Tag Archives: sharon soo

12 October, Thursday – Ode To My Home

12 October 2017

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Malachi 3:13-20

You say harsh things about me, says the Lord. You ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ You say, ‘It is useless to serve God; what is the good of keeping his commands or of walking mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? Now we have reached the point when we call the arrogant blessed; yes, they prosper, these evil-doers; they try God’s patience and yet go free.’ This is what those who fear the Lord used to say to one another. But the Lord took note and heard them: a book of remembrance was written in his presence recording those who fear him and take refuge in his name. On the day which I am preparing, says the Lord of Hosts, they are going to be my own special possession. I will make allowances for them as a man makes allowances for the son who obeys him. Then once again you will see the difference between an upright man and a wicked one, between the one who serves God and the one who does not serve him. For the day is coming now, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and the evil-doers will be like stubble. The day that is coming is going to burn them up, says the Lord of Hosts, leaving them neither root nor stalk. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.

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Luke 11:5-13

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, “My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it you.” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.

‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

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“Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an American. I read Emma Lazarus’ ‘New Colossus’ and it set my heart on fire. Our family was supposed to have emigrated when I was a child, but things didn’t work out. It is only now, as an adult, that I have found my way here. I love my adopted country deeply. We are going through an existential crisis at the moment but I know we will emerge more loving and more united. Though lost, we will find our way again. It’s a strange feeling to be praying for one’s country. But I feel we are in need of divine intervention to save us from ourselves. Perhaps this turmoil is so we might figure out who we are, and what we stand for. Perhaps this is a test — of our faith, our tenacity, our capacity to love and forgive each other and ourselves.

Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel, that when we pray, we have to “ask and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Prayer works, but we have to be earnest in our pursuit of it. Our hearts have to be fully invested. And that’s what we are not – invested. So many of us have despaired that the only way to cope is to look away. So our prayers lack conviction. We say the words but don’t believe things can change because we can’t see that change. What is faith though, if not the belief in things yet unseen?

In Matthew 5:24, Jesus tells us we need to forgive each other before we approach God in prayer – “…leave your gift in front of the altar, go at once and make peace, and then come back and offer your gift to God”. And that’s what we don’t have – forgiveness. We refuse to make peace. We dredge up old grudges, define ourselves by our differences. But how can we stand on common ground if we refuse to even seek it?

If there is a God, and He is good, why are these things happening to us? I hear that a lot lately. People have lost their tenacity, they’re giving up even on God. But Scripture has so many examples of the fruits of persistence. God answers prayers. And He has a track record for sparing His people. So why are we giving up? Think of Moses interceding for the Hebrews as they wandered through the desert. And Abraham advocating for the Sodomites. If God could find ten good people, ten good Americans, might He not spare us too? Scripture shows that all it takes is a remnant to make a nation great again. If God could find ten good Americans, might He not save us from ourselves?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: I pray for my country, that we might find the resolve, the courage, the forgiveness to move beyond the things that are happening to us.

Thanksgiving: I give thanks for the peacekeepers, the first responders, all who labor in the belief that all it takes is a remnant to make a nation great again.

11 October, Wednesday – On Forgiveness

11 October 2017

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Jonah 4:1-11

Jonah was very indignant; he fell into a rage. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Ah, Lord, is not this just as I said would happen when I was still at home? That was why I went and fled to Tarshish: I knew that you were a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, relenting from evil. So now, Lord, please take away my life, for I might as well be dead as go on living.’ The Lord replied, ‘Are you right to be angry?’

Jonah then went out of the city and sat down to the east of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God arranged that a castor-oil plant should grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head and soothe his ill-humour; Jonah was delighted with the castor-oil plant. But at dawn the next day, God arranged that a worm should attack the castor-oil plant – and it withered.

Next, when the sun rose, God arranged that there should be a scorching east wind; the sun beat down so hard on Jonah’s head that he was overcome and begged for death, saying, ‘I might as well be dead as go on living.’ God said to Jonah, ‘Are you right to be angry about the castor-oil plant?’ He replied, ‘I have every right to be angry, to the point of death.’ The Lord replied, ‘You are only upset about a castor-oil plant which cost you no labour, which you did not make grow, which sprouted in a night and has perished in a night. And am I not to feel sorry for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?’

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Luke 11:1-4

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:

“Father, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come; give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us. And do not put us to the test.”’

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“Have you reason to be angry?”

Today’s reading in Jonah is about forgiveness. Specifically, how to find it within ourselves to forgive someone who has wronged us, when all we want is for justice to be served. Jonah’s predicament was that he preached a future of hail and hellfire. And though he was calling for repentance, there was a part of Jonah who secretly wanted to see the Assyrians meet their sorry end. As we know, that never happened because the city of Nineveh turned from its wicked ways and thus, its people were spared the wrath of God. So the only ‘loser’ in this equation, if you can call it that, was Jonah.

