Tag Archives: stephanie villa

10 July, Wednesday – When Waiting is Something You Do

10 July 2019

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Genesis 41:55-57,42:5-7,17-24

When the whole country of Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for bread. But Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.’ There was famine all over the world. Then Joseph opened all the granaries and sold grain to the Egyptians. The famine grew worse in the land of Egypt. People came to Egypt from all over the world to buy grain from Joseph, for the famine had grown severe throughout the world.

Israel’s sons with others making the same journey went to buy grain, for there was famine in the land of Canaan. It was Joseph, as the man in authority over the country, who sold the grain to all comers. So Joseph’s brothers went and bowed down before him, their faces touching the ground. When Joseph saw his brothers he recognised them. But he did not make himself known to them, and he spoke harshly to them. Then he kept them all in custody for three days.

On the third day Joseph said to them, ‘Do this and you shall keep your lives, for I am a man who fears God. If you are honest men let one of your brothers be kept in the place of your detention; as for you, go and take grain to relieve the famine of your families. You shall bring me your youngest brother; this way your words will be proved true, and you will not have to die!’ This they did. They said to one another, ‘Truly we are being called to account for our brother. We saw his misery of soul when he begged our mercy, but we did not listen to him and now this misery has come home to us.’ Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you did not listen, and now we are brought to account for his blood.’ They did not know that Joseph understood, because there was an interpreter between them. He left them and wept.

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Matthew 10:1-7

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him.

These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: ‘Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’

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Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.

When I read today’s reading, this line struck me as something very similar to what our Lady told the servants during the wedding at Cana. She instructed them to do whatever Jesus told them to do. When this happens, you wait for instructions. This waiting can sometimes be agonizing.

In today’s age, we are not trained to wait. We have instant noodles, instant messaging, we even have hydroponics, which grows plants faster. To us, a few minutes of waiting is like an eternity. Most of us have been wired to be constantly doing something, otherwise, we feel that nothing is happening. I’ve heard of one project leader being offered all the possible resources in order to expedite a project. He had to tell people that nine ladies cannot give birth to one baby in one month. They just had to wait.

Early this January, God showed me that I was waiting in exasperation. I had this ‘I-can’t-do-anything-anymore-so-I’ll-just-wait’ attitude. I really had no other choice but to wait. The reality is I really had no other choice anyway but I realized that that was not the type of waiting God wanted me to do. God wanted me to choose to wait because He told me to wait. He told me that that was what I should be doing.

Waiting is a verb. It is an action word. Just because we don’t ‘see’ any actions doesn’t mean that we are not doing any thing. To wait is also a decision. After all, God has given us a free will and we have the freedom to go off and not wait. Most importantly, to choose to wait is to choose to trust God.

Let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s brothers’ position. They walked to Joseph asking to buy grain. They have probably brought all their riches and were willing to pay a premium price for food. But giving these riches amounts to nothing if it is not what Joseph would have asked them to give, in exchange for the food. So there will be a point in time where they would have to wait, not knowing what Joseph would say.

I think this is similar to how we approach God. We bring a lot of things in his presence to talk to him about our future. And then God tells us to wait on him. I think the difference would be if we could trust that God has the best intentions for us. So even if we wait, we know that it is for the best.

When God tells us to wait, let us choose to wait. The roots grow even if we don’t see them.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please give us the grace to do what you ask us to do, especially if you are asking us to wait.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for your patience in not rushing things in our lives. Your timing is really perfect!

9 July, Tuesday – The Labourers and the Harvest

9 July 2019

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Genesis 32:23-33

Jacob rose, and taking his two wives and his two slave-girls and his eleven children he crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream and sent all his possessions over too. And Jacob was left alone.

And there was one that wrestled with him until daybreak who, seeing that he could not master him, struck him in the socket of his hip, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he wrestled with him. He said, ‘Let me go, for day is breaking.’ But Jacob answered, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ He then asked, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob’, he replied. He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have been strong against God, you shall prevail against men.’ Jacob then made this request, ‘I beg you, tell me your name’, but he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ And he blessed him there.

Jacob named the place Peniel, ‘Because I have seen God face to face,’ he said ‘and I have survived.’ The sun rose as he left Peniel, limping because of his hip. That is the reason why to this day the Israelites do not eat the sciatic nerve which is in the socket of the hip; because he had struck Jacob in the socket of the hip on the sciatic nerve.

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Matthew 9:32-37

A man was brought to Jesus, a dumb demoniac. And when the devil was cast out, the dumb man spoke and the people were amazed. ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel’ they said. But the Pharisees said, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.’

Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.

And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’

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The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.

