Tag Archives: sharon soo

21 Jul, Saturday – Holy Lowliness

Jul 21 – Memorial for St. Lawrence of Brindisi, priest, religious, doctor

St. Lawrence (1559-1619) joined the Capuchin Friars in 1575. He studied theology, the Bible, French, German, Greek, Spanish, Syriac, and Hebrew. He was an effective and forceful preacher in any of his several languages, founded convents and wrote catechisms.

As the chaplain of the army of the Holy Roman Empire in 1601, he led the army into battle against the Turks carrying only a crucifix, and defeated them. Later, he carried out important and successful diplomatic peace missions. He was the spiritual director of the Bavarian army. St Lawrence was proclaimed Apostolic Doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

– Patron Saint Index

__________________

Micah 2:1-5

Woe to those who plot evil,
who lie in bed planning mischief!
No sooner is it dawn than they do it
– their hands have the strength for it.
Seizing the fields that they covet,
they take over houses as well,
owner and house they confiscate together,
taking both man and inheritance.
So the Lord says this:
Now it is I who plot
such mischief against this breed
as your necks will not escape;
nor will you be able to walk proudly,
so evil will the time be.
On that day they will make a satire on you,
sing a dirge and say,
‘We are stripped of everything;
my people’s portion is measured out and shared,
no one will give it back to them,
our fields are awarded to our despoiler.’

Therefore you will have no one
to measure out a share
in the community of the Lord.

___________________

Matthew 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and began to plot against him, discussing how to destroy him.
Jesus knew this and withdrew from the district. Many followed him and he cured them all, but warned them not to make him known. This was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah:

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved, the favourite of my soul.
I will endow him with my spirit,
and he will proclaim the true faith to the nations.
He will not brawl or shout,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
He will not break the crushed reed,
nor put out the smouldering wick
till he has led the truth to victory:
in his name the nations will put their hope.

____________________

Housework really is a thankless task – and the worst part is, it never ends! This has come as a bit of a shock to me in my new vocation. By moving here to the US to share in my partner’s parenting duties, I have exchanged financial spreadsheets and conference calls for laundry and dish washing liquid. It’s a drastic turn of events. Giving up your job is a scary undertaking already, but simultaneously embarking on a life that is diametrically different? Well, it has been more of a struggle than I had anticipated. On the bad days, when the dog is soiling the carpet, the children are grumpy and the dishwasher broken, I do wonder if I have made the right decision. On the bad days, I will ruminate on the pleasures I left behind. And while I am not exactly ‘planning iniquity’, my ‘coveting’ shows that I am ungrateful.

By God’s grace, those bleak moments are few and don’t last very long. When I get that way, I believe that He sends someone or something to help me dig myself out of my black hole of self pity and wallowing. Sometimes it’s a friend who prays with me, sometimes it’s a verse from Scripture, sometimes it is even a billboard I might glimpse while on the highway. He sends us reminders as if to say, no task is too menial or too much of a drudgery to do well. I find it helps not to focus on what’s due to me as well. By fixing my gaze outside of myself, I don’t feed the swells of frustration when they rise up. Resentment has selfishness at it’s root – the person who is unhappiest is the one who is always asking, “What about me?’. My life has been ransomed by Him, so I should surrender myself to serve at His leisure now, so never mind “me”.

Jesus shows us how to handle our calling as servant leaders – “He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, as mouldering wick he will not quench” – in short no moaning, complaining or lamenting! That’s hard in the context of today when we are all about making our thoughts felt and opinions heard on social media. As hard as it is though, we owe it to ourselves to at least try. We owe it to Him to try. Christ Our Redeemer gave his life for us; in silence he suffered, quietly strong till the end. For Him, we ought to do better. We need to do better. We need to be better. And it starts with one menial task at a time.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer : We pray for the ability to look beyond the drudgery of our daily chores, to Our God who sees no task as too menial, no job as being too insignificant. All are holy in the eyes of The Lord

Thanksgiving : We give thanks for our families, our friends our sisters and brothers in Christ who help lift us up when we are feeling low and frustrated.

20 Jul, Friday – On Annulment

Jul 20 – Memorial for St. Apollinaris, Bishop & Martyr

According to tradition, Apollinaris was a native of Antioch in the Roman Province of Syria. He was made the first Bishop of Ravenna by St. Peter during the persecutions of Emperor Vespasian (or Nero, depending on the source),

On his way out of the city he was identified, arrested as being the leader, tortured and martyred by being run through with a sword. Centuries after his death, he appeared in a vision to St. Romuald. He was a noted miracle worker, and is considered especially effective against gout and epilepsy.

– Wikipedia

________________

Isaiah 38:1-6,21-22,7-8

Hezekiah fell ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘The Lord says this, “Put your affairs in order, for you are going to die, you will not live.”’ Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and addressed this prayer to the Lord, ‘Ah, Lord, remember, I beg you, how I have behaved faithfully and with sincerity of heart in your presence and done what is right in your eyes.’ And Hezekiah shed many tears.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, ‘Go and say to Hezekiah, “The Lord, the God of David your ancestor, says this: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will cure you: in three days’ time you shall go up to the Temple of the Lord.” I will add fifteen years to your life. I will save you from the hands of the king of Assyria, I will protect this city.”’