Our sense of justice and morality almost demands that God mete out justice to those who have wronged us. When we see them flourishing instead, we suffer from a ‘You’ve got to be joking!’ moment. Like Jonah, we sputter with indignation, puff our cheeks with disbelief, shake our heads with incredulity. Why are the bad guys allowed to win, we lament? It’s so unfair!

The comforting thing about all this is that God understands our frustation and tries to come down to our level to explain it to us – “should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons, who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left”. Or more plainly put, “Should I not be concerned with people who I have made in my likeness, who are still such fledglings that they can’t tell wrong from right?” He implores us to be better men (and women), to rise to the occasion and to find within us the compassion to put aside our indignation and forgive those who have wronged us. Forgiveness can be a bitter pill to swallow yet that’s the way that God has chosen to move forward. So who are we to insist on having justice served our way when we too are in need of His forgiveness?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for a heart of self awareness and love, that sees beyond our puny demands and perceives God’s bigger picture.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit that guides us to make good decisions, even when it doesn’t feel good to make them.

10 October, Tuesday – How Superheroines Handle Stress

10 October 2017

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Jonah 3:1-10

The word of the Lord was addressed a second time to Jonah: ‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach to them as I told you to.’ Jonah set out and went to Nineveh in obedience to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was a city great beyond compare: it took three days to cross it. Jonah went on into the city, making a day’s journey. He preached in these words, ‘Only forty days more and Nineveh is going to be destroyed.’ And the people of Nineveh believed in God; they proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least. The news reached the king of Nineveh, who rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth and sat down in ashes. A proclamation was then promulgated throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his ministers, as follows: ‘Men and beasts, herds and flocks, are to taste nothing; they must not eat, they must not drink water. All are to put on sackcloth and call on God with all their might; and let everyone renounce his evil behaviour and the wicked things he has done. Who knows if God will not change his mind and relent, if he will not renounce his burning wrath, so that we do not perish?’ God saw their efforts to renounce their evil behaviour, and God relented: he did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened.

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Luke 10:38-42

Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’

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“Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?”

Today’s gospel reading is very special to me. St Martha is my confirmation saint. Her story has always resonated with me because of the two sisters, Martha is the one that’s more relatable. She’s the woman of action, the superheroine go-getter who has the gumption to invite Jesus for dinner in the first place (Luke 10:38). You can identify with her because her traits are so human. You’ve probably been in her position yourself – overworked, under-resourced and overwhelmed. That’s the predicament of the majority of people who work in service. It’s no wonder she’s our patron saint!

Though Scripture focuses on how Mary made better choices, it is Martha who inspires us with her courage and chutzpah. In John 11:21-22, a grieving Martha goes out to meet Jesus and scolds him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know thar whatever you ask from God, God will give you”, as if to demand of Jesus, “You had better fix this. He’s dead because you were late!”. Her tone is implied to be more forceful than Mary’s, because Mary ‘fell at his feet’ (John 11:32). In the same forthright manner, she matter-of-factly informs Jesus that she believes him to be Christ, the Messiah and Son of God. Her proclamation is similar to Peter’s in Matt 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. Martha’s story is not without a happy ending, despite how Scripture paints her. In John 12 we are told that “six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where he had raised Lazarus, the dead man, to life. Now they gave a dinner for him and while Martha waited on them, Lazarus sat at the table with Jesus” (John 12:1-2). It’s a simple verse, yet we can infer that Martha has made peace with herself and her vocation to be of service to Christ and his disciples. There’s no demanding, no scolding and no foot-stamping. She’s happy to simply wait on them.

There is a famous verse in the Book of Matthew for the overburdened and the fatigued – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I’d like to believe that in the midst of her domestic chaos, Martha would have whispered this prayer herself — and that God, in His infinite grace, heard her cry and gave her the resources she needed to complete her tasks. What an inspiration that is to all of us who labor in service!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all those who labor with limited resources, that they find what they need, just when they need it.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the reserves of strength that God sends us when we come to the end of our rope!

9 October, Monday – On The Road That Leads Away From God

Oct 9 – Memorial for Sts. Denis, Bishop, and Companions, Martyrs; Memorial for St. John Leonardi, Priest

Denis (d. 258) was a missionary to Paris, and its first bishop. His success roused the ire of local pagans, and he was imprisoned by the Roman governor. He was martyred in the persecutions of Valerius with Sts. Eleutherius and Rusticus. Legends have grown up around his torture and death including one that has his body carrying his severed head some distance from his execution site. St. Genevieve built a basilica over his grave. His feast was added to the Roman calendar in 1568 by Pope St. Pius V, though it has been celebrated since 800.