If I am going to be really honest about what I pray for, I always pray for what I need and want, for my family members and friends, and for anyone else who specifically asked me to pray for them. I don’t really conscientiously pray for labourers to be sent to the harvest field; which is a bit ironic, because being involved in church ministry, I have experienced first-hand what it’s like not to have enough people helping out. This phrase just reminded me of what I should be praying for.

Besides praying for labourers, maybe we should ask God how he wants us to be labourers for him. Even a small bit of help counts. When we had our Confirmation Retreat for the youths, we had parents helping out with cooking meals. It was a big help. Each one of us has been gifted with talents and time which we can use build the church. More importantly, we are all given hearts to love one another – something I feel is more needed for a labourer.

My final point for this reflection is that God asked us to pray for labourers and not for someone to send money. Of course, funds are needed. But then, it just occurred to me to reflect on why God asked us to pray for labourers, and not for more funds. Well, God said that the harvest is rich. We are God’s treasures. We are the precious ones God wants to be gathered. And just imagine how much more can be done if God’s treasures have been gathered!

You pray for labourers to gather the harvest which produces more labourers who are able to gather more harvest and it goes on and on and on. It’s exponential growth!

So let’s pray for labourers. Just a short prayer can do miracles!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please remind me to always pray that there will be labourers to gather the harvest. And I pray for myself, too, so that I can be a happy labourer in your field!

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for the labourers you sent to harvest me. They were so awesome in bringing me to you!

8 July, Monday – God of the Impossible

8 July 2019

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Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he had reached a certain place he passed the night there, since the sun had set. Taking one of the stones to be found at that place, he made it his pillow and lay down where he was. He had a dream: a ladder was there, standing on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and there were angels of God going up it and coming down. And the Lord was there, standing over him, saying, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants shall be like the specks of dust on the ground; you shall spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south, and all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants.

Be sure that I am with you; I will keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this land, for I will not desert you before I have done all that I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Truly, the Lord is in this place and I never knew it!’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than a house of God; this is the gate of heaven!’ Rising early in the morning, Jacob took the stone he had used for his pillow, and set it up as a monument, pouring oil over the top of it. He named the place Bethel, but before that the town was called Luz.

Jacob made this vow, ‘If God goes with me and keeps me safe on this journey I am making, if he gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return home safely to my father, then the Lord shall be my God. This stone I have set up as a monument shall be a house of God.’

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Matthew 9:18-26

While Jesus was speaking, up came one of the officials, who bowed low in front of him and said, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved.’ Jesus rose and, with his disciples, followed him. Then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again.’ Jesus turned round and saw her; and he said to her, ‘Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’ And from that moment the woman was well again.

When Jesus reached the official’s house and saw the flute-players, with the crowd making a commotion he said, ‘Get out of here; the little girl is not dead, she is asleep.’ And they laughed at him. But when the people had been turned out he went inside and took the little girl by the hand; and she stood up. And the news spread all round the countryside.

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My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend and I was complaining that I feel that God is making me go through an Abraham moment – that is, being finally given something that shows the fulfilment of God’s promise to him, and then being asked to offer up it up. Abraham was promised that he would be the father of all nations and that it would happen through his own son, with his lawful wife. Then Isaac came. But then, God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. If I were Abraham, I would be doubting God and his intention. Why would he want me to sacrifice the son who was supposed to be the fulfilment of his promise to me?

My friend then told me that Abraham believed that God could raise people from the dead. Abraham believed that nothing is impossible with God, so he was able to offer Isaac.

Of course, my situation is not a matter of life and death, but having my friend tell me that made me reflect on how gripped with fear I was that the light of my faith is being covered with the darkness of my fears.

Today’s reading reminded me once again that God can raise people from the dead. God can do what I would deem impossible. God can reverse any situation, God can heal whatever is broken, God can restore relationships, God can do anything. And if God is not doing it, it is because He is doing something greater than we can imagine.

I’m not sure when it was no longer instinctive of me to feel that nothing is impossible with God. And I am deeply humbled when people chastise me for complaining more than I am praying. Perhaps, it is because I’ve forgotten that anything is possible with our God, so long as it is for the best thing that could ever happen to us.

Miracles happen. And I pray all of us will have that child-like instinct to strust God, and His love for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please write it in my heart that you are a God of miracles. That nothing is impossible with you. And that you love me beyond all measure and that everything that happens is for my good, even if I do not know it.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for daily miracles, even if I don’t notice them.

7 July, Sunday – Detachment

7 July 2019 – 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

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Isaiah 66:10-14

Rejoice, Jerusalem,
be glad for her, all you who love her!
Rejoice, rejoice for her,

all you who mourned her!

That you may be suckled, filled,
from her consoling breast,
that you may savour with delight

her glorious breasts.