‘Bring a fig poultice,’ Isaiah said, ‘apply it to the ulcer and he will recover.’ Hezekiah said, ‘What is the sign to tell me that I shall be going up to the Temple of the Lord?’ ‘Here’ Isaiah replied’’ ‘is the sign from the Lord that he will do what he has said. Look, I shall make the shadow cast by the declining sun go back ten steps on the steps of Ahaz.’ And the sun went back the ten steps by which it had declined.

__________________

Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus took a walk one sabbath day through the cornfields. His disciples were hungry and began to pick ears of corn and eat them. The Pharisees noticed it and said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing something that is forbidden on the sabbath.’ But he said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God and how they ate the loaves of offering which neither he nor his followers were allowed to eat, but which were for the priests alone? Or again, have you not read in the Law that on the sabbath day the Temple priests break the sabbath without being blamed for it? Now here, I tell you, is something greater than the Temple. And if you had understood the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the blameless. For the Son of Man is master of the sabbath.’

__________________

“… how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering”

My husband and I celebrated our ‘first anniversary’ last week. We have been legally married for four years now, but it was only a year ago that we took our vows in God’s house. I didn’t wear a white dress, he didn’t wear a suit. There was no maid of honour, no ring-bearer boy, no audience of parents and loved ones. It was just us two, my RCIA directors, our parish priest … and God. This was the culmination of 3 years’ work, petitioning the Catholic Church for an annulment of his previous marriage. Divorce is a controversial issue, despite the Catholic Church’s efforts to be more inclusive. As part of the annulment process, my husband faced multiple rounds of scrutiny. Our friends and family had to vouch for his character. He was made to see a Church-approved psychiatrist so a third party could attest to his state of mind. It’s heart-breaking enough to go through a divorce, but the Church makes you rehash all the reasons why your marriage did not work out. And you’re asked to justify yourself to a panel of complete strangers. Something like this will test your bond as husband and wife. It will make you think hard about the covenant you’re asking to enter into a second time. Why should the Church grant you its blessing if you couldn’t make it work the first time? Those are the hard questions that you’ll get asked, questions with no easy answers, questions that will make you doubt yourself.

I was deeply moved by how much my husband loved me and his devotion to his faith and God. No one can accuse him of not being ‘Christian enough’; it is no small feat to take on the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church and to keep at it for quite so long. He soldiered on for 3 years despite all their pushback, until we got an answer he was satisfied with. I thought he was valiant, tenacious, inspiring, faith-led. The experience opened my eyes to the depth of his commitment to us and his faith in God.

There’s much debate about whether the Catholic Church should be more merciful to those who have been divorced. Is it Christian compassion to turn away those who yearn to draw near to God? Christ was not afraid to draw close to sinners, why should the Church not try to do the same? If ours is a God of second chances, why should that grace not be extended to divorced believers? But I am not here to judge or complain about the Church. On the contrary, I am thankful to have been confirmed a Catholic. We will all have doubts at some point in our faith journey. To never question and never falter is to not fully engage your faith. The struggle of the annulment process strengthened us as husband and wife. It was one of the most revealing experiences of my faith journey. It gave me a new appreciation for the gravity of marriage as a covenant. James 2:17 says that faith without deeds is dead; I firmly believe that to be the case. You’ll never fully live your faith if you coddle yourself from confrontation, or hide from life’s hard knocks. Yes, there were times when I grew disillusioned with the harshness of the Catholic Church’s responses, but I was also reminded that within God’s house are people who believe in mercy, who are truly selfless, who practice compassion even if the ‘rulebook’ states otherwise, who model Christ’s forgiving heart. I am humbled by all those who helped us along the way. I feel I owe them a great debt for opening my eyes. Yes, the annulment process is a contentious one. If you’re thinking about it, know that your resolve and your relationship will be tested at every step. But take courage and hold on to God… and hold on to each other. It can be a process of great revelation. You will discover things about yourself, your marriage and your faith that you would never have the opportunity to know otherwise. In its own way, it is a blessing.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all who are dealing with divorce, who are struggling to move forward, who feel as if they are not worthy to be in Church. Christ came to heal the sick and the sinners. He redeemed us though we were unworthy. Christ has not given up on you, you don’t give up on Christ’s capacity to grant you a new life.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all those who are led first by Christ’s love and compassion, who model His forgiving heart, whose gentleness speaks to great strength. We give thanks for all those that God sends to us, to help us when we are mired in the dark periods of our lives.

19 Jul, Thursday – Wisdom In Nature

19 Jul 

_________________

Isaiah 26:7-9,12,16-19

The path of the upright man is straight,
you smooth the way of the upright.
Following the path of your judgements,
we hoped in you, O Lord,
your name, your memory are all my soul desires.

At night my soul longs for you
and my spirit in me seeks for you;
when your judgements appear on earth
the inhabitants of the world learn the meaning of integrity.