– Patron Saint Index

John Leonardi (1541–1609) was the founder of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God of Lucca. He was born in Lucca, Tuscany in 1541 and ordained a priest in 1572. He first dedicated himself to the Christian formation of young people in his parish of Lucca. Then he founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.

In 1574, he founded a community charged to deepen faith and devotion; this foundation occurred as part of the movement known as the Counter-Reformation. He worked with this community to spread the devotion to the Virgin Mary, to the Forty Hours and to frequent Communion.

This foundation received approval from Pope Paul V in 1614. He took his work to Rome where he became friends with St. Philip Neri who held him in high regard for his qualities of firmness and judgement and entrusted him to delicate works such as the reform of the Benedictan congregation of Montevergine.

He then founded with J. Vives the seminary of the Propagation of the Faith. He died in 1609, dedicating himself to his brothers suffering from the influenza epidemic that was raging in Rome at that time.

The final Rule of his community was published in 1851. Two houses of the Clerks of the Mother of God were opened when he died; three others were opened during the 17th century. He was beatified in 1861 and canonised in 1938.

– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia

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Jonah 1:1-2:1, 11

The word of the Lord was addressed to Jonah son of Amittai:

‘Up!’ he said ‘Go to Nineveh, the great city, and inform them that their wickedness has become known to me.’ Jonah decided to run away from the Lord, and to go to Tarshish. He went down to Joppa and found a ship bound for Tarshish; he paid his fare and went aboard, to go with them to Tarshish, to get away from the Lord. But the Lord unleashed a violent wind on the sea, and there was such a great storm at sea that the ship threatened to break up. The sailors took fright, and each of them called on his own god, and to lighten the ship they threw the cargo overboard. Jonah, however, had gone below and lain down in the hold and fallen fast asleep. The boatswain came upon him and said, ‘What do you mean by sleeping? Get up! Call on your god! Perhaps he will spare us a thought, and not leave us to die.’ Then they said to each other, ‘Come on, let us draw lots to find out who is responsible for bringing this evil on us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell to Jonah. Then they said to him, ‘Tell us, what is your business? Where do you come from? What is your country? What is your nationality?’ He replied, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.’ The sailors were seized with terror at this and said, ‘What have you done?’ They knew that he was trying to escape from the Lord, because he had told them so. They then said, ‘What are we to do with you, to make the sea grow calm for us?’ For the sea was growing rougher and rougher. He replied, ‘Take me and throw me into the sea, and then it will grow calm for you. For I can see it is my fault this violent storm has happened to you.’ The sailors rowed hard in an effort to reach the shore, but in vain, since the sea grew still rougher for them. They then called on the Lord and said, ‘O the Lord, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not hold us guilty of innocent blood; for you, the Lord, have acted as you have thought right.’ And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea grew calm again. At this the men were seized with dread of the Lord; they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

The Lord had arranged that a great fish should be there to swallow Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. The Lord spoke to the fish, which then vomited Jonah on to the shore.

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Luke 10:25-37

There was a lawyer who, to disconcert Jesus, stood up and said to him, ‘Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? What do you read there?’ He replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered right,’ said Jesus ‘do this and life is yours.’

But the man was anxious to justify himself and said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of brigands; they took all he had, beat him and then made off, leaving him half dead. Now a priest happened to be travelling down the same road, but when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite who came to the place saw him, and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion when he saw him. He went up and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He then lifted him on to his own mount, carried him to the inn and looked after him. Next day, he took out two denarii and handed them to the innkeeper. “Look after him,” he said “and on my way back I will make good any extra expense you have.” Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands‘ hands?’ ‘The one who took pity on him’ he replied. Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do the same yourself.’

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But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish away from the Lord

The concept of sin causing us to run away from God has been evident since Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden of Eden. In today’s readings, we see people from different walks of life running from God – Jonah fleeing to Tarshish to get away from the Lord; the Priest who crossed to the other side of the street rather than confront the man lying half-dead in front of him; the Levite who did the same; the symbol of the sinner, the man on the road who had left the safety of Jerusalem for the dysfunction of Jericho, only to be robbed by vagabonds.

