Tag Archives: stephanie villa

8 February, Saturday – The discipline of rest

8 Feb – Memorial for St. Jerome Emiliani; Memorial for St. Josephine Bakhita, virgin

Jerome (1481–1537) was born wealthy, the son of Angelo and Eleanor Mauroceni Emiliani. His father died when Jerome was a teenager, and he ran away from home at age 15. After a dissolute youth, he became a soldier in Venice in 1506. He commanded the League of Cambrai forces at the fortress of Castelnuovo near Trevso. He was captured by Venetian forces on Aug 27, 1511, and was chained in a dungeon. Here, he prayed to Our Lady for help and was miraculously freed by an apparition. He hung his chains on a church wall as an offering. He became Mayor of Treviso while studying for the priesthood, and was ordained in the spotted-fever plague year of 1518.

He cared for the sick, and housed orphans in his own home. At night he roamed the streets, burying those who had collapsed and died unattended. He contracted the fever himself, but survived. He founded six orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes, and a hospital.

He founded the Order of Somaschi (Company of Servants of the Poor, or Samascan Fathers) in 1532. It is a congregation of clerks regular vowed to the care of orphans, and named after the town of Somasca where they started, and where they founded a seminary. The society was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 and it continues its work today in a dozen countries. Jerome is believed to have developed the question-and-answer catechism technique for teaching children religion.

In 1928, Pope Pius XI declared him the patron saint of orphans and abandoned children.

  • Patron Saint Index

Josephine (1868–1947) was born to a wealthy Sudanese family. At age 9, she was kidnapped by slave-traders who gave her the name Bakhita. She was sold and resold in the markets at El Obeid and Khartoum, finally purchased in 1883 by Callisto Legnani, an Italian consul who planned to free her. She accompanied Legnani to Italy in 1885, and worked for the family of Augusto Michieli as nanny. She was treated well in Italy and grew to love the country. She joined the Church as an adult convert on Jan 9, 1890, taking the name Josephine as a symbol of her new life.

She entered the Institute of Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice, Italy, in 1893, taking her vows on Dec 8, 1896 in Verona, and served as a Canossian Sister for the next 50 years. Her gentle presence, her warm, amiable voice, and her willingness to help with any menial task were a comfort to the poor and suffering people who came to the door of the Institute. After a biography of her was published in 1930, she became a noted and sought-after speaker, raising funds to support missions.

She was canonized on Oct 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II, and is thought to be the only saint originally from Sudan.

  • Patron Saint Index

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1 Kings 3:4-13

King Solomon went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, since that was the greatest of the high places – Solomon offered a thousand holocausts on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared in a dream to Solomon during the night. God said, ‘Ask what you would like me to give you.’ Solomon replied, ‘You showed great kindness to your servant David, my father, when he lived his life before you in faithfulness and justice and integrity of heart; you have continued this great kindness to him by allowing a son of his to sit on his throne today. Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in succession to David my father. But I am a very young man, unskilled in leadership. Your servant finds himself in the midst of this people of yours that you have chosen, a people so many its number cannot be counted or reckoned. Give your servant a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil, for who could govern this people of yours that is so great?’ It pleased the Lord that Solomon should have asked for this. ‘Since you have asked for this’ the Lord said ‘and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgement for yourself, here and now I do what you ask. I give you a heart wise and shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you. What you have not asked I shall give you too: such riches and glory as no other king ever had.’

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Mark 6:30-34

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

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‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.’ For there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat.

In Asia, the concept of 24/7 is very pervasive. We want 24/7 customer support, we want stores from where we can buy anything round the clock. When I went to Europe, the siestas frustrated me. When I went to America and Australia, the stores closing at 6pm (6pm!) drove me nuts. When I went to some place in Japan, not being able to call a cab at 10pm was a culture shock for me. So the busyness in Singapore has really pervaded my life. I honestly experience withdrawal symptoms if I suddenly have nothing to do.

And because of this, I have forgotten that I need rest. I feel guilty if I am not doing anything. Eventually, I realized that I had applied the same attitude to my ministry and my spiritual life. And even my ‘rest’ days have become days where I busy myself with other things (like touring, watching a movie). The things that I do have become a list of to-do’s.

I think there are many reasons why we choose to busy ourselves instead of taking time to rest. For me, I feel that if I were to rest, nothing would happen. I forget that after I have planted a seed and watered it for the day, I should just rest and leave it be. Or if I were to rest, I am wasting the talent that God has given to me when I could be accomplishing more for God.

For some people, they don’t truly rest because they are not comfortable being alone with themselves and God. I remember a fellow catechist who asked our youths if they were afraid to rest in God because God will reveal to them who they really are.