For thus says the Lord:
Now towards her I send flowing
peace, like a river,
and like a stream in spate

the glory of the nations.

At her breast will her nurslings be carried
and fondled in her lap.
Like a son comforted by his mother
will I comfort you.

And by Jerusalem you will be comforted.

At the sight your heart will rejoice,
and your bones flourish like the grass.
To his servants the Lord will reveal his hand.

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Galatians 6:14-18

The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. It does not matter if a person is circumcised or not; what matters is for him to become an altogether new creature. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, who form the Israel of God.

I want no more trouble from anybody after this; the marks on my body are those of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, my brothers. Amen.

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Luke 10:1-12,17-20

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.

‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.

‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’

The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’

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We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.

I must admit that I have been struggling with the concept of detachment for a very long time. It’s the idea that you have to immerse yourself fully in love, dedicate your whole self to the cause God is calling you to, but then at the same time, be ready to give it all up to God when He asks you to. Indeed, our Faith is a paradox!

In the book Mary of Nazareth, the author shared that Mother Mary had to learn to live in Egypt but also have a spirit of detachment – that is, she should be ready to leave should God ask her to. I could only imagine how it would feel trying to make friends with your neighbours, building a house, looking for playmates for Jesus, and all the while, knowing in her heart that they would be leaving the place. Would it have been agonizing?

By nature, we know that we work well when things are certain; that’s why we recognize individuals who are able to operate well in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. Borrowing from the corporate strategies, individuals who are able to function well in this VUCA world are those who do not need 100% certainty in everything – they study what they know, and then they make the best decision possible. After making the decision, they no longer agonize whether they made a mistake initially, they let the results confirm their decision. So what happens if the decision proves wrong? The best VUCA decision-makers I’ve seen seem to display a spirit of detachment. They are comfortable having made the decision knowing that it was the best decision one could do at that point in time. To them, deciding was better than not moving.

There are times that I feel that God gives us a VUCA situation, but there is a difference. God provides certainty. This certainty is that everything that will happen will eventually be for the good. God allows things to happen so that a greater good can come about. Remember? ‘Oh happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam.’ It’s a lot easier to write this than to really live it out.

Perhaps, for us, in this ‘VUCA’ life God is calling us, He just asks us to live well, to follow Him, to love Him. This would be our best decision. And then whatever happens, let our hearts not be troubled. There should be no dust in on our feet, nor in our hearts.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, detachment may be difficult, so give us the grace to trust you and to trust in your good plans for us.   

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for allowing things we do not like in order to bring about greater good.

22 May, Wednesday – Home

May 22 – Memorial for St. Rita of Cascia, Religious

Rita (1386-1457) was the daughter of Antonio and Amata Lotti, a couple known as the Peacemakers of Jesus; they had Rita late in life. From her early youth, Rita visited the Augustinian nuns at Cascia, Italy, and showed interest in a religious life. However, when she was 12, her parents betrothed her to Paolo Mancini, an ill-tempered, abusive individual who worked as town watchman, and who was dragged into the political disputes of the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Disappointed but obedient, Rita married him when she was 18, and was the mother of twin sons. She put up with Paolo’s abuses for 18 years before he was ambushed and stabbed to death. Her sons swore vengeance on the killers of their father, but through the prayers and interventions of Rita, they forgave the offenders.

Upon the deaths of her sons, Rita again felt the call to religious life. However, some of the sisters at the Augustinian monastery were relatives of her husband’s murderers, and she was denied entry for fear of causing dissension. Asking for the intervention of St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, she managed to bring the warring factions together, not completely, but sufficiently that there was peace, and she was admitted to the monastery of St. Mary Magdalen at age 36.

Rita lived 40 years in the convent, spending her time in prayer and charity, and working for peace in the region. She was devoted to the Passion, and in response to a prayer to suffer as Christ, she received a chronic head wound that appeared to have been caused by a crown of thorns, and which bled for 15 years.

She was confined to her bed the last four years of her life, eating little more than the Eucharist, teaching and directing the younger sisters. Near the end, she had a visitor from her home town who asked if she’d like anything. Rita’s only request was a rose from her family’s estate. The visitor went to the home, but it being January, knew there was no hope of finding a flower; there, sprouted on an otherwise bare bush, was a single rose blossom.

Among the other areas, Rita is well known as a patron of desperate, seemingly impossible causes and situations. This is because she has been involved in so many stages of life – wife, mother, widow, and nun, she buried her family, helped bring peace to her city, saw her dreams denied and fulfilled – and never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with Him.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Acts 15:1-6

Some men came down from Judaea and taught the brothers, ‘Unless you have yourselves circumcised in the tradition of Moses you cannot be saved.’ This led to disagreement, and after Paul and Barnabas had had a long argument with these men it was arranged that Paul and Barnabas and others of the church should go up to Jerusalem and discuss the problem with the apostles and elders.

