’ ‘Yes?’ he answered. The angel went on, ‘Tonight we shall be staying with Raguel, who is a kinsman of yours. He has a daughter called Sarah, but apart from Sarah he has no other son or daughter.’

As they entered Ecbatana, Tobias said, ‘Brother Azarias, take me at once to our brother Raguel’s.’ And he showed him the way to the house of Raguel, whom they found sitting beside his courtyard door. They greeted him first, and he replied, ‘Welcome and greetings, brothers.’ And he took them into his house. He said to his wife Edna, ‘How like my brother Tobit this young man is!’ Raguel killed a sheep from the flock, and they gave them a warm-hearted welcome.

They washed and bathed and sat down to table. Then Tobias said to Raphael, ‘Brother Azarias, will you ask Raguel to give me my sister Sarah?’ Raguel overheard the words, and said to the young man, ‘Eat and drink, and make the most of your evening; no one else has the right to take my daughter Sarah – no one but you, my brother. In any case I, for my own part, am not at liberty to give her to anyone else, since you are her next of kin. However, my boy, I must be frank with you: I have tried to find a husband for her seven times among our kinsmen, and all of them have died the first evening, on going to her room. But for the present, my boy, eat and drink; the Lord will grant you his grace and peace.’ Tobias spoke out, ‘I will not hear of eating and drinking till you have come to a decision about me.’ Raguel answered, ‘Very well. Since, as prescribed by the Book of Moses, she is given to you, heaven itself decrees she shall be yours. I therefore entrust your sister to you. From now you are her brother and she is your sister. She is given to you from today for ever. The Lord of heaven favour you tonight, my child, and grant you his grace and peace.’ Raguel called for his daughter Sarah, took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias with these words, ‘I entrust her to you; the law and the ruling recorded in the Book of Moses assign her to you as your wife. Take her; take her home to your father’s house with a good conscience. The God of heaven grant you a good journey in peace.’ Then he turned to her mother and asked her to fetch him writing paper. He drew up the marriage contract, how he gave his daughter as bride to Tobias according to the ordinance in the Law of Moses.

After this they began to eat and drink. The parents, meanwhile, had gone out and shut the door behind them. Tobias rose from the bed, and said to Sarah, ‘Get up, my sister! You and I must pray and petition our Lord to win his grace and his protection.’ She stood up, and they began praying for protection, and this was how he began:

‘You are blessed, O God of our fathers;
blessed, too, is your name
for ever and ever.
Let the heavens bless you
and all things you have made
for evermore.
It was you who created Adam,
you who created Eve his wife
to be his help and support;
and from these two the human race was born.
It was you who said,
“It is not good that the man should be alone;
let us make him a helpmate like himself.”
And so I do not take my sister
for any lustful motive;
I do it in singleness of heart.
Be kind enough to have pity on her and on me
and bring us to old age together.’

And together they said, ‘Amen, Amen’, and lay down for the night.

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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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“Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age.”

Yesterday, we read about the importance of relationships and the ties that bind us. Today, we look at what God’s Word says about the more difficult relationships in our lives. We’ve all got one or two of those, people we seem to sideline because they’re so hard to deal with. When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, I don’t think he meant the sweet couple across the street who helped to guide your transition into the neighborhood, or the group you met at a retreat who introduced you to everyone else at church. Nope! Jesus was referring to the mean old man who constantly complains about your dog. And the overly critical mother-in-law who finds fault with whatever you do. Or the ambitious colleague whose modus operandi for advancement is backstabbing. Jesus was referring to the people who are hard to love. Because it is precisely the grinches and the complainers who need to be loved, but can find no one to offer it to them.