We should remember that it was Jesus who asked his disciples to rest after their mission. There’s work and there’s rest. Both have to be enjoyed. I was also told that it is our duty to rest.

One of my favorite saints, St Josemaria Escriva writes about rest — “I have always seen rest as time set aside from daily tasks, never as days of idleness. Rest means recuperation: to gain strength, form ideals and make plans. In other words it means a change of occupation, so that you can come back later with a new impetus to your daily job.” (The Furrow, 514)

Imagine how busy the apostles must be to have missed their meals at the time when there were no e-mails, handphones, etc. They deserved the rest Christ was inviting them to.

Perhaps, we should look at our schedule. Are we really too busy to rest?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, you taught us that there is a time for everything, even for rest. Teach us how to really rest.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for showing us that rest is as important as work.   

7 February, Friday – Source of Success

7 February

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Ecc 47:2-13

As the fat is set apart from the communion sacrifice,
so David was chosen out of all the sons of Israel.
He played with lions as though with kids,
and with bears as though with lambs of the flock.
While still a boy, did he not slay the giant,
and relieve the people of their shame,
by putting out a hand to sling a stone
 which brought down the arrogance of Goliath?
For he called on the Lord Most High,
who gave strength to his right arm
to put a mighty warrior to death,
and lift up the horn of his people.
Hence they gave him credit for ten thousand,
and praised him while they blessed the Lord,
by offering him a crown of glory;
 for he massacred enemies on every side,
he annihilated his foes the Philistines,
and crushed their horn to this very day.
In all his activities he gave thanks
to the Holy One, the Most High, in words of glory;
he put all his heart into his songs
out of love for his Maker.
He placed harps before the altar
to make the singing sweeter with their music;
he gave the feasts their splendour,
the festivals their solemn pomp,
causing the Lord’s holy name to be praised
and the sanctuary to resound from dawn.
The Lord took away his sins,
 and exalted his horn for ever;
he gave him a royal covenant,
 and a glorious throne in Israel.
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Mark 6:14-29
King Herod had heard about Jesus, since by now his name was well known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.’ Others said, ‘He is Elijah’; others again, ‘He is a prophet, like the prophets we used to have.’ But when Herod heard this he said, ‘It is John whose head I cut off; he has risen from the dead.’
Now it was this same Herod who had sent to have John arrested, and had him chained up in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife whom he had married. For John had told Herod, ‘It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife.’ As for Herodias, she was furious with him and wanted to kill him; but she was not able to, because Herod was afraid of John, knowing him to be a good and holy man, and gave him his protection. When he had heard him speak he was greatly perplexed, and yet he liked to listen to him.
An opportunity came on Herod’s birthday when he gave a banquet for the nobles of his court, for his army officers and for the leading figures in Galilee. When the daughter of this same Herodias came in and danced, she delighted Herod and his guests; so the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me anything you like and I will give it you.’ And he swore her an oath, ‘I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What shall I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the Baptist.’ The girl hurried straight back to the king and made her request, ‘I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head, here and now, on a dish.’ The king was deeply distressed but, thinking of the oaths he had sworn and of his guests, he was reluctant to break his word to her. So the king at once sent one of the bodyguard with orders to bring John’s head. The man went off and beheaded him in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
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For he called on the Lord Most High, who gave strength to his right arm to put a mighty warrior to death.

How aware are we of God’s contribution to the successes we have achieved in our lives?

I must admit that at times, I forget. Or I don’t think about it often enough, that it equals not even acknowledging that every thing I have achieved in my life was only possible because God made it so. Of course, I have put in all the work, but it still amazes me how it slips out of my awareness that I was only successful ultimately because of God. In the end, there is really not a lot I can control.

I think that’s why God made it sure that in pivotal moments of my life I knew it was Him. I had to literally pray my way to success. This makes it easier for me to be aware that His hand was orchestrating everything. Yet, even with these, I still forget sometimes. So what more for all those ‘little’ success miracles that God is making in our lives? It just flies by the radar.

So more than reading about something, perhaps we should take this time to spend ten minutes to talk to God about the successes He has orchestrated in our lives. Let’s list down all we can think of. Let’s list down the big, and the small ones. Let’s look back and ask the Holy Spirit to surprise us and point to us where God was in those moments of our lives.

I would like to share with you a quote which has helped me a lot in becoming aware of God’s hand in my success (dual meaning intended) — “Those who leave everything in God’s hand will eventually see God’s hand in everything.”

Everything, from our tiniest successes to our milestone moments happens because of God.