So why do we turn from God? And how do we end up on the road that leads away from Him in the first place? At the heart of our flight is the knowledge that we have fallen short. It is easier to walk away than to confront our shortcomings. In Jonah’s case, it was because he did not want to see God’s mercy extend to the Assyrians. In the time of Jonah, Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. The Assyrians were a wicked, ruthless people, sworn enemies of the Jews of Israel. The idea of having to preach repentance to them was too much for Jonah. Jonah felt that the Assyrians were undeserving of God’s forgiveness. He didn’t care if he was being unforgiving, that his hard heartedness was causing him to sin. What about the Priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan? Why were they on the road leading away from God? The Priest and the Levite in the parable are symbolic of the religious institutions of that time, who Jesus felt, had been tarnished by sin. Religion is depicted in the Parable of the Samaritan, as having no power to save and redeem; rather Religion is on the same road leading away from God.

Who else is on the road leading away from God? We see Jesus, in the guise of the Good Samaritan, filled with compassion and love for the fallen sinner. The Son himself, is on the road leading away from God, having been sent to seek, to save and redeem all who have lost their way. No matter how far we have fallen from Him, God finds us and offers us the chance to restore ourselves through Jesus Christ. The great truth at the heart of the Bible is God’s faith in us, His love for us, despite ourselves. The prophet Jeremiah sums it up beautifully – “‘Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord’” (Jeremiah 23:24) Even on the road leading away from Him, there waits God, ready to meet us in our sin. What a picture of grace and forgiveness that is!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for those who are true life Samaritans, who seek, who heal, who redeem and restore all who have been stripped of their dignity through sin.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all the times God has found us and saved us while we languished on the road, bowed down by sin.

8 October, Sunday – Will Do For You

8 October 2017

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Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing to my friend the song of his love for his vineyard.

My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug the soil, cleared it of stones and planted choice vines in it. In the middle he built a tower, he dug a press there too. He expected it to yield grapes, but sour grapes were all that it gave.

And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, I ask you to judge between my vineyard and me. What could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done? I expected it to yield grapes. Why did it yield sour grapes instead?

Very well, I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge for it to be grazed on, and knock down its wall for it to be trampled on. I will lay it waste, unpruned, undug; overgrown by the briar and the thorn. I will command the clouds to rain no rain on it. Yes, the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel, and the men of Judah that chosen plant. He expected justice, but found bloodshed, integrity, but only a cry of distress.

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Philippians 4:6-9

There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise. Keep doing all the things that you learnt from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you.

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Matthew 21:33-43

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

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

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

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“The kingdom of heaven will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit”

A vineyard is a tangible example of the great beauty that can occur when God and Man work towards a common goal. We are in the middle of planting one in our home in the wine valley. I can attest to the healing power of growing something from a mere sapling, irrigating the soil, staking the vines, praying for forgiving weather. There is order and process in a vineyard. Its borders are defined, its soil is fertile. There are fixed seasons in a vineyard. There is a time for sowing, for planting, for harvesting, for pressing, for bottling. These seasons mark the passage of time, our progress as an individual, the growth of our family. A vineyard is purposeful. It bears fruit at harvest time and gives us much cause for rejoicing. Our vineyard may not necessarily be a profitable endeavour, but its lessons for life more than make up for it.

The image of the vineyard is used in much of Scripture to denote God’s creation and our roles as His appointed stewards. In the reading from Isaiah, the vineyard is symbolic of the people of Judah, who rebelled against God and turned their backs on His covenant. God delivered them into the Promised Land yet they repaid him with wilful rebellion. In the reading from Matthew, the same image of the vineyard is continued; only this time, we are introduced to the Tenants, God’s stewards of the Law who purpose is to guide His people. They too, break their social contract with God and abuse the power that is entrusted to them.

But how does all this relate to us? As believers, we are given the mission to tend His vineyard. We are told to proclaim our faith, to be apostles of His word. The image of the Tenants in His vineyard is how God sees us. He has entrusted us with the keys to the vineyard and asked us to harvest good fruit from the bounty of resources He has laid before us – our health, our wealth, our talents, our children, our families, our friends. In the fullness of time, God will demand from us an account of what we have achieved for Him. When that time comes, will we be able to say that we have brought forth good fruit — love, forgiveness, compassion, hope, healing, redemption – or that we have sown and reaped a harvest of hate, bitterness, anger, pride, greed and jealousy? As we embark on a new week in the vineyard, let’s reflect on the agrarian images from this Sunday’s readings. Where is there room for more love and less anger, less bitterness, less hatred in our lives?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to be good stewards of God’s vineyard, to make good decisions with the resources that He has blessed us with.

 Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the rich imagery in Scripture that helps us to understand His purpose for us.