The story of Tobiah and Sarah is a touching one. Despite her infirmity (we are not told what her ailment actually is, only that none of her husbands survived it), he took on the challenge of loving her, and yielded their relationship to God – “call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age” (Tobit 8:9). Lasting relationships are a three-sided affair – they last because both are willing to sacrifice to make it work, and because God gives His blessing for it to endure. A marriage, a friendship, parent-child relations will not go the distance without the grace of God. We only know how strong those ties are when they’re tested. If we have not God to call upon then, how do we endure those periods of struggle? Go it alone? It doesn’t work.

When we examine the difficult relationships in our lives, how do we view them? With irritation most of the time, I’m guessing. Tobiah called on God for His mercy because he knew he wouldn’t be able to find the love on his own. Very often, the hurt we’ve endured for so many years hardens our hearts so that we can’t even think of these people without anger. It’s just human! But with God, forgiveness is always possible. We can move forward. When what you feel like doing is screaming at them, ask God for His mercy to help you get through it. Jesus found it within himself to forgive while nailed to the cross. Maybe we can find a way to do the same while we bear our crosses.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God to change our hearts from hate and anger, into love and forgiveness.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the loving and supportive people He puts in our lives, that help to make the thorny individuals more bearable.

6 June, Tuesday – Render Yourself

Jun 6 – Memorial for St. Norbert, bishop, religious founder

St. Norbert (1080-1134) had been born to the nobility and raised around the royal court. There, he developed a very worldly view, taking holy orders as a career move when he joined the Benedictines. A narrow escape from death led him to a conversion experience, and taking his vows seriously.

He founded a community of Augustinian canons, starting a reform movement that swept through European monastic houses. St. Norbert also reformed the clergy in his see, using force when necessary. He worked with St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Hugh of Grenoble to heal the schism caused by the death of Pope Honorius II, and for heresy in Cambrai, France with the help of St. Waltmann. He is one of the patron saints of peace.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Tobit 2:9-14

I, Tobit, took a bath; then I went into the courtyard and lay down by the courtyard wall. Since it was hot I left my face uncovered. I did not know that there were sparrows in the wall above my head; their hot droppings fell into my eyes. White spots then formed, which I was obliged to have treated by the doctors. But the more ointments they tried me with, the more the spots blinded me, and in the end I became blind altogether. I remained without sight four years; all my brothers were distressed; and Ahikar provided for my upkeep for two years, till he left for Elymais.

My wife Anna then undertook woman’s work; she would spin wool and take cloth to weave; she used to deliver whatever had been ordered from her and then receive payment. Now on March the seventh she finished a piece of work and delivered it to her customers. They paid her all that was due, and into the bargain presented her with a kid for a meal. When the kid came into my house, it began to bleat. I called to my wife and said, ‘Where does this creature come from? Suppose it has been stolen! Quick, let the owners have it back; we have no right to eat stolen goods.’ She said, ‘No, it was a present given me over and above my wages.’ I did not believe her, and told her to give it back to the owners (I blushed at this in her presence). Then she answered, ‘What about your own alms? What about your own good works? Everyone knows what return you have had for them.’

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Mark 12:13-17

The chief priests and the scribes and the elders sent to Jesus some Pharisees and some Herodians to catch him out in what he said. These came and said to him, ‘Master, we know you are an honest man, that you are not afraid of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty. Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay, yes or no?’ Seeing through their hypocrisy he said to them, ‘Why do you set this trap for me? Hand me a denarius and let me see it.’ They handed him one and he said, ‘Whose head is this? Whose name?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they told him. Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.’ This reply took them completely by surprise.

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“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

Around the time of 6 AD, a poll tax was instituted against the Jewish people as a wealth transfer to the Roman empire. These punitive taxes, perceived by some to be a form of enslavement, became a hotly-debated topic in the temples of worship. Many Jewish people began to simply stop paying them as a sign of rebellion. Knowing the sensitivity of the matter, the elders tried to use it as a ‘Catch 22’ to trap Jesus – if he condoned paying Caesar’s taxes, he would lose his support amongst the Jewish community. If he advocated not paying taxes, he would be committing treason against the Roman empire — damned if you do, and damned if you don’t!

Jesus’ response takes the wide view – “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”. If we reflect on his response, we’ll find that it isn’t about taxes at all. Jesus used this opportunity to express the sharp distinction between the things that are secular, and the things that are of God. In John 17:16, Jesus prays for all believers, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world; consecrate them in the truth – your word is truth”. We are in this world, but we are not of this world. We have been sealed with the mark of God, ransomed by the blood of His son. We have been made in His likeness and belong to Him, just as surely as the coin with Caesar’s seal belongs to Caesar. While being in this world means that we are required to play by its rules, we are reminded to give ourselves wholly to God because we have been stamped in His image, marked with His Holy Spirit.

There are worldly choices, and there are the choices that show we are looking ahead into the everlasting. There is a way of life that is focused solely on the present, on seeking pleasure, acquiring material gain and social status. And then there is God’s way of living, a life that is humble, that is simple, and prayerful, that is focused on the eternal. We can choose the way of worldliness, or we can choose to live God’s way. We can choose the earthly life that is here today and gone in a snuff, or we can choose a life everlasting. How have we rendered ourselves thus far?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the ability and awareness to make good decisions, to be mindful stewards of the blessings we have been given.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to see the life truths that are embedded in His Word.

5 June, Monday – The Long View

Jun 5 – Memorial for St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

Educated at the Benedictine monastary at Exeter, England where he became a monk, Boniface (c.673–754) was a missionary to Germany from 719, assisted by St. Albinus, St. Abel, and St. Agatha. They destroyed idols and pagan temples, and then built churches on the sites.

He was ordained a bishop and later became Archbishop of Mainz. He reformed the churches in his see, and built religious houses in Germany. He ordained St. Sola. He founded the dioceses of Bavaria, Thuringia, and Franconia. He evangelized in Holland, but was set upon by a troop of pagans and he and 52 of his new flock, included St. Adaler and St. Eoban were martyred

Once, in Saxony, Boniface encountered a tribe worshipping a Norse deity in the form of a huge oak tree. Boniface walked up to the tree, removed his shirt, took up an axe, and without a word he hacked down the six-foot wide wooden god. Boniface stood on the trunk, and asked, “How stands your mighty god? My God is stronger than he.” The crowd’s reaction was mixed, but some conversions were begun.

One tradition about St. Boniface says that he used the customs of the locals to help convert them. There was a game in which they threw sticks called kegels at smaller sticks called heides. Boniface brought religion to the game, having the heides represent demons, and knocking them down showing the purity of spirit.

He is the patron of many groups, including World Youth Day.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Tobit 1:3,2:1-8

I, Tobit, have walked in paths of truth and in good works all the days of my life. I have given much in alms to my brothers and fellow countrymen, exiled like me to Nineveh in the country of Assyria.
In the reign of Esarhaddon I returned home, and my wife Anna was restored to me with my son Tobias. At our feast of Pentecost (the feast of Weeks) there was a good dinner. I took my place for the meal; the table was brought to me and various dishes were brought. Then I said to my son Tobias, ‘Go, my child, and seek out some poor, loyal-hearted man among our brothers exiled in Nineveh, and bring him to share my meal. I will wait until you come back, my child.’ So Tobias went out to look for some poor man among our brothers, but he came back again and said, ‘Father!’ I answered, ‘What is it, my child?’ He went on, ‘Father, one of our nation has just been murdered; he has been strangled and then thrown down in the market place; he is there still.’ I sprang up at once, left my meal untouched, took the man from the market place and laid him in one of my rooms, waiting until sunset to bury him. I came in again and washed myself and ate my bread in sorrow, remembering the words of the prophet Amos concerning Bethel:

Your feasts will be turned to mourning,
and all your songs to lamentation.

And I wept. When the sun was down, I went and dug a grave and buried him. My neighbours laughed and said, ‘See! He is not afraid any more.’ (You must remember that a price had been set on my head earlier for this very thing.) ‘The time before this he had to flee, yet here he is, beginning to bury the dead again.’

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Mark 12:1-12

Jesus began to speak to the chief priests, the scribes and the elders in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug out a trough for the winepress and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce from the vineyard. But they seized the man, thrashed him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another servant to them; him they beat about the head and treated shamefully. And he sent another and him they killed; then a number of others, and they thrashed some and killed the rest. He had still someone left: his beloved son. He sent him to them last of all. “They will respect my son” he said. But those tenants said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” So they seized him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. Now what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and make an end of the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this text of scripture:

It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?

And they would have liked to arrest him, because they realised that the parable was aimed at them, but they were afraid of the crowds. So they left him alone and went away.

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“I Tobit, have walked all the days of life on the paths of truth and righteousness…”

The Book of Tobit recounts the story of a Jew who lived in exile in the city of Nineveh, Assyria. At the height of his career, Tobit was adminstrator to the royal household of King Shalmaneser, the father of Sennacherib of Assyria. Despite his high ranking at court, Tobit never forsakes the Law of Moses, and faithfully walks right by God, to the point where it costs him his job. The faithful man is always tested and likewise, Tobit is rendered blind and cast into poverty during the upheaval of King Sennacherib’s reign. Even then, he perseveres in prayer, offers up his life to God and continues to live with self-awareness and mindfulness for his blessings. In the end, God sends the angel Raphael to help Tobit’s son find a wife, and to bring Tobit the just end he deserves for his faithfulness.

God always takes the long view. Tobit’s perseverance is tested to the point where he asks God to take his life – “Do with me as you will. Order my life taken from me, and turn me into dust, because I prefer death to life. In this way free me and let me return to dust (Tobit 3:6)”. It is difficult to see the long view when we’re laid down by our trials. The end is nowhere in sight, the way out obscured from us. God wants us to trust Him during those periods of doubt. He wants us to trust that He will find a way out for us, that He has a plan. Our trials may seem insurmountable, but all things are possible through Him who gives us strength.

I am struggling at the moment with trying to find purpose in what I do. It can feel like all I hit are brick walls on certain days. I see only roads that culminate in dead ends. But my God has never forsaken me; not when my father was ill and funds were running low. Not when my career had stalled and I was stuck in a difficult job. Not even when I arrived in this strange land, and knew no one and had no support system. God has always opened a way up for me. The story of Tobit reminds us that there is always a way forward – His way. Faithfulness, perseverance and mindfulness are required, but we will be rewarded for our patience and trust in Him. To those of us who feel lost and are despairing, I encourage you to read in its entirety, the Book of Tobit. A life well-lived is not one that is safe from distress. Rather it is one that is lived faithfully despite our setbacks in life.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the fortitude and trust to continue on our paths despite there being no obvious way forward.  

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who inspires faith, trust, wisdom and clarity.

8 April, Saturday – On Quarrelling

8 April 2017

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Ezekiel 37:21-28

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

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

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

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John 11:45-56

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

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

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

6 April, Thursday – What’s in a name?

6 April 2017

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Genesis 17:3-9

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

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John 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

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

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

4 February, Saturday – A Purposeful Life

4 February 2017

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Hebrews 13:15-17,20-21

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

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

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Mark 6:30-34

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

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

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

3 February, Friday – Good Decisions, Bad Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Patron Saint Index

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Hebrews 13:1-8

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

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

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Mark 6:14-29

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

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

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

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“… for God will judge the immoral and adulterers”

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

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

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

2 February, Thursday – Ask!

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

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

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

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

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

  • Wikipedia

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Malachi 3:1-4

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

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

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Luke 2:22-40

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

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

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

1 February, Wednesday – For Better or For Worse

1 February 2017

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Hebrews 12:4-7,11-15

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

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

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

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Mark 6:1-6

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

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

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

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

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

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

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