I would like to invite you to reflect on how much faith do we really put in our prayers for the success of our endeavors? Or maybe even before that, for us to reflect on what it means to have faith in this area? Or even be clear about what constitutes success because many times (and I am very much guilty of this as well), we define success as if we got what we prayed for. So when we say we have faith that things will be successful when we pray, are we really saying that the success will be when we get what we prayed for?

Maybe if we rethink success as that which God wanted to happen, then maybe our faith will take on a different dimension.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, without you, there is nothing I can do. Without you, I am completely helpless. Please help me be aware of my need for you and that whatever I do, I need to have faith that it will succeed.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for being so generous to me. 

4 December, Wednesday – Aware of Our Needs

Dec 4 – Memorial for St. John Damascene, priest, doctor of the Church

John was born in Damascus about 675. After holding public office for a time, he withdrew to the monastery of Sabas near Jerusalem. He wrote The Fount of Wisdom, in which he presented a comprehensive teaching on Christian doctrine, which had great influence on later theology. He died about 750.

  • the Weekday Missal
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Isaiah 25:6-10
On this mountain,
the Lord of hosts will prepare for all peoples
a banquet of rich food.
On this mountain he will remove
the mourning veil covering all peoples,
and the shroud enwrapping all nations,
he will destroy Death for ever.
The Lord will wipe away
the tears from every cheek;
he will take away his people’s shame
everywhere on earth,
for the Lord has said so.
That day, it will be said: See, this is our God
in whom we hoped for salvation;
the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.
We exult and we rejoice
that he has saved us.
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Matthew 15:29-37
Jesus reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and he went up into the hills. He sat there, and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others; these they put down at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel.
But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this deserted place to feed such a crowd?’ Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said ‘and a few small fish.’ Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks and broke them and handed them to the disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.
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I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way

The people spent a lot of time with Jesus and Jesus worried that they would collapse from hunger if they were sent home. So he asked the disciples to provide food for those who sought him.

I’m not sure if anyone asked Jesus for food. If I were there, I may have been so embarrassed to ask for food since I followed Jesus out of my own will, even if he did not promise a buffet lunch. I would also think that there are so many others who would probably need more food than me, so I’ll just walk home and try to take care of myself.

But Jesus noticed the needs of all those who attended. Jesus noticed that they were hungry and that they needed food. Isn’t that amazing? Even before they asked, Jesus had already offered it.

I experienced this myself just this year. I had to go through something major in my life and Jesus knew that I would need friends. Out of the blue, one of my friends messaged me and had a good conversation with me. She mentioned that this was after her prayer. A few weeks later, another friend felt that she needed to give me a call about the same issue. She was calling from overseas and she also felt led by the Holy Spirit to talk to me. At that time, I didn’t even know how much I needed them to be around, but Jesus had anticipated what I would need, and provided even before I asked.

When we are emotionally attached to something we feel that those are exactly what we need. Through this experience, I learnt that what I have right now is exactly what I need. Because God provided even before I asked.

It really takes faith to stand firm, especially in the midst of pain, to believe that God has already given us all we needed at this point of our lives. But if there is anything I would hold on to from today’s reading is that even without asking, Jesus already knows our needs, and that he will provide what we need before we are sent off on this journey.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, help us trust that you have seen everything that has happened and will happen, and that you have already provided for my needs. Help me live the moment you are giving me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, caring for me and for making sure that I am ok.

3 December, Tuesday – It’s Really That Simple…But Difficult

Dec 3 – Feast of St. Francis Xavier, presbyter, religious, missionary (Principal Patron of Foreign Missions)

Francis (1506-1552) was a nobleman from the Basque region. He studied and taught philosophy at the University of Paris, and planned a career as a professor. He was a friend of St. Ignatius of Loyola who convinced him to use his talents to spread the Gospel. He was one of the founding Jesuits, and the first Jesuit missionary.

In Goa, India, while waiting to take the ship, he preached in the street, worked with the sick, and taught children their catechism. He would walk through the streets ringing a bell to call the children to their studies. He was said to have converted the entire city.

He scolded his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death you may be ordered out of paradise.”

He was a tremendously successful missionary for the ten years he was in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing more than 40,000 converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He travelled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East. He had the gift of tongues, and was a miracle worker. He raised people from the dead, calmed storms. He was a prophet and a healer.

Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.

Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.

The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.

That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Luke 10:21-24

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

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private, ‘Happy the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.’

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I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children

Several times in the Bible, it is said that God has revealed his messages to simple people – fishermen, shepherds, children, etc. So what could God’s message be that he chose to reveal it to simple people?