O Lord, you are giving us peace,
since you treat us
as our deeds deserve.

Distressed, we search for you, O Lord;
the misery of oppression was your punishment for us.
As a woman with child near her time
writhes and cries out in her pangs,

so are we, O Lord, in your presence:
we have conceived, we writhe
as if we were giving birth;
we have not given the spirit of salvation to the earth,
no more inhabitants of the world are born.

Your dead will come to life,
their corpses will rise;
awake, exult,
all you who lie in the dust,
for your dew is a radiant dew
and the land of ghosts will give birth.

__________________

Matthew 11:28-30

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

__________________

“… for I am meek and humble of heart…”

There was a heatwave here in California last week. Temperatures soared through previous highs in many cities. My yard fought the weather shock valiantly, but everywhere I look now, there are clear signs of heat damage. My roses are withered on their canes, my lawn has been scorched a dirty brown, my trees are parched and stressed. It’s a sorry state! There is a silver lining to all this though. Dead chaff will be cleared to make way for new shoots, and the cycle of life will go on.

I’ve never had a garden before, never mind one with so much plant life in it. The simple truths of death and rebirth, sickness and health, struggle and plenty, are played out daily here. There is much wisdom in Nature, if you bother to look. We’ve noticed for instance that our bougainvillea and rose bushes, when starved of water and pruned, grow roots that are deep and strong, and shed leaves to bring forth an abundance of blooms.

The same cycle of regeneration can be applied to our spiritual lives. In today’s gospel text, Christ says that we are to learn from him, to adopt his humility and lack of pride – “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart”. So often, the things that weigh us down are self-manufactured. We covet what we don’t have. We are slaves to our vanity, greed and ambition. We are envious, easily jealous, always reaching for more, always hoarding stuff. If we took on a more Christ-like approach to life, how many of those worldly pursuits would become unnecessary? Meaningless even? We don’t need to go on yet another fancy holiday just so we can keep up on Instagram. We don’t need this season’s ‘It’ bag (and we’ll save a pretty penny without it!). We don’t need to be the envy of our friends, to be seen to be doing things that, in all honesty, don’t matter all that much. We don’t need friends who love us just because of our material things. All of that is fleeting and meaningless. Like the roses in my yard, who rejuvenate when they’ve been pruned back, there is freedom and beauty in a more simple kind of living, in a life that isn’t bogged down by stuff, that is less about showing off than it is about showing up.

There is much wisdom in Nature. Maybe that’s the way God intended it?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the self-awareness and discipline to prune our lives back so that only the things that matter occupy our hearts and minds. So much is superfluous, burdensome, unnecessary and exhausting. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the many examples of how to live a beautiful life, both in Scripture as well as in Nature.

18 Jul, Wednesday – On Letting Go

18 July

_____________________

Isaiah 10:5-7,13-16

The Lord of hosts says this:

Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger,
the club brandished by me in my fury!
I sent him against a godless nation;
I gave him commission against a people that provokes me,
to pillage and to plunder freely
and to stamp down like the mud in the streets.
But he did not intend this,
his heart did not plan it so.
No, in his heart was to destroy,
to go on cutting nations to pieces without limit.

For he has said:

‘By the strength of my own arm I have done this
and by my own intelligence, for understanding is mine;
I have pushed back the frontiers of peoples
and plundered their treasures.
I have brought their inhabitants down to the dust.
As if they were a bird’s nest, my hand has seized
the riches of the peoples.
As people pick up deserted eggs
I have picked up the whole earth,
with not a wing fluttering,
not a beak opening, not a chirp.’

Does the axe claim more credit than the man who wields it,
or the saw more strength than the man who handles it?
It would be like the cudgel controlling the man who raises it,
or the club moving what is not made of wood!
And so the Lord of Hosts is going to send
a wasting sickness on his stout warriors;
beneath his plenty, a burning will burn
like a consuming fire.
_____________________

Matthew 11:25-27

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
_____________________

“… for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike”

Do you ever get the feeling sometimes that whatever you do, you’re just spinning the wheels for other people, that all your toil is for nothing? Lately, I can’t help but get the sense that all the hard work I’ve poured into things has been for nought. When you give your best effort for people who are at best, ungrateful, at worst callous, rude and entitled, at some point you’re going to reach burnout. You’re going to ask yourself “Why?”. “Why should I take the high road when all I get is complaining, comparison and criticism?” “Why do I try so hard when all they do is find fault, when they constantly remind me of how miserable they are?” At some point, you’re going to draw the line. You’ll revolt. If you persevere and continue to put up with it, your body will do the revolting for you and you’ll fall ill. Either which way, something is going to happen to take you out of the game. It could be at work, at home, with extended family, with your own family. Imbalance finds a way to unwind itself, usually with painful consequences.