17 August, Thursday – Cut and Run

17 Aug

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Joshua 3:7-11,13-17

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This very day I will begin to make you a great man in the eyes of all Israel, to let them be sure that I am going to be with you even as I was with Moses. As for you, give this order to the priests carrying the ark of the covenant: “When you have reached the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you are to stand still in the Jordan itself”.’ Then Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘Come closer and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that a living God is with you and without a doubt will expel the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite and the Jebusite. Look, the ark of the Lord,’ the Lord of the whole earth, is about to cross the Jordan at your head. As soon as the priests with the ark of the Lord, the Lord of the whole earth, have set their feet in the waters of the Jordan, the upper waters of the Jordan flowing down will be stopped in their course and stand still in one mass.’

  Accordingly, when the people struck camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carried the ark of the covenant in front of the people. As soon as the bearers of the ark reached the Jordan and the feet of the priests who carried it touched the waters (the Jordan overflows the whole length of its banks throughout the harvest season) the upper waters stood still and made one heap over a wide space – from Adam to the fortress of Zarethan – while those flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah, that is, the Salt Sea, stopped running altogether. The people crossed opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood still on dry ground in mid-Jordan, and all Israel continued to cross dry-shod till the whole nation had finished its crossing of the river.

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Matthew 18:21-19:1

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and he left Galilee and came into the part of Judaea which is on the far side of the Jordan.

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Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?

I think we become less forgiving as we grow older. I find I have less patience now when friends let me down and am more ready to ‘cut and run’ than when I was a twenty-something. This is ironic because it’s in my adulthood that I have grown more aware of His grace.

Our best intentions unravel when it comes to living our faith; forgiveness is my biggest stumbling block. I find I have the tendency to ‘measure up’ the hurts and wounds afflicted on me and keep a mental score of what ‘I am owed’. Like the proverbial evil servant in today’s gospel, that mental ledger is meticulously maintained and diligently populated by the wounds of yesteryear and the names of those who had inflicted them.

But there’s no room for math in His House. He did no math with us, so it is hypocritical of us to work sums with those He sends our way. We end up hurting ourselves when instead of forgiving, we ‘cut and run’. Our relationships have no depth when we ‘cut and run’; we become fair weather friends when we ‘cut and run’. We don’t build bonds when we ‘cut and run’. I’ve always struggled to make friends. I know now that it is because I am constantly fleeing difficult situations. I used to think it was that I didn’t like confrontation, but that’s a lame excuse for not having the tenacity to stick with things.

I’m so grateful that while I’ve been busy ‘cutting and running’, God has never ‘cut and run’ with me. He has persevered and never held back on His forgiveness, never held back on His blessings. And while not all my prayers have been answered, He has granted the prayers that have mattered.

I’m humbled by today’s gospel. It is not easy to look so clearly at a reflection of yourself. I see myself in the evil servant, always a recipient of forgiveness, not often a giver of it, and am overwhelmed by His unending mercies. I give thanks He has never ‘cut and run’ with me.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

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Prayer : We pray for the self awareness to see our own weaknesses and forgive, instead of judging and punishing others for the wounds they inflict on us.

Thanksgiving : We give thanks for the never ending mercies He extends us.

12 August, Saturday – Faith, Free Weights and Deadlifts

Aug 12 – Memorial for St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Jane married Baron de Chantal. She restored order in the household, which was on the brink of ruin, and brought back prosperity. During her husband’s absence at the court, or with the army, when reproached for her extremely sober manner of dressing, her reply was: “The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here.” She found more than once that God blessed with miracles the care she gave the suffering members of Christ.  Baron de Chantal was accidentally killed by a harquebus while out shooting. Left a widow at 28, with four children, the broken-hearted baroness took a vow of chastity.

She founded the Congregation of the Visitation, whose aim was to receive, with a view to their spiritual advancement, young girls and even widows who had not the desire or strength to subject themselves to the austere ascetical practices in force in all the religious orders at that time. The remainder of the saint’s life was spent under the protection of the cloister in the practice of the most admirable virtues. It was firmness and great vigour which prevailed in St. Jane Frances; she did not like to see her daughters giving way to human weakness. Her trials were continuous and borne bravely, and yet she was exceedingly sensitive.

– http://www.wf-f.org/StJaneFdeChantal.html

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Deuteronomy 6:4-13

Moses said to the people:
‘Listen, Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart. You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising; you shall fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a circlet; you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

‘When the Lord has brought you into the land which he swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give you, with great and prosperous cities not of your building, houses full of good things not furnished by you, wells you did not dig, vineyards and olives you did not plant, when you have eaten these and had your fill, then take care you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You must fear the Lord your God, you must serve him, by his name you must swear.’

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Matthew 17:14-20

A man came up to Jesus and went down on his knees before him. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘take pity on my son: he is a lunatic and in a wretched state; he is always falling into the fire or into the water. I took him to your disciples and they were unable to cure him.’ ‘Faithless and perverse generation!’ Jesus said in reply ‘How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ And when Jesus rebuked it the devil came out of the boy who was cured from that moment.

Then the disciples came privately to Jesus. ‘Why were we unable to cast it out?’ they asked. He answered, ‘Because you have little faith. I tell you solemnly, if your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move; nothing would be impossible for you.’

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“… if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you”

3 to 4 times a week, I work out with a personal trainer — Spencer. I do this because I hate to exercise. Since I can’t be disciplined on my own, Spencer gets the unenviable job of being my taskmaster. I’ve been training with Spencer for two years now. In that time, he has worked me so much I actually have muscles that are visible. Spencer likes to use words like ‘striation’, ‘trapezius’ and ‘lattissimus dorsi’. We do endless repetitions of drills and dull things like ‘cardio’ which he says are good for me. Despite my lack of motivation, there have been tangible results. I am stronger. And I have more physical endurance. Hills and elevations don’t bother me any more. Neither does lifting my 50lb dog or using my heavy cast-iron skillet. I actually enjoy going on long hikes with my dog now.

Faith is much like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes. When I first started physical training, we would do drills with small free weights at low rep counts. I’d take long breaks between sets to catch my breath. We have since worked up to higher rep counts, heavier weights and shorter breaks. Intuitively, it makes sense. You don’t go straight to 100lb deadlifts at the first get go. You have to work your way to it.

The disciples in today’s gospel reading attempted the faith-equivalent of 100lb deadlifts without first doing drills with small ‘faith-free weights’. They might have succeded, but the odds were stacked against them. We are not all possessed of the same ‘faith strength’ as the centurion in Matthew 8:8, whose famous words have been immortalized at mass – “Lord I am not worthy to have you under my roof. Just give an order and my boy will be healed”. Just as a muscle needs exercise to develop strength, our faith needs to be worked on so that when we are truly tested, when life drops us that 100lb challenge, we know what to do with it. Start with the small stuff, converse with God, no detail is too small for Him. Things will happen if you allow Him to help you develop your faith muscle.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: God, you are the god of things both great and small. Watch over us, guide our hearts, give us wisdom to make good decisions, with even the smallest matters in our lives.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for His watchfulness, for the comfort and assurance of His presence in our daily lives. We give thanks for good health, for family, for friends, for blue skies, green grass and tall trees. For the clean air we breathe, the fresh water we drink, the small things we take for granted that are made possible because of His grace.

11 August, Friday – On Privilege

Aug 11 – Memorial for St. Clare, virgin, religious founder

Clare (1194-1253) loved music and well-composed sermons. She was humble, merciful, charming, optimistic, and chivalrous. She would get up late at night to tuck in her sisters who’’d kicked off their covers. She daily meditated on the Passion. When she learned of the Franciscan martyrs in Morrocco in 1221, she tried to go there to give her own life for God, but was restrained. Once, when her convent was about to be attacked, she displayed the Sacrament in a monstrace at the convent gates and prayed before it. The attackers left.

Toward the end of her life, when she was too ill to attend Mass, an image of the service would be displayed on the wall of her cell; thus her patronage of television.

– Patron Saint Index

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Deuteronomy 4:32-40

Moses said to the people: ‘Put this question to the ages that are past, that went before you, from the time God created man on earth: Was there ever a word so majestic, from one end of heaven to the other? Was anything ever heard? Did ever a people hear the voice of the living God speaking from the heart of the fire, as you heard it, and remain alive? Has any god ventured to take to himself one nation from the midst of another by ordeals, signs, wonders, war with mighty hand and outstretched arm, by fearsome terrors – all this that the Lord your God did for you before your eyes in Egypt?

‘This he showed you so that you might know that the Lord is God indeed and that there is no other. He let you hear his voice out of heaven for your instruction; on earth he let you see his great fire, and from the heart of the fire you heard his word. Because he loved your fathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out from Egypt, openly showing his presence and his great power, driving out in front of you nations greater and more powerful than yourself, and brought you into their land to give it you for your heritage, as it is still today.

‘Understand this today, therefore, and take it to heart: the Lord is God indeed, in heaven above as on earth beneath, he and no other. Keep his laws and commandments as I give them to you today, so that you and your children may prosper and live long in the land that the Lord your God gives you for ever.’

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Matthew 16:24-28

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?

‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour. I tell you solemnly, there are some of these standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom.’

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“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

‘Privilege’ has become a bit of a dirty word lately. It’s considered distasteful, crass even and has that whiff of taboo about it. Etymologically, its Latin root ‘privilegium’ means an ordinance or law that favors an individual or group above others. What that doesn’t spell out is that with privilege comes responsibility. Oftentimes, people who are privileged are loathed by others because they fail to exercise the responsibility and mindfulness that ought to accompany their higher station. “Much will be required of the one who has been given much, and more will be asked of the one entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48). But that’s not how things typically play out.

The idea that God singled out Israel as His most preferred nation has rubbed people the wrong way since the days of Moses. Moses tried to explain this to the Hebrews, that privilege and responsibilty had to go hand in hand. Much would be expected of them – “you must keep his statues and commandments…”. When it came to Jesus, this special disposition was offered to anyone who would answer God’s call; ‘salvation by faith’ for God’s new people. The privilege of faith still came with responsibilities though. Jesus commanded us to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Why? Because ‘resentment’ against God’s people is still prevalent today. No one likes the privileged. So bad behavior of any sort affects our Christian witness and hurts the credibility of our faith. God is the one who gets a bad rap when we, as Christians, abuse the privilege of our faith.

I used to take these things lightly. Everyone was behaving badly, so why not I, was my reasoning. Except that if everyone felt that way, our faith would have a sorry end. Christ tells us that we are to be ‘salt and light’, to pierce the darkness with our goodness. The only way to do so, would be to hold ourselves up to behavior worthy of the blood that has ransomed our lives. Even if we fail, at the very least, we tried. And we ought to keep trying. As children of God, it’s our filial duty to.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for God’s grace to help us live a life that is pleasing to Him.  

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for those who inspire us to be better versions of ourselves, who encourage us when we fail, and give us hope when we’re in despair.  

10 August, Thursday – Radical Ideas

Aug 10 – Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr

Lawrence was a third-century archdeacon of Rome, a distributor of alms, and “keeper of the treasures of the Church” in a time when Christianity was outlawed. On 6 August 258, by decree of Emperor Valerian, Pope St. Sixtus II and six deacons were beheaded, leaving Lawrence as the ranking Church official in Rome.

While in prison awaiting execution, Sixtus reassured Lawrence that he was not being left behind; they would be reunited in four days. Lawrence saw this time as an opportunity to disperse the material wealth of the church before the Roman authorities could lay their hands on it.

On Aug 10, Lawrence was commanded to appear for his execution, and to bring along the treasure with which he had been entrusted by the pope. When he arrived, the archdeacon was accompanied by a multitude of Rome’s crippled, blind, sick, and indigent. He announced that these were the true treasures of the Church. He died a martyr for the faith.

Lawrence’s care for the poor, the ill, and the neglected have led to his patronage of them. His work to save the material wealth of the Church, including the documents, brought librarians and those in related fields to see him as a patron, and to ask for his intercession. And his incredible strength and courage when being grilled to death led to his patronage of cooks and those who work in or supply things to the kitchen. The meteor shower that follows the passage of the Swift-Tuttle comet was known in the middle ages as the “burning tears of St. Lawrence” because they appear at the same time as Lawrence’s feast.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 9:6-10

Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap. Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver. And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works. As scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten.

The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one.

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John 12:24-26

I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.

If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.

If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.

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“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life”

In Matthew 22:21, Jesus tells us to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s”. With Money, it is sometimes difficult to ascertain where the line is drawn between what belongs to God, what belongs to the tax collector and what belongs to us. The more we grab at it, the less of it we seem to have. The higher it is on our list of priorities, the more we find ourselves being corrupted by it. It’s as if a detachment is necessary in order for us to coexist peacefully with Money. That sense of detachment allowed St Lawrence to be a good steward of the Church’s financial wealth. And when push finally came to shove, St Lawrence returned the Church’s financial treasure back to its people in order to safeguard it from the hands of the greedy Romans. Imagine the Vatican giving all of its wealth to the poor in one fell swoop! What a radical idea, even by today’s standards!

Christ once said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24). That’s a universal truth. Money is a difficult thing to square away. Whatever our station in life, we’ve all experienced issues with ownership of it. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that ‘’Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully”. In short, God promises to multiply our abundance if we maintain a detachment to it. That’s hard to do, unless we change our mindset and, like St Lawrence, think of ourselves more as stewards of our wealth, rather than owners of it. Our responsibility is to preserve its value, grow it if we can, and disseminate it to facilitate His purpose, not our own. If we put on the mindset of the steward, that detachment becomes a little easier. If we don’t think of it as our own, who knows, we might become better managers of it as we acquaint ourselves with the concept of fiduciary duty. We might even be happier as we get off that secular steeplechase.

Yes, it’s a radical idea; but then, today is the feastday of a radical saint!

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom, courage and clarity of thought to make good decisions with the wealth and treasure that God has entrusred to us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the blessings that God has accorded to us – both of the material and spiritual kind.

9 August, Wednesday – Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives

Aug 9 – Memorial for St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyr

After witnessing the strength of faith of Catholic friends, Teresa (1891-1942), originally a Jew, became interested in Catholicism and studied a catechism on her own, and she eventually ended up “reading herself into” the Faith.

She became a Carmelite nun, teaching and lecturing at two schools. However, anti-Jewish pressure from the Nazis forced her to resign both positions. She was smuggled out of Germany, and assigned to Holland. When the Nazis invaded Holland, she and her sister Rose, also a convert to Catholicism, were captured and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz where they died in the ovens like so many others.

–  Patron Saint Index

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Numbers 13:1-2, 25-14:1, 26-29, 34-35

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Paran and said, ‘Send out men, one from each tribe, to make a reconnaissance of this land of Canaan which I am giving to the sons of Israel. Send the leader of each tribe.’

At the end of forty days, they came back from their reconnaissance of the land. They sought out Moses, Aaron and the whole community of Israel, in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They made their report to them, and to the whole community, and showed them the produce of the country.

They told them this story, ‘We went into the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey; this is its produce. At the same time, its inhabitants are a powerful people; the towns are fortified and very big; yes, and we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekite holds the Negeb area, the Hittite, Amorite and Jebusite the highlands, and the Canaanite the sea coast and the banks of the Jordan.’

Caleb harangued the people gathered about Moses: ‘We must march in,’ he said ‘and conquer this land: we are well able to do it.’ But the men who had gone up with him answered, ‘We are not able to march against this people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they began to disparage the country they had reconnoitred to the sons of Israel, ‘The country we went to reconnoitre is a country that devours its inhabitants. Every man we saw there was of enormous size. Yes, and we saw giants there (the sons of Anak, descendants of the Giants). We felt like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’

At this, the whole community raised their voices and cried aloud, and the people wailed all that night.

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron. He said:

‘I have heard the complaints which the sons of Israel make against me. Say to them, “As I live – it is the Lord who speaks – I will deal with you according to the very words you have used in my hearing. In this wilderness your dead bodies will fall, all you men of the census, all you who were numbered from the age of twenty years and over, you who have complained against me. For forty days you reconnoitred the land. Each day shall count for a year: for forty years you shall bear the burden of your sins, and you shall learn what it means to reject me.” I, the Lord, have spoken: this is how I will deal with this perverse community that has conspired against me. Here in this wilderness, to the last man, they shall die.’

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Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

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“O woman, great is your faith!”

In the Book of Sirach, there is a beautiful set of verses about fidelity – “…for as gold is tested in the fire, so those acceptable to God are tested in the crucible of humiliation. Have confidence in Him and He will take care of you; follow the right path and hope in Him” (Sirach 2:5-6). The first time I read it, I was on a train into HK, frantic and very late for an important job interview. There was no time and nowhere to change into a business suit; I ended up doing the interview in my jeans. When I arrived, I signed in, held that verse in my heart and hoped for the best. While waiting for word that evening, I obsessed over all the little details that I had screwed up. The panic I worked myself into was ridiculous! Yet despite my best efforts at self-sabotage, I got the job. And it started a chain of events that would change my life for the better. God had my back the whole time.; my faith just wasn’t strong enough to trust Him completely. I had to indulge in so much doubt and self-loathing even after I got the job, that I spent my first 3 years there in complete misery.

Faith is less about proclamation than it is about action. How we conduct ourselves when we are tested reveals the true measure of our fidelity. That’s true of all our relationships, not just the one we have with God. The Hebrews in today’s reading broke faith with God when they succumbed to their fears and pursued their own agenda instead of trusting in Him. They had more than enough reason to trust in Him – God had led them from captivity through the desert, right to the gates of the Promised Land. This was the last mile. He had proven His holy power time after time. Yet there was still doubt. We may think that we’re acting out of good intentions when our trust in Him wavers. We might even fool ourselves into thinking we’re acting in the best interests of everyone, that our way is the logical way forward. But our conscience always knows, and the fruit of our actions eventually reveals us for the fairweather faithfuls that we are.

The next time we are gripped by doubt, fear and self-loathing, let us pause awhile to check our emotions and examine our hearts. Is God trying to ask something of us? Is He testing our faith? How are we responding? Have we reacted impulsively and broken faith? Or have we stayed true and remained faithful to our hope in Him?

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for faith and the presence of mind to keep calm despite the distress of unexpected life events.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks over and over for His mercy and His forgiveness. While we were bumbling sinners, He reached out to us and saved us from ourselves. For that we are, and will always be, thankful!