I remember a story about my two cousins back when they were way younger. They were almost of the same age, maybe about five back then. As boys, they would get into fights among themselves and it could get physical. The younger one was just punching the older one and when my brothers managed to break up the fight, they asked why the older one didn’t fight back. His reply was simple, ‘It’s because he’s my younger cousin.’ To him, it was as clear as day. The older one doesn’t hit the younger one.

As we grow older, we see that things are not so straightforward in this world. We get introduced to hidden agendas, people acting to protect themselves, and people not trusting other people. So we measure our responses, ponder over our decisions, and test waters.

But with God, it’s really that simple.

God is love. God loves us. God desires our good. God allows things to happen in our lives so that we could spend eternity with Him in heaven.

But just because it is simple, it doesn’t mean it is easy.

Think of how much resources a company spends over simplification. Think of how much time is spent editing articles to make them simple. Think of how much ad companies are paid just to come up with an ad that is simple. It is difficult to simplify. It is difficult to do what is simple.

There may be different reasons for each one of us why we find it difficult to simplify our lives. In this period of Advent, maybe we could ask God to teach us how to become simple. I truly believe that once we’ve learnt to be simple, we would be able to hear God better.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please help me be comfortable in simplicity. Please show the areas of my life where things can be simplified.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for the gift of children who remind us what it means to be simple.  

2 December, Monday – The Gift of Being Unworthy

2 Dec 

 

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Isaiah 4:2-6

That day, the branch of the Lord
shall be beauty and glory,
and the fruit of the earth
shall be the pride and adornment
of Israel’s survivors.
Those who are left of Zion
and remain of Jerusalem
shall be called holy
and those left in Jerusalem, noted down for survival.

When the Lord has washed away
the filth of the daughter of Zion
and cleansed Jerusalem of the blood shed in her
with the blast of judgement and the blast of destruction,
the Lord will come and rest
on the whole stretch of Mount Zion
and on those who are gathered there,
a cloud by day, and smoke,
and by night the brightness of a flaring fire.
For, over all, the glory of the Lord
will be a canopy and a tent
to give shade by day from the heat,
refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain.

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Matthew 8:5-11

When Jesus went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.’

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Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof

I wonder what was going through the centurion’s mind when he asked Jesus to heal his servant, even though he was not worthy to receive Jesus in his house. He already knew that given his circumstances, Jesus had every reason to decline. What compelled him to make the request? Where did he put his faith in?

We all know that we all have our flaws. We all have those shameful things we’ve thought, those shameful things we’ve felt, and those shameful things we’ve done. And even if externally, we are doing the right things, there are times when our hearts are not in the good things that we do. We do so because of obligation. These things make us feel that we are not worthy of our Lord.

And indeed, we are not.

And this feeling of unworthiness could drive us to despair. After all, why would a good Lord love us? He sees everything in us. If we were given the choice to love ourselves we would even choose not to love ourselves sometimes.

Therein lies the beauty of being unworthy, because we know that the love we receive is really true and unconditional. Our Faith is indeed full of paradoxes. We have to die in order to live. We have to give in order to receive. And I think we have to be conscious of our unworthiness in order to delight in the Lord’s love.

Where did the centurion put his faith in? I think it is in God’s unconditional love. He believed that truly, God desires what is good in our lives. It is irrelevant to God that the servant lived in a pagan house for him to show his love. Likewise, no matter how dark and ugly we are, God still loves us.

I am still learning how to live this – that I am both unworthy and loved.  

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please help me have the courage to ask you and to believe in your love for me.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for making be aware of my unworthiness at the same time you are making me aware of your unconditional love for me.

1 December, Sunday – Being Aware

1 Dec – 1st Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 2:1-5

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In the days to come
the mountain of the Temple of the Lord
shall tower above the mountains
and be lifted higher than the hills.
All the nations will stream to it,
peoples without number will come to it; and they will say:

  ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
  to the Temple of the God of Jacob
  that he may teach us his ways
  so that we may walk in his paths;
  since the Law will go out from Zion,
  and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

He will wield authority over the nations
and adjudicate between many peoples;
these will hammer their swords into ploughshares,
their spears into sickles.
Nation will not lift sword against nation,
there will be no more training for war.

O House of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

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Romans 13:11-14

You know ‘the time’ has come: you must wake up now: our salvation is even nearer than it was when we were converted. The night is almost over, it will be daylight soon – let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: no drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your armour be the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. It will be like this when the Son of Man comes. Then of two men in the fields one is taken, one left; of two women at the millstone grinding, one is taken, one left.

  ‘So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming. You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what time of the night the burglar would come, he would have stayed awake and would not have allowed anyone to break through the wall of his house. Therefore, you too must stand ready because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

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For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark.

Let’s try to picture this. You start noticing that your neighbour has been getting up early, carrying a lot of building tools, and carrying logs over at some place. You hear a lot of hammering and sawing over from where he usually goes to and he usually comes back late at night. Soon, you see a huge boat. People start talking out of curiosity but no one bothered to ask Noah what he has been doing. You know some things out of the ordinary are happening but since it has not been bothering your life, you just continue with your daily routine. When the ark was finished you see Noah and his family gathering animals, and not just the usual animals you see around your village. They are animals that came from the forest, and those that fly and almost all the animals you know.

And you and the other villagers still choose to simply continue on with your lives because you never thought that what Noah had been doing could ever affect you.

When I read this passage, I thought how is it that people could just continue with what they have been doing when something big was happening just under their noses. Weren’t they curious? Didn’t they ask Noah or anyone from his family? If they did and if they found out, could they have become like Nineveh – where after repenting, God decided not to destroy the city?

In our lives, I believe that God has been giving us signs and signals on what is happening. Are we aware of what God has been allowing to happen to our lives in order to direct us or to shape us? Sometimes, there is already a big boat just beside us and we still refuse to stop and ponder what God has been showing in our lives.

So perhaps, during this Advent, we can spend some time in the Adoration Room with Jesus. Maybe in our lives, we have not seen, or we have refused to acknowledge, some of his promptings or signs that he has placed in our lives. Just like how the blind man asked Jesus, let us as him to ‘let (us) see again.’

Let us see again because we may have been blinded by our busyness. Let us see again because we may have been blinded by our hurts. Let us see again because we may have been blinded by our own way of thinking. Let us see again because we may have been blinded by the ‘happiness’ around us. Let us see again so that we can be aware of where we are being led.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, let me see again. During this time of waiting, let me see what you want me to see.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for the boats that you have placed in my life so that I could see where you would want me to be led to.

23 October, Wednesday – Freedom for…

Oct 23 – Memorial for St. John Capistrano, Priest

John (1386–1456) was the son of a former German knight. His father died when John was still young. He studied law at the University of Perugia, and became a lawyer in Naples, Italy. He was the reforming governor of Perugia under King Landislas of Naples. When war broke out between Perugia and Malatesta in 1416, John tried to broker a peace, but instead his opponents ignored the truce, and John became a prisoner of war.

During his imprisonment, he came to the decision to change vocations. He had married just before the war, but his marriage was never consummated and, with his bride’s permission, it was annulled. He became a Franciscan at Perugia on 4 October 1416 and was a fellow student with St. James of the Marshes, and a disciple of St. Bernadine of Siena. He was a noted preacher while still a deacon, beginning his work in 1420.

He was an itinerant priest throughout Italy, Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and Russia, preaching to tens of thousands. He established communities of Franciscan renewal, and was reported to heal by making the Sign of the Cross over a sick person. He wrote extensively, mainly against the heresies of the day.

After the fall of Constantinople, he preached Crusade against the Muslim Turks. At the age of 70, he was commissioned by Pope Callistus II to lead it, and marched off at the head of 70,000 Christian soldiers. He won the great battle of Belgrade in the summer of 1456. He died in the field a few months later, but his army delivered Europe from the Muslims.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 6:12-18

You must not let sin reign in your mortal bodies or command your obedience to bodily passions, you must not let any part of your body turn into an unholy weapon fighting on the side of sin; you should, instead, offer yourselves to God, and consider yourselves dead men brought back to life; you should make every part of your body into a weapon fighting on the side of God; and then sin will no longer dominate your life, since you are living by grace and not by law.

Does the fact that we are living by grace and not by law mean that we are free to sin? Of course not. You know that if you agree to serve and obey a master you become his slaves. You cannot be slaves of sin that leads to death and at the same time slaves of obedience that leads to righteousness. You were once slaves of sin, but thank God you submitted without reservation to the creed you were taught. You may have been freed from the slavery of sin, but only to become ‘slaves’ of righteousness.

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Luke 12:39-48

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘You may be quite sure of this, that if the householder had known at what hour the burglar would come, he would not have let anyone break through the wall of his house. You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’

Peter said, ‘Lord, do you mean this parable for us, or for everyone?’ The Lord replied, ‘What sort of steward, then, is faithful and wise enough for the master to place him over his household to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Happy that servant if his master’s arrival finds him at this employment. I tell you truly, he will place him over everything he owns. But as for the servant who says to himself, “My master is taking his time coming,” and sets about beating the menservants and the maids, and eating and drinking and getting drunk, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know. The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful.

The servant who knows what his master wