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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.

  • Patron Saint Index

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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.

  • Patron Saint Index

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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. 

1 April, Monday – Obedience

1 April 2019

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Isaiah 65:17-21

Thus says the Lord: Now I create new heavens and a new earth, and the past will not be remembered, and will come no more to men’s minds. Be glad and rejoice for ever and ever for what I am creating, because I now create Jerusalem ‘Joy’ and her people ‘Gladness.’ I shall rejoice over Jerusalem and exult in my people. No more will the sound of weeping or the sound of cries be heard in her; in her, no more will be found the infant living a few days only, or the old man not living to the end of his days. To die at the age of a hundred will be dying young; not to live to be a hundred will be the sign of a curse. They will build houses and inhabit them, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

 

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John 4:43-54

Jesus left Samaria for Galilee. He himself had declared that there is no respect for a prophet in his own country, but on his arrival the Galileans received him well, having seen all that he had done at Jerusalem during the festival which they too had attended.

He went again to Cana in Galilee, where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a court official there whose son was ill at Capernaum and, hearing that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judaea, he went and asked him to come and cure his son as he was at the point of death. Jesus said, ‘So you will not believe unless you see signs and portents!’ ‘Sir,’ answered the official ‘come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go home,’ said Jesus ‘your son will live.’ The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way; and while he was still on the journey back his servants met him with the news that his boy was alive. He asked them when the boy had begun to recover. ‘The fever left him yesterday’ they said ‘at the seventh hour.’ The father realised that this was exactly the time when Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’; and he and all his household believed.

This was the second sign given by Jesus, on his return from Judaea to Galilee.

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The man believed what Jesus had said and started on his way

What is the opposite of believe?

Recently, someone shared with me a video (https://youtu.be/rY0MIEsvOes) where Steve Ray, an American Catholic convert, talked about what is the opposite of believe. I used to think it was disbelieve, but he shared that it was not so. The opposite of believe is to disobey.

In today’s Gospel, the official believed in Jesus’ word that his ‘son will live.’ Because he believed, he obeyed Jesus’ command to ‘go home.’ In the video, Steve Ray outlines how Abraham really embodies what a father of faith should be. I won’t be repeating what he said because I really believe that the video is a good watch. In summary, he emphasized how God asked Abraham to do things that didn’t make sense, that didn’t give him ‘safety’, that he had to wait for.

The closer we get to God, and the more we listen to Him in our prayers, we discover that God will ask us to do things that would not make sense. The Holy Spirit will inspire us to move out of our comfort zones, and to do things we will normally not do. Just like what he did with the Saints.

I remember watching this movie where Saint Pope John Paul II was elected the Pope. Before his election, another cardinal talked to him to accept the papacy if it was given to him. Saint Augustine said, ‘O Lord, help me to be pure, but not yet.’ Jonah went out of his way to run away from the Lord. I think these demonstrate that God asks us to obey him because we trust him, even if we cannot fathom his plan.

In our uncertainty, this is where we could prove that we believe in Him, that we trust His promises to us, and most importantly, we trust that He loves us so much. Perhaps, even though it’s painful, we should think of these instances as gifts. Without these gifts, how can we really tell our Lord that we believe Him?

God asks us to take a leap of faith towards Him. Are we going to obey and jump?

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, at times, you ask me to do what I think I am unable to do. It’s so difficult when you ask me to trust you. Please give me the grace to obey where you are calling me to, so I can show you my faith in you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for your gifts of challenges in my life. I have nothing much to offer you but my faith and obedience in you. So I thank you for giving me what I can offer to you.

31 March, Sunday – As and When What Is Needed

31 March 2019

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Joshua 5:9-12

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.’
The Israelites pitched their camp at Gilgal and kept the Passover there on the fourteenth day of the month, at evening in the plain of Jericho. On the morrow of the Passover they tasted the produce of that country, unleavened bread and roasted ears of corn, that same day. From that time, from their first eating of the produce of that country, the manna stopped falling. And having manna no longer, the Israelites fed from that year onwards on what the land of Canaan yielded.

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2 Corinthians 5:17-21

For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

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

‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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From their first eating of the produce of that country, the manna stopped falling

When I was young, I remember learning to ride a bicycle and starting off riding it with training wheels. These are the two smaller wheels placed on each side of the back wheel to allow the rider to continue riding even if they couldn’t balance. Soon, I remember that one of those training wheels was removed, and I had to learn to balance on one. Eventually, the other training wheel was removed as well, and I could then bike on my own.

In our lives, God promised us the graces we need, and God also allows us to have the thorns in our sides as we need – all for our journey towards him. When we no longer need those, God then replaces those with what we will need for the next phase of our lives.

In my life, I have experienced being friends with someone who I needed right at that point of my life. One night, I was so convinced I needed to quit my job, I chanced upon a friend waiting for the same bus I was supposed to take. She wisely advised me to look at my troubles from a different viewpoint, and lift them up in prayer. I am still in the job that I was supposed to quit. But we never got closer. I think it’s because God needed her mainly to counsel me.

There was also a time when I was deeply troubled by my broken family. I know that God is now taking me through a journey of learning to trust Him, learning to make peace with my past. I used to be very impatient with God not instantly changing me for the better until I understood that time is needed for me to grow. I know, one day, maybe not soon, but when I am prepared, I will be able to embrace even my troubled past.

The graces and the thorns God gives us are to prepare us for the next stage in our lives. And when we reach where we are supposed to be at that moment, when we have grown as how we should have, God allows these graces and thorns to be replaced by what we will need at that moment. Some of us, however, cling on to what was familiar.

We should learn to let go and move forward with God, even though we go through the pain of losing our manna. After all, when Jesus sent his disciples, he commanded them to bring nothing — they were to depend on God’s providence.

I am reminded of a quote which was an answer to the riddle on what one can say that will make a sad man happy, and a happy man sad. The response was, ‘This, too, will pass.’

This, too, will pass. And God will give us what we need for that particular time.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear God, help me to let go and to let you. Help me allow you to lead me, and always give me the grace to trust you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for giving me just what I need for this particular point of my life. 

1 December, Satursday – Putting in Effort

1 December

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Apocalypse 22:1-7

The angel showed me, John, the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street. On either side of the river were the trees of life, which bear twelve crops of fruit in a year, one in each month, and the leaves of which are the cure for the pagans.

The ban will be lifted. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in its place in the city; his servants will worship him, they will see him face to face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever.

The angel said to me, ‘All that you have written is sure and will come true: the Lord God who gives the spirit to the prophets has sent his angel to reveal to his servants what is soon to take place. Very soon now, I shall be with you again.’ Happy are those who treasure the prophetic message of this book.

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Luke 21:34-36

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living man on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.’

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Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with dabauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life.

Some of us don’t really enjoy having a nagging mother, or mother-in-law. Well, many of us basically just don’t want to be nagged, or maybe even reminded of what we should do. I realize that really, many of us need someone to nag at us.

Think about it. Very few of us can draw a straight line without the use of a ruler. And even if some of us could, I doubt many could draw a long straight line. It seems as if it is in our nature to swerve, or to veer away from what is straight. I really believe that nagging is our mother’s way of making sure that we always keep to the straight line. Because if we don’t watch out, or if somebody doesn’t watch out for us, very soon we will be off the right path.

Unfortunately, this need for someone to constantly remind us does not go away even in our adulthood. True, we may have better control of ourselves and there are many things we would do right even if there is no one reminding us, but there are still some things we need to be reminded of. And if there is no one to remind us, we need to ask God to give us the grace to watch ourselves.

I’ve heard of how in some religious groups, they cover some unsightly images in newspapers just to protect chastity. This is what they would call not putting themselves in situations where they can be tempted. Because it’s really better to be safe than sorry.

I pray that we all have the humility to accept the fact that no matter how close we are to God, or how faithful we are with our prayers, we are always susceptible to committing sins. Let us continue to ask God, and our guardian angels to nag at us, to remind us to follow a straight line. Even the Saints knew how much of a sinner they were, and how much they were in need of God’s grace not to give in to temptation. So they watched out for themselves, because they knew they could fall any time.

Let’s put in as much effort as we can.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please give us the grace to flee from occasions of sin. Please feel free to always nag at us, even if we sometimes don’t like it.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for making sure we are surrounded with opportunities to refresh ourselves in our battle against sin and to be always reminded of the good we must do.

29 November, Thursday – Faithful Always

29 November

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Apocalypse 18:1-2,21-23,19:1-3,9

I, John, saw an angel come down from heaven, with great authority given to him; the earth was lit up with his glory. At the top of his voice he shouted, ‘Babylon has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen, and has become the haunt of devils and a lodging for every foul spirit and dirty, loathsome bird. Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, ‘That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.

Never again in you, Babylon,
will be heard the song of harpists and minstrels,
the music of flute and trumpet;
never again will craftsmen of every skill be found
or the sound of the mill be heard;
never again will shine the light of the lamp,
never again will be heard
the voices of bridegroom and bride.
Your traders were the princes of the earth,
all the nations were under your spell.

After this I seemed to hear the great sound of a huge crowd in heaven, singing, ‘Alleluia! Victory and glory and power to our God! He judges fairly, he punishes justly, and he has condemned the famous prostitute who corrupted the earth with her fornication; he has avenged his servants that she killed.’ They sang again, ‘Alleluia! The smoke of her will go up for ever and ever.’ The angel said, ‘Write this: Happy are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb’, and he added, ‘All the things you have written are true messages from God.’

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Luke 21:20-28

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you must realise that she will soon be laid desolate. Then those in Judaea must escape to the mountains, those inside the city must leave it, and those in country districts must not take refuge in it. For this is the time of vengeance when all that scripture says must be fulfilled. Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come!

They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive to every pagan country; and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the pagans until the age of the pagans is completely over.

‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.’

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He is faithful from age to age.

This is one of the verses that gives me so much comfort during my morning prayer. With one phrase, I am reminded of how God has been so good and loving to me ever since I was young.

Around July this year, I started going for counselling in the hope of unloading myself of the baggages I had since I was a child. You see, I didn’t realize how affected I was after my parents separated when I was seven. The counsellor told me that I was traumatized and I didn’t even know it. During those times, all I could see was how sad it had been for me.

I was blessed that my counsellor was also a Catholic. God was always included in our discussions. She helped me rediscover how God has been so faithful to me even through the brokenness of my childhood. I shared with her how one day, while I was on my bed staring at the ceiling, a beautiful thought crossed my mind. Though many people will abandon me, God will always stay by my side. I think I was 10 then. That one thought really helped me through the many emotional moments in my life.

Recently, I have been fighting a lot with God, too. I guess it’s because I am not getting everything I want, so I just allowed myself to be like a kid and throw tantrums to God. Anyway, at the end of the conversations I have with God, I always felt myself telling God that no matter how frustrated I am with His timing and plans, ‘…where else can I go? You have the message of eternal life.’

I have this confidence in God that he can take my anger and frustration, and I can vent as much as I want to him, because he is always faithful. He will always be beside me, and if I go away, he will always be the father waiting for his prodigal daughter to come back.

We are all in different stages of our lives, but let us always remember that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us less, to make God less faithful to us.

“We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful, for he cannot disown his own self.”

– 2 Timothy 2:13

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, please give us the grace we need to be always faithful to you, to always run to you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for your love and patience. And for always being there for us.