All the members of the church saw them off, and as they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria they told how the pagans had been converted, and this news was received with the greatest satisfaction by the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and by the apostles and elders, and gave an account of all that God had done with them.

But certain members of the Pharisees’ party who had become believers objected, insisting that the pagans should be circumcised and instructed to keep the Law of Moses. The apostles and elders met to look into the matter.

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John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit
he prunes to make it bear even more.
You are pruned already,
by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.
As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself,
but must remain part of the vine,
neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine,
you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him,
bears fruit in plenty;
for cut off from me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers;
these branches are collected and thrown on the fire,
and they are burnt.
If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
you may ask what you will
and you shall get it.
It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit,
and then you will be my disciples.’

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Make your home in me, as I make mine in you

Recently, I have been struggling with the idea of what a ‘home’ really is. I have been in Singapore for almost two decades but I still wish I could go back to the Philippines as my family is there. However, there are some differences between me and my family that makes it difficult for me to consider going back ‘home’. It makes me feel like my home was not there.

So I asked God where my home would be. I was so restless and agitated because I wanted to have a place I could call home. A home is where we know we can find love. A home is where we know we can be safe. A home is somewhere we run to whenever we get tired. A home is somewhere we can find acceptance for who we really are. This is why everyone of us wants to find our home, and that’s why I have been restless.

Then God answered, ‘Your home is not a place but with a person.’

Back then, I thought that it would be with the person God has selected to be my husband. You see, I was reflecting on Ephesians 5 where a wife is called to submit to her husband, and the husband is called to give up his life for his wife. To submit means to submit to the mission the husband is given, so back then, I thought that it was a call for me to make my home in my future husband.

While I was reflecting on this, I realized that my home being with a person is not just with any other person. True, when I get married, my home will be with my husband. But I will have another home. My home will ultimately be with the person of Jesus Christ.

How will that happen? I need to make a decision to want to make a home in Christ. The beautiful thing about our Faith is that God always proposes, he never imposes. He invites us to make our homes in him, but he never forces us to. And whenever he invites us, he also shares what we will receive when we say ‘Yes’ to him. When we decide to make our homes in Christ, he will make a home in us. However, we need to make a decision because God meets us half way.

I know it’s not always easy to make a decision, especially when God is concerned, but I have faith that we could trust God that the home he will provide will be filled with love, security, rest and acceptance.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please give us the grace to decide to make our homes in you. It may take a while to build those homes, so please be patient with us.   

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for your promise of a home.     

21 May, Tuesday – How Do You Explain God’s Peace

May 21 – Saint Christopher Magallanes and his Companions

Cristóbal Magallanes Jara was born in the state of Jalisco in Mexico in 1869. He was ordained priest at the age of 30, and became parish priest of his home town of Totatiche. He took a special interest in the evangelization of the local indigenous Huichol people and founded a mission for them. When government persecution of the Catholic Church began and the seminaries were closed, he opened a small local ‘auxiliary seminary’. He wrote and preached against armed rebellion, but was falsely accused of promoting the Cristero rebellion. He was arrested on 21 May 1927 while on the way to celebrate Mass at a farm. He was executed without a trial, but not before giving his remaining possessions to his executioners and giving them absolution.

With him are celebrated 24 other Mexican martyrs of the early 20th century.

-Universalis

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Acts 14:19-28

Some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium, and turned the people against the apostles. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the town, thinking he was dead. The disciples came crowding round him but, as they did so, he stood up and went back to the town. The next day he and Barnabas went off to Derbe.

Having preached the Good News in that town and made a considerable number of disciples, they went back through Lystra and Iconium to Antioch. They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. ‘We all have to experience many hardships’ they said ‘before we enter the kingdom of God.’ In each of these churches they appointed elders, and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

They passed through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. Then after proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia and from there sailed for Antioch, where they had originally been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.

On their arrival they assembled the church and gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the pagans. They stayed there with the disciples for some time.

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John 14:27-31

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you,
a peace the world cannot give,
this is my gift to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me say: I am going away, and shall return.
If you loved me you would have been glad to know that I am going to the Father,
for the Father is greater than I.
I have told you this now before it happens,
so that when it does happen you may believe.
I shall not talk with you any longer,
because the prince of this world is on his way.
He has no power over me,
but the world must be brought to know
that I love the Father
and that I am doing exactly what the Father told me.’

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A peace the world cannot give

One of the answers that frustrates me even until now, is whenever I ask questions about God, I get the answer synonymous to ‘You just know.’ In fact just yesterday, someone just told me, ‘God is often quite simple. He speaks to us at where we are at and in a way that we will know.’ I felt it didn’t help that much.

But after having been a Catechist for so many years, I find myself answering questions in a similar manner. You just know. You just know because there is peace.

How do you go about explaining peace? To someone who has not had a God experience, maybe they will term it as gut feeling that something good is about to happen. However, when peace is mixed with sadness and grief, how would you explain it? I learned that you can only fully understand it once you experience it. And God was gracious enough to give me several of these peace-in-the-midst-of-sadness experiences.

When I was 16, I was offered the chance to come to Singapore to study. I was literally crying my heart out because I would be leaving my high school friends. Even though I was crying, I felt peace that I needed to come here in Singapore. And indeed, it was such a blessing! While Singapore is a wonderful country, God’s greatest gift to me here was that I got to know him here more deeply. I etched that feeling of peace in the midst of turmoil in my mind.

Now, whenever I am troubled, I go back to those feelings I have, and search for peace amidst the turmoil in my life. It has become a yardstick for me on how God uniquely communicates to me and how God shows me this peace that the world cannot give.

So how do you explain God’s peace? It’s the inner peace you feel despite the turmoil. The same peace you will feel when you are happy. And this is when you are doing God’s will. You’ll just know it. That’s it.

But to fully understand peace, one must have an actual experience of it. So let’s pray to learn to identify and have an experience of this peace in our lives.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, the peace that you promise is the peace the world cannot give. We will not be able to see it unless you reveal it to us. Help us be perceptive to this peace.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, giving us something beyond this world – the peace of heaven.

20 May, Monday – Always There

May 20 – Memorial for St. Bernadine of Siena, Priest

Bernadine (1381-1444) was a Friar Minor, a priest, an itinerant preacher, and a theological writer. His preaching skills were so great, and the conversions so numerous, that he has become associated with all areas of speaking, advertising, public relations, etc.

Bernadine’s charismatic preaching filled the piazze of Italian cities. Thousands of listeners flocked to hear him and to participate in dramatic rituals, which included collective weeping, bonfires of vanities, and exorcisms. He was a renowned peacemaker, in the Franciscan tradition, who tried to calm feuding clans and factions in the turbulent political world of the Renaissance. His preaching visits would often culminate in mass reconciliations, as listeners were persuaded to exchange the bacio di pace, or kiss of peace.

Bernadine was sensitive to the demands of secular life, and tried to negotiate between Christian ethics and a conflicting code of honour that stressed retaining face in a public world. He argued that the catalyst of civil discord in the urban setting was malicious gossip, which led to insults, and, too often, vendetta by aggressive males. His surprising allies in his peacekeeping mission were the women who comprised the majority of his audience.

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Acts 14:5-18

Eventually with the connivance of the authorities a move was made by pagans as well as Jews to make attacks on the apostles and to stone them. When the apostles came to hear of this, they went off for safety to Lycaonia where, in the towns of Lystra and Derbe and in the surrounding country, they preached the Good News.

A man sat there who had never walked in his life, because his feet were crippled from birth; and as he listened to Paul preaching, he managed to catch his eye. Seeing that the man had the faith to be cured, Paul said in a loud voice, ‘Get to your feet – stand up’, and the cripple jumped up and began to walk.

When the crowd saw what Paul had done they shouted in the language of Lycaonia, ‘These people are gods who have come down to us disguised as men.’ They addressed Barnabas as Zeus, and since Paul was the principal speaker they called him Hermes. The priests of Zeus-outside-the-Gate, proposing that all the people should offer sacrifice with them, brought garlanded oxen to the gates. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard what was happening they tore their clothes, and rushed into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, what do you think you are doing? We are only human beings like you. We have come with good news to make you turn from these empty idols to the living God who made heaven and earth and the sea and all that these hold. In the past he allowed each nation to go its own way; but even then he did not leave you without evidence of himself in the good things he does for you: he sends you rain from heaven, he makes your crops grow when they should, he gives you food and makes you happy.’ Even this speech, however, was scarcely enough to stop the crowd offering them sacrifice.

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John 14:21-26

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
will be one who loves me;
and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I shall love him and show myself to him.’

Judas – this was not Judas Iscariot – said to him, ‘Lord, what is all this about? Do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus replied:

‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we shall come to him and make our home with him.
Those who do not love me do not keep my words.
And my word is not my own:
it is the word of the one who sent me.
I have said these things to you while still with you;
but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all I have said to you.’

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Even then he did not leave you without evidence of himself

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how God reveals our vocation to us – his unique call for each one of us, which is the easiest way to sainthood. One of the points that I’ve read is that the call keeps coming back. The call is something that is consistent. That call, however, is not always loud and clear – but its presence is undeniable. It is like air, barely noticeable but it’s there.

This is very assuring. God doesn’t leave us to ourselves even though we are not always with him. I was fortunate enough to have a vivid experience of this during my birthday this year. And it left me crying tears of joy!

During my birthday, God took me on a journey from the day I was born. I have always known that God was always present in my life but I have always pictured him somewhere at a short distance from me, like a parent watching a kid play in the playground. However, he showed me that we was not just watching over me, he was really beside me as I went through the ups and downs of my life. God made sure that I saw him present in the different stages of my life. I would like to share with you God’s account of my birth because I think this is similar to all of us. I would like to invite you all, if I may, to close your eyes and imagine the day you were born and as you are growing up. Imagine God saying this:

I was there when you were born. I waited nine months for this day. I was so happy to hear you cry. I told your guardian angel to take very good care of you. I told her you are so beautiful.

When I saw your first smile, it melted my heart. Your giggles were adorable.

When you first made the sign of the cross, I was so happy. Finally, you were calling me.

When you took your first steps, I was waiting at the end. I hoped you will always walk towards me.

I was there when you were praying. I was there during your first confession.

I was there when you were feeling so sad. I whispered to you, ‘I will never leave you.’ I’m glad you heard me.

Throughout this day, I would like to invite you all to reflect on where God is in your life. I hope you see him literally beside you, and not just someone watching over you. I hope you see him feeling your joys, and pain. I hope you see how happy he is whenever you give him a bit of your attention.

He has given you signs and proof that he is just there for you.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please help me always feel your presence in my life. Do not let me forget that you are beside me, with my guardian angel. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for staying with me, and for being happy that I exist.

19 May, Sunday – We are Renewed

19 May 2019

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Acts 14:21-27

Paul and Barnabas went back through Lystra and Iconium to Antioch. They put fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them to persevere in the faith. ‘We all have to experience many hardships’ they said ‘before we enter the kingdom of God.’ In each of these churches they appointed elders, and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.

They passed through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. Then after proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia and from there sailed for Antioch, where they had originally been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.
On their arrival they assembled the church and gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the pagans.

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Apocalypse 21:1-5
 
I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth; the first heaven and the first earth had disappeared now, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband. Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, ‘You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make his home among them; they shall be his people, and he will be their God; his name is God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.’

Then the One sitting on the throne spoke: ‘Now I am making the whole of creation new.’
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John 13:31-33,34-35
 
When Judas had gone Jesus said:

‘Now has the Son of Man been glorified,
and in him God has been glorified.
If God has been glorified in him,
God will in turn glorify him in himself,
and will glorify him very soon.

‘My little children,
I shall not be with you much longer.
I give you a new commandment:
love one another;
just as I have loved you,
you also must love one another.
By this love you have for one another,
everyone will know that you are my disciples.’
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Now I am making the whole of creation new

One of my favorites quotes is from G.K. Chesterton: “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.”

I think after we’ve walked away from home, we might find that the place has become ‘new’, and discover that it was what we have been looking for all this time.

How is that connected to today’s reflection? Well, thinking of how new the creation would be, I thought of whether ‘new’ means having an overhaul, like the old will no longer be there. Or will it be more of a renewal?

Currently, I am in a journey towards discovering myself – who am I that God made me to be? I was hoping to uncover something different. The more I searched for myself, I realized that I kept on discovering just me – the ‘me’ that I’ve known all along but that was covered with wounds, and sins. It’s like looking for something that has always been in front of your eyes.

It made me then think of how the whole of creation would be made new. Because from the beginning of time, God has made us to be at peace and communion with him, and it was because of original sin that we are suffering from our wounded nature, perhaps God will finally remove the effects of the original sin in us. We become new, but not really new. It’s like finally coming home to the place we were once in.

What does it mean for our lives? I think it will be different for different people. I think some of us who feel that we need to discover ourselves should be delighted that we are discovering ourself – the one who has been with us all along – we don’t have to look too far. Maybe, for those of us who are struggling with sin, we can rest assured that we were created good, and that being in sin is our unnatural state – we don’t have to be so difficult with ourselves.

I think that to all of us who are struggling to find a new self, I believe that the ‘self’ God made us to be is already very good. God never abandoned the old: As St Augustine said “New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” Maybe this is how we are made to be a new creation.

It is indeed a great paradox! Just like our faith.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, You who make everything new, please help me allow you to transform me, so that I will finally find the me that was hidden.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for loving all of me, even if I am yet to be renewed.

3 April, Wednesday – Favourable Time

3 April 2019

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Isaiah 49:8-15

Thus says the Lord:
At the favourable time I will answer you,
on the day of salvation I will help you.
(I have formed you and have appointed you
as covenant of the people.)
I will restore the land
and assign you the estates that lie waste.
I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out’,
to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’

On every roadway they will graze,
and each bare height shall be their pasture.
They will never hunger or thirst,
scorching wind and sun shall never plague them;
for he who pities them will lead them
and guide them to springs of water.
I will make a highway of all the mountains,
and the high roads shall be banked up.

Some are on their way from afar,
others from the north and the west,
others from the land of Sinim.
Shout for joy, you heavens; exult, you earth!
You mountains, break into happy cries!
For the Lord consoles his people
and takes pity on those who are afflicted.

For Zion was saying, ‘The Lord has abandoned me,
the Lord has forgotten me.’
Does a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the son of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.

 

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John 5:17-30

Jesus said to the Jews, ‘My Father goes on working, and so do I.’ But that only made them even more intent on killing him, because, not content with breaking the sabbath, he spoke of God as his own Father, and so made himself God’s equal.

To this accusation Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
the Son can do nothing by himself;
he can do only what he sees the Father doing:
and whatever the Father does the Son does too.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything he does himself,
and he will show him even greater things than these,
works that will astonish you.
Thus, as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses;
for the Father judges no one;
he has entrusted all judgement to the Son,
so that all may honour the Son
as they honour the Father.
Whoever refuses honour to the Son
refuses honour to the Father who sent him.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever listens to my words,
and believes in the one who sent me,
has eternal life;
without being brought to judgement
he has passed from death to life.
I tell you most solemnly,
the hour will come – in fact it is here already –
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and all who hear it will live.
For the Father, who is the source of life,
has made the Son the source of life;
and, because he is the Son of Man,
has appointed him supreme judge.
Do not be surprised at this,
for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves
at the sound of his voice:
those who did good will rise again to life;
and those who did evil, to condemnation.
I can do nothing by myself;
I can only judge as I am told to judge,
and my judging is just,
because my aim is to do not my own will,
but the will of him who sent me.’

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At the favourable time I will answer you

When I was a younger, I remember being told that there are situations that I would not be able to understand because I was still young. As children, there are some concepts in the adult world that they didn’t have the capacity to understand (Although I find this debatable because children see things in black and white, and sometimes, adults just complicate things).

The point I would like to make is that God is preparing us to hear His answers to our questions/petitions, etc., because He knows that we may not be ready to do what needs to be done once He gives us the answers to our questions. Perhaps, at that point in time, we would not have been able to understand, or accept His Will.

I could attest to this. My counselor told me that I was traumatized by the events that happened in my childhood. You see, my parents separated when I was seven. I thought I grew up OK. Until recently, I realized that I probably had an avoidant attachment style. I used to think that emotions and connections are not important to me. I was too self-reliant as well. It took more than 23 years from my parents’ separation for me to know about this. Why did God wait 23 years for me to see this?

When I went for counselling, that’s when I realized that to be able to address this, I would need to revisit the wounds from my childhood. And doing it hurt. If God had allowed me to revisit it earlier, I may not have had the emotional strength to survive the ordeal. I was simply incapable of embarking on the journey to healing that God would have wanted me to undertake.

When I look back at all those 23 years, I could see how God prepared me for this moment of revisiting and healing. It helped that I kept a journal, so I encourage you to. There were smaller instances in my life where I had to face my past, and the success in those small things helped me become stronger. God was also building me up spiritually. After all, I needed to be prepared to receive God’s healing love.

At the favourable time, God will answer us. The best thing to do now is to allow God to make us grow, to allow God to prepare us for that moment, and to be patient because only God knows the favourable time.

Recently, I was looking at all my journals from when I was 10. And I felt God telling me, ‘When you look back, everything will make sense.’ I think God is telling each and everyone of us this message.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, I know you know when is the right time for me to get my answers. For now, please prepare me for the day you have anointed.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for making sure that I am ready to receive your answers, for caring so much about me that you are willing to wait for me to grow in order to understand you more. 

2 April, Tuesday – Cure and Sin

2 Apr – Memorial for St. Francis of Paola, hermit

Francis’ (1416-1507) parents were childless for many years, but following prayers for the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi, they had three children; Francis was the oldest. Following a pilgrimage in his teens to Rome and Assisi in Italy, he became a hermit in a cave near Paola.

Before he was 20 years old, he began to attract followers. By the 1450s, the followers had become so numerous that he established a rule for them and sought Church approval. This was the founding of the Hermits of St. Francis of Assisi, who were approved by the Holy See in 1474. In 1492, they were renamed the Franciscan Order of Minim Friars, which means they count themselves the least of the family of God.

Francis was a prophet and a miracle worker. He was reputed to read minds. In 1464, Francis wanted to cross the Straits of Messina to reach Sicily, but a boatman refused to take him. Francis laid his cloak on the water, tied one end to his staff to make a sail, and sailed across with his companions. Franz Liszt wrote a piece of music inspired by the incident.

He was a defender of the poor and oppressed. He gave unwanted counsel and admonitions to King Ferdinand of Naples and his sons. He travelled to Paris at the request of Pope Sixtus IV to help Louis XI prepare for death. He used this position to influence the course of national politics, helping restore peace between France and Brittany by advising a marriage between the ruling families, and between France and Spain by persuading Louis XI to return some disputed land.

In an old tradition that has certain saints opposing on an equivalent demon, Francis is the adversary of Belial since his simple humility cancels the demon’s raging pride.

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Ezekiel 47:1-9,12

The angel brought me to the entrance of the Temple, where a stream came out from under the Temple threshold and flowed eastwards, since the Temple faced east. The water flowed from under the right side of the Temple, south of the altar. He took me out by the north gate and led me right round outside as far as the outer east gate where the water flowed out on the right-hand side. The man went to the east holding his measuring line and measured off a thousand cubits; he then made me wade across the stream; the water reached my ankles. He measured off another thousand and made me wade across the stream again; the water reached my knees. He measured off another thousand and made me wade across again; the water reached my waist. He measured off another thousand; it was now a river which I could not cross; the stream had swollen and was now deep water, a river impossible to cross. He then said, ‘Do you see, son of man?’ He took me further, then brought me back to the bank of the river. When I got back, there were many trees on each bank of the river. He said, ‘This water flows east down to the Arabah and to the sea; and flowing into the sea it makes its waters wholesome. Wherever the river flows, all living creatures teeming in it will live. Fish will be very plentiful, for wherever the water goes it brings health, and life teems wherever the river flows. Along the river, on either bank, will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails; they will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal.’

 

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John 5:1-3,5-16

here was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now at the Sheep Pool in Jerusalem there is a building, called Bethzatha in Hebrew, consisting of five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people – blind, lame, paralysed – waiting for the water to move. One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in this condition for a long time, he said, ‘Do you want to be well again?’ ‘Sir,’ replied the sick man ‘I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets there before me.’ Jesus said, ‘Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk.’ The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and walked away.

Now that day happened to be the sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; you are not allowed to carry your sleeping-mat.’ He replied, ‘But the man who cured me told me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’ They asked, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Pick up your mat and walk”?’ The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled the place. After a while Jesus met him in the Temple and said, ‘Now you are well again, be sure not to sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.’ The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him. It was because he did things like this on the sabbath that the Jews began to persecute Jesus.

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Now you are well again, be sure not to sin any more

Last year, I had to go through counselling go face my childhood issues. I was fortunate enough to have had a counsellor who is a Catholic as well. I am glad to say that besides receiving emotional care, I also received spiritual care. One of our discussions was on how Jesus cured people first before telling them not to sin any more.

Our woundedness causes us to sin. I once read that hurting people hurt people. Our brokenness, our woundedness causes us to settle for temporary happiness, because it is so difficult for us to do what is right in the sight of God.

Consider, for example, someone who enters an illicit relationship. For most people, it is not evil that makes them choose to enter an illicit relationship. Some are really just looking for love, and they are willing to settle for an illicit relationship because of their need for love. Or maybe we can consider someone who is always angry. Perhaps there is a deep feeling of being taken advantage of, or experiencing unfair treatment. His anger stems from the fact that he feels he did not get what he deserved, and he cannot accept one more instance of being at the losing end.

My counsellor explained to me that because of this deep emotional need, some people are unable to do the right thing. She explained to me that that was probably why Jesus healed first, before asking them not to sin any more.

If we are struggling with a certain sin in our lives, perhaps we should examine what help we are asking God to give us. It’s so easy to ask God for the grace to resist the temptation, after all, our falling into temptation is what we often see. We seldom get to see the woundedness that is the root of our sin. Maybe our prayer should be to ask God to show us where we are wounded, and how our wounds are affecting our actions now. Maybe, it will be better to ask God to heal our souls, to put into place the shattered pieces of our heart.

Perhaps, when God is able to finally heal our woundedness, it will be easier for us to sin no more.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, I have been struggling with this particular sin in my life. Please show me my woundedness that fuels this sin. And please cure me from this woundedness. 

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for giving us the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and for continuously allowing us to repent and to come back to your loving arms.