It’s a little ironic that the Gospel reading today comes right before Christ’s famous verse from Matthew, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Because the message of today’s gospel is about the gift of revelation, and Christ’s burden was anything but light. He carried the burden of all our sin on his shoulders, and as he marched onward to his death, he saw us for the weak, flawed, disappointing individuals that we were. God reveals wisdom to the few, and typically while they’re in the throes of great injustice and impossible circumstances. He’ll give you searing insights when you’re at your lowest point. You’ll have tremendous clarity of thought about yourself and the people around you. Like an out-of- body experience, you’ll find out who your real friends are, the ones you can count on, not the ones who wring their hands in helplessness or worse, the ones who berate you for not thinking of them or their feelings. “…For although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike”. God tells us that if our faith is childlike, as Christ was childlike on the way to his crucifixion, all will be revealed to us. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. Maybe this is the essence of that ‘enlightenment’ which Jesus speaks of, that lightness of being that comes amidst great pain and suffering. You hurt, you suffer, your eyes are opened, you see, you gain knowing, you understand… and then you let it go.

I’m at that point right now with a lot of things – physically drained, emotionally exhausted, at the end of my rope. I’ve started to have searing insights into the people around me; some of it good, most of it not so much. So this is what Christ must have felt – that deep sorrow for his circumstances, the disappointment in the people he loved, whom he thought loved him back. I hurt, I suffer, my eyes are opened, I see, I know, I understand… now to let it go?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next (source : The Serenity Prayer)

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for Christ, who tasted the bitterness of disappointment and despair, so we would have someone to hold on to when we ourselves were faced with it.

17 Jul, Tuesday – Natural Disasters

17 July

__________________

Isaiah 7:1-9

In the reign of Ahaz son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Razon the king of Aram went up against Jerusalem with Pekah son of Remaliah, king of Israel, to lay siege to it; but he was unable to capture it.

The news was brought to the House of David. ‘Aram’ they said ‘has reached Ephraim.’ Then the heart of the king and the hearts of the people shuddered as the trees of the forest shudder in front of the wind. The Lord said to Isaiah, ‘Go with your son Shear-jashub, and meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the Fuller’s Field road, and say to him:

‘“Pay attention, keep calm, have no fear,
do not let your heart sink
because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands,
or because Aram, Ephraim and the son of Remaliah
have plotted to ruin you, and have said:
Let us invade Judah and terrorise it
and seize it for ourselves,
and set up a king there,
the son of Tabeel.
The Lord says this:
It shall not come true; it shall not be.
The capital of Aram is Damascus,
the head of Damascus, Razon;
the capital of Ephraim, Samaria,
the head of Samaria, the son of Remaliah.
Six or five years more
and a shattered Ephraim shall no longer be a people.
But if you do not stand by me,
you will not stand at all.”’

__________________

Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus began to reproach the towns in which most of his miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent.

‘Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard on Judgement day with Tyre and Sidon as with you. And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown down to hell. For if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have been standing yet. And still, I tell you that it will not go as hard with the land of Sodom on Judgement day as with you.’

__________________

Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!

We’re having a record-breaking heat wave at the moment. Temperatures have breached the 100F mark in many communities in the Los Angeles area. As if that was not bad enough, the heat has been accompanied by severe winds. Stepping outside, it can feel like you’re entering a convection oven, like your face is about to be whipped off by the strong gusts of hot air. We can’t seem to catch a break here in California. We’ve been grappling with severe drought for the last two years. Then in March of this year, we had the forest fires, the floods and mudslides in Montecito. Now we’re again battling blazes in Santa Barbara and San Diego. The fragility of our existence is sobering and depressing. We think we’ve come so far, but really we haven’t at all.

Natural disasters are potent reminders of how small we are. For all our achievements, man is but a speck. If we survive, if we thrive, it is only through the grace of God. I am reminded of this as I watch the forests blaze on TV. I think of all the families whose fathers, brothers, husbands and sons are first responders and fire fighters. They’re out there risking their lives, making sure everyone is evacuated to safety. I also think of all the people who have abused California’s resources for private profit. I think of the people who have developed forest land where they should not have. I think of the corporations who have made themselves rich by subverting public water rights for private enterprise. I think of the people we have put in power, who lobby for the interests of big money instead of speaking up for the public good. Are we the architects of our own misery? Quite possibly.

Our cities are the modern-day Capernaum, Tyre and Sodom. Many of us are unrepentant, ungrateful, callous, self-serving. Even when we do get round to repenting, ours is a fleeting contrition. I am reminded of the plaintive words of Abraham – “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it?” (Genesis 18: 23-24). That’s our lot. In our dogged pursuit of profit and our own interests, we have forgotten all about God. Are there fifty righteous people amongst us, that God should spare our communities? I’d like to think so. I’d like to hope so. Watching these first responders try to save our communities, I am reminded that so much more is expected of us, yet we’ve all mostly fallen short. We each have a part to play here, to rise to the occasion when these things happen, to go to the aid of our neighbours, to be the righteous people for whom God would spare a city. Faith lived requires us to be a people of action.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those whose homes have been destroyed by recent natural disasters. We pray that God guides them through the difficult task of rebuilding their lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who work as first responders and volunteers. May God protect them from harm and bring them home safely to their families.

16 Jul, Monday – Not In God’s House

Jul 16 – Memorial for Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The Church celebrates on this day the feast of the Scapular of Mount Carmel. The scapular, which derives its name from the Latin word scapulæ, meaning shoulders, is a dress which covers the shoulders. It is best known among as the name of two little pieces of cloth worn out of devotion to the Blessed Virgin over the shoulders, under the ordinary garb, and connected by strings.

The devotion of the scapular began with the Carmelites. During the 13th century the Carmelite Order suffered great persecution, and on 16 July 1251, while Saint Simon Stock, then general of the Order, was at prayer, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, holding in her hand a scapular. Giving it to the saint, she said,

“Receive, my dear son, this scapular of thy Order, as the distinctive sign of my confraternity, and the mark of the privilege which I have obtained for thee and the children of Carmel. It is a sign of salvation, a safeguard in danger, and a special pledge of peace and protection till the end of time. Whosoever dies wearing this shall be preserved from eternal flames.”

It is much to be wished that people should everywhere join this confraternity, for the honour of Mary and for the salvation of souls, by a life fitted to that end. In order to have a share in the merits of the sodality, every member must:

  1. Shun sin and, according to his state of life, live chastely.
  2. Say everyday, if possible, seven times the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be.
  3. Strive to serve God by venerating Mary, and imitating her virtues.

Though not binding under penalty of sin, the breach of these rules deprives us of all merit.

– Patron Saint Index

_________________

Isaiah 1:10-17

Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the command of our God,
you people of Gomorrah.

‘What are your endless sacrifices to me?
says the Lord.
I am sick of holocausts of rams
and the fat of calves.
The blood of bulls and of goats revolts me.
When you come to present yourselves before me,
who asked you to trample over my courts?
Bring me your worthless offerings no more,
the smoke of them fills me with disgust.
New Moons, sabbaths, assemblies–
I cannot endure festival and solemnity.
Your New Moons and your pilgrimages
I hate with all my soul.
They lie heavy on me,
I am tired of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands
I turn my eyes away.
You may multiply your prayers,
I shall not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood,
wash, make yourselves clean.

‘Take your wrong-doing out of my sight.
Cease to do evil.
Learn to do good,
search for justice,
help the oppressed,
be just to the orphan,
plead for the widow.’

___________________

Matthew 10:34-11:1

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be those of his own household.

‘Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.

‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.
‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man will have a holy man’s reward.

‘If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.’

When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples he moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.

___________________

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”

I scurried into church and slid into a pew, just as Mass was about to begin. Traffic in Los Angeles is not to be scoffed at! Secretly jubilant about making it on time, I crossed myself and reached for the hymnal – and that’s when I noticed her staring angrily at me. Her with the perfect perm, pursed lips and fierce eyes. She glared ferociously at me and shook her head from side to side, indicating that I could not sit there. It took me awhile to grasp what was going on… and then it dawned on me. Pretty shocking really, considering 1) there was lots of space on the other side of her so she could easily have moved over; 2) mass had already begun; 3) we were in God’s house; 4) this was an affluent and educated community — the last place you’d expect to find racial discrimination. I gathered up my things and skulked away, hot and red-faced from hurt and embarrassment. I was mostly angry. I was angry that I didn’t have the presence of mind to call out bad behaviour as it happened. I walked away to avoid confrontation. I walked away to ‘save face’. But for whom?

Racial discrimination is something you read about, but until it happens to you, it’s not something you internalize. And until it happens to you, you have no right to an opinion what one should or should not have done in that moment. When that moment arrives, you’d be surprised at what you won’t be prepared to do out of fear, shock and embarrassment. I most certainly didn’t expect to see it in church. This is God’s house! I expect more of the place I worship, more of the people who profess the Apostles’ Creed and take communion. It’s been two weeks now and it still hurts. The words of the prophet Isaiah have never resonated more than right now – “bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me”. How loathsome must it be to God when it happens in His house! When it happens in church, it gives us Christians a bad name. No wonder my husband won’t go to mass. Who would, if they had to deal with this kind of hypocrisy? Is this woman aware how poisonous her gesture has been? I am indignant. I’ve spewed, sputtered and searched the Bible. Jesus says, “… whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me”. Well, I dropped the cross that day by not standing up to her. I realize now how blind and complacent I’ve been. Why I ever thought this was someone else’s fight is beyond me. No one should have to endure this, especially in God’s house. I’ve walked around with my eyes closed for so long. I’ve been so blind and so naïve. It had to happen to me, for me to understand and empathize. Well, I see now. I’m not blind anymore. I see.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10)

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray that all who enter God’s house do so with a contrite heart, with full awareness of the solemnity of communion. Our actions reflect not just on us but on God and the faith that we profess.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the moments of lucidity that come when we are thrust into painful situations. We pray for God’s guidance, that we respond not with anger, but with wisdom and restraint.

15 July, Sunday – On Finding Your Vocation

15 July 

________________

Amos 7:12-15

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, said to Amos, ‘Go away, seer;’ get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there. We want no more prophesying in Bethel; this is the royal sanctuary, the national temple.’ ‘I was no prophet, neither did I belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets,’ Amos replied to Amaziah ‘I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it was the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

________________

Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ
for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved,
in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
Such is the richness of the grace
which he has showered on us
in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose,
the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning
to act upon when the times had run their course to the end:
that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head,
everything in the heavens and everything on earth.
And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
Now you too, in him,
have heard the message of the truth and the good news of your salvation,
and have believed it;
and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise,
the pledge of our inheritance
which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his
glory praised.

________________ 

Mark 6:7-13

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

________________

“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two”

It’s been 5 years since I left my job. I was reminded of this when I tried to log into my LinkedIn account this week and couldn’t remember my password. I don’t even know why I keep a LinkedIn profile anymore. That life seems so foreign now. I miss some aspects of it – the adrenaline rush, the buzz when trade strategies worked, the organized chaos. I had always dreamt of working at a hedge fund, so when it happened, it was like living a dream – for the first few years at least. And then life happened, and my career path became untenable.

Trading did help me find my way back to God though, which is a little ironic since Scripture tells us how we are to be “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:14-16). I started reading Oxygen around 2009, and writing for it in 2010, just as the global financial crisis was beginning to trough. The whole concept of ‘reaching a trough’ is entirely backward looking. When you’re in the ‘trough’, there are few signs around to assure you that things are about to get better. Quite the opposite – my time in 2008-2010 was spent obsessing about how many months’ mortgage cover I had in my savings account. I watched people get fired around me. My boss got fired. I miraculously survived.

I’m a full-time housewife now. To my own surprise, I left my job, moved countries, got married and became stepmother to two lovely young adults. We got a dog, whose devotion reminds me daily how much farther you’ll get with love than ambition (he rules the roost, whether he intends to or not). People often ask, “What do you do?” and look terribly disappointed when I tell them that I am a housewife. Like Amos’ statement, “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores”, there is something decidedly unglamorous and underachieving about tending a flock, or a garden, or a home. I myself chafed against the notion at first. But then I realized that there is a difference between one’s ‘career’ and one’s ‘vocation’. When the two intersect, you can have a long and satisfying career. When they don’t, is when you run into all kinds of issues with fulfilment – as I did towards the end. A career is something you choose for yourself; a vocation is what God chooses for you. You are called to a vocation. Jesus, ‘summoned’ his disciples. Amos was taken from following the flock and tending to sycamores, called by God to be a prophet. All the apostles had day jobs, but were called elsewhere to their life’s vocation.

As stepmother to a newly-minted college graduate, I know that the stress to find a job is real. This is when the rubber hits the road. If I could go back and tell my impatient twenty-year-old self something, it would be this — to be patient, to have fortitude, to be aware and vigilant. I would tell her to quieten her own ambition and listen instead, for the whispering voice of God. I would tell her to open her heart to instruction, to allow herself to be coached, to not bail for short-term gain. Because true and lasting fulfilment comes only when your dreams intersect with the will of God. And finding that vocation can sometimes take you the better part of a lifetime. But oh boy, is it going to be worth it in the end!!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who are seeking employment or who may be trying to discern their vocation. We pray that God will help them to make good decisions. We ask that He send them mentors who will help them find their way.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks not just to all the doors that were open to us, but also for those that were closed in our face. There is blessing too in the path not taken, the path that would have led to certain destruction.

26 May, Saturday – The Prayer Of The Faithful

May 26 – Memorial for St. Philip Neri, priest

Philip Neri (1515-1595) came from a poor family, though he was related to Italian nobility. His father, Francisco Neri, worked as a notary. Philip’s brother died in childhood, but his two sisters, Caterina and Elisabetta survived. He was a pious youth, and was taught humanities by the Dominicans.

He moved to San Germano in 1533 to help some family with their business and while there, would escape to a local Dominican chapel in the mountains. He received word in a vision that he had an apostolate in Rome. He cut himself off from his family and went there, where he was befriended by Galeotto Caccia, who took him in and paid him to tutor his two sons. He wrote poetry in Latin and Italian, and studied philosophy and theology. When he tired of learning, he sold all his books and gave the money to the poor.

He began to visit and care for the sick and impoverished pilgrims. He founded a society of like-minded folk to do the same. He was a friend of St. Ignatius. A layman, he lived in the city as a hermit. During Easter season of 1544, while praying in the catacomb of San Sebastiano, he received a vision of a globe of fire that entered his chest and he experienced an ecstasy that physically enlarged his heart.

With Persiano Rose, he founded the Confraternity of the Most Holy Trinity. He began to preach, with many converts. In 1550, he considered retiring to the life of a solitary hermit, but received further visions that told him his mission was in Rome. Later, he considered missionary work in India, but further visions convinced him to stay in Rome.

He entered the priesthood in 1551, and heard confessions by the hour. He could tell penitents their sins before they confessed, and had the gift of conferring visions. He began working with youth, finding safe places for them to stay and becoming involved in their lives.

Pope Gregory XIV tried to make him a cardinal, but Philip declined. His popularity was such that he was accused of forming his own sect, but was cleared of this baseless charge. In 1575, he founded the Congregation of the Oratory, a group of priests dedicated to preaching and teaching, but which suffered from accusations of heresy because of the involvement of laymen as preachers. In later years, he was beset with several illnesses, each of which was in turn cured through prayer.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

James 5:13-20

If any one of you is in trouble, he should pray; if anyone is feeling happy, he should sing a psalm. If one of you is ill, he should send for the elders of the church, and they must anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray over him. The prayer of faith will save the sick man and the Lord will raise him up again; and if he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you; the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully. Elijah was a human being like ourselves – he prayed hard for it not to rain, and no rain fell for three-and-a-half years; then he prayed again and the sky gave rain and the earth gave crops.

My brothers, if one of you strays away from the truth, and another brings him back to it, he may be sure that anyone who can bring back a sinner from the wrong way that he has taken will be saving a soul from death and covering up a great number of sins.

________________

Mark 10:13-16

People were bringing little children to Jesus, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing.

________________

“Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child, he will not enter it.”

When my father was alive, there was a verse that we often shared around the dinner table, almost like our family’s code of living – “the prayer of faith will save the sick person” (James 5:15). Dad should know because he was always sick. He was no saint in life, but in his final months, his faith was unshakeable. He firmly believed in the power of prayer to heal, to soothe and to deliver. His greatest gift to us was his conviction that nothing was impossible for God. He lived it, and in so doing, passed his fervour along to us kids, and all of the people in his prayer group at church.

It seemed like we were always praying for Dad. He was always vacillating between being critically ill and recovering from episodes of it. Because of him, I believe in the power of prayer. I’ve seen God’s hand too many times in Dad’s life to doubt His divine presence. I believe that He hears the fervent heart’s longings, that He sees good intentions and listens to the cries of His faithful. I believe that He lifts us up when we’re laid low, that He guides us to right paths, that He calms our distress. I believe it because I’ve felt it, and I’ve seen it.

Looking back now, Dad’s illness helped to build a community of prayer. And that community was strengthened every time those prayers were answered. Towards the end, Dad held on only as long as he needed to – to witness the birth of his grandson. I know Dad prayed fervently for that and God in His great mercy granted Dad’s wish. Dad died a few days after my sister’s son was born. I don’t believe that was a coincidence.

When Jesus said “… whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it”, I think he was talking about the kind of faith that my father had, that child-like conviction in God’s deliverance, whatever the odds. Dad engaged God in every aspect of his life, through prayer, thanksgiving and scripture reading. Old age and illness robbed him of his independence and mental faculties but it blessed him with something infinitely more valuable – his faith. Faith truly is the gift that multiplies upon itself, the gift that has been passed down from Dad to us, and now to Josh, his grandson. Some families have precious jewels, beautiful homes, vast tracts of land as heirlooms. Ours? We have Dad’s faith. And I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the gift of that child-like faith that believes nothing is impossible for God.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for God’s great mercy, for His unfailing faithfulness to us, even when we are fearful and doubting.

25 May, Friday – On Marriage

May 25 – Memorial for St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Worker; Memorial for St. Gregory VII, Pope; Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Virgin

Bede (672-735) was born around the time England was finally completely Christianized. He was raised from age seven in the abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth-Jarrow, and lived there the rest of his life. He was a Benedictine monk, and the spiritual student of the founder, St. Benedict Biscop. He was ordained in 702 by St. John of Beverley. He was a teacher and author; he wrote about history, rhetoric, mathematics, music, astronomy, poetry, grammar, philosophy, hagiography, homiletics, and Bible commentary.

He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing. He was declared a Doctor of the Church on 13 November 1899 by Pope Leo XIII.

– Patron Saint Index

 Gregory (1020-1085) was educated in Rome, Italy. He was a Benedictine monk, and chaplain to Pope Gregory VI. He was in charge of the Patrimony of St. Peter. He was a reformer and an excellent administrator. He was chosen the 152nd pope, but he declined the crown. He was chief counsellor to Pope Victor II, Pope Stephen IX, Pope Benedict X, and Pope Nicholas II. He eventually became the 157th pope.

At the time of his ascension, simony and a corrupt clergy threatened to destroy faith in the Church. Gregory took the throne as a reformer, and Emperor Henry IV promised to support him. Gregory suspended all clerics who had purchased their position, and ordered the return of all purchased church property.

The corrupt clergy rebelled; Henry IV broke his promise, and promoted the rebels. Gregory responded by excommunicating anyone involved in lay investiture. He summoned Henry to Rome, but the emperor’s supporters drove Gregory into exile. Henry installed the anti-pope Guibert of Ravenna, who was driven from Rome by Normans who supported Gregory; the Normans were, themselves, so out of control that the people of Rome drove them out. Gregory then retreated to Salerno, Italy, where he spent the remainder of his papacy.

– Patron Saint Index

 Catherine (1566-1607) had a religious upbringing. She was initially sent to a convent at the age of 14, but was taken back home by her family who opposed her religious vocation and wanted her to marry well. They eventually gave in, and Catherine became a Carmelite of the Ancient Observance at 16, taking the name Sister Mary Magdalene. She as a mystic, and led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying particularly for the renewal of the Church and encouraging the sisters in holiness. Her life was marked by many extraordinary graces.

– Patron Saint Index

________________

James 5:9-12

Do not make complaints against one another, brothers, so as not to be brought to judgement yourselves; the Judge is already to be seen waiting at the gates. For your example, brothers, in submitting with patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord; remember it is those who had endurance that we say are the blessed ones. You have heard of the patience of Job, and understood the Lord’s purpose, realising that the Lord is kind and compassionate.

Above all, my brothers, do not swear by heaven or by the earth, or use any oaths at all. If you mean ‘yes’, you must say ‘yes’; if you mean ‘no’, say ‘no.’ Otherwise you make yourselves liable to judgement.

________________

Mark 10:1-12

Jesus came to the district of Judaea and the far side of the Jordan. And again crowds gathered round him, and again he taught them, as his custom was. Some Pharisees approached him and asked, ‘Is it against the law for a man to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him. He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ ‘Moses allowed us’ they said ‘to draw up a writ of dismissal and so to divorce.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘It was because you were so unteachable that he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.’ Back in the house the disciples questioned him again about this, and he said to them, ‘The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she is guilty of adultery too.’

________________

“… a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”

I’ve always thought of marriage as a team sport; you’re only going to be as strong as your weakest link. To go the distance, you have to be a united front and this happens first behind closed doors. A friend celebrating his 30th anniversary said to me that the reason they never got divorced was because of timing – neither he nor his wife ever wanted out of the marriage at the same time. One person was always fighting to keep it alive, holding the fort while the other faltered. That’s a powerful statement of love – the willingness to persevere without knowing if your partner was going to hold up their end of the partnership.

We have been married for 4 years now. Enough time has passed for us to have observed the less rosy side of each other’s personalities. My friend was definitely on to something when he offered up that morsel of practical wisdom. There have certainly been times when we have had our differences. I expect that’s the case with most marriages. Which marriage has not endured setbacks and overcome hurdles?

Scripture uses the image of the bride and groom to describe the ideal relationship between God and the Church – loving, forgiving, thoughtful, gentle, persevering. “God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”. To leave your mother and father means leaving the familiarity of your childhood and all of your selfish, childish bachelor/bachelorette ways behind. From here on, hardship and suffering are to be borne and celebrated together. The easy thing to do when the going gets tough, is to complain and blame. But just like in team sport, we’ll be more successful if we supported and persevered with one another as good team mates do. We can take courage from the fact that we are not alone in all this. God did send us a helper, to encourage, comfort and inspire us. Every good marriage has three parties in it – a husband, a wife, and the Holy Spirit. Now isn’t that a ‘dream team’!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the faithfulness to include God in all of our plans, our hopes, our trials, our successes. We pray that He will be the cornerstone on which our marriages are built, that He be our foundation and our rock.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for our husbands and our wives, who endure our shortfalls with grace, love, patience and humor.

24 May, Thursday – On Parenting

24 May

________________

James 5:1-6

An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days. Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.

________________

Mark 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.

‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you season it again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.’

________________

“You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter”

For a religion that preaches ‘salvation by faith’, Christianity emphasizes acts of charity as much as acts of belief. Engraved on the front of our pulpit at church is the famous verse from the Book of James, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). At different junctures of my life, those words have meant different things to me. When I was in my twenties, I took them to mean that I was to dutifully quell my hot temper and quick tongue, and turn the other cheek instead. In my thirties, they encouraged me to trust in God’s providence, that He would take care of my family and help my father ease into his last years with dignity and grace. Now in my forties, those words have found new meaning again. They serve as a reminder that I am to be a good steward of all His blessings. I’m a stepmother to two highly intelligent young adults. They could talk rings around me if they chose to. I would love to be an example of God’s ‘salt and light’ to them, but I’m not sure how. In my mind, a stepmother’s role only goes so far. I’m extremely careful not to overstep boundaries. And I try to avoid conflict as much as I can. I grew up constantly being chastised by my own parents, often dealing with double standards within our own home, and I remember how counterproductive that used to be. I don’t want the same for them.

I believe that the answer lies somewhere in Scripture. The gospel reading from Mark today reminds us what a great responsibility we have as stewards, not to mislead those who have been put in our charge – “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). When I was their age, I sought role models furtively, looking for authenticity amongst those older than me. I don’t think that has changed. People are always looking for leadership. That doesn’t end even when one becomes an adult. Perhaps the best that I can do for them is to model with my own life what it means to live as God’s ‘salt and light’. I am, by nature, a flawed and angry woman. It will take God’s grace for me to be able to pull that off.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the grace and humility to be good parents and stewards to all the young people that God has put in our lives.    

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who helps us to rise above our flaws, so that we can be the best versions of ourselves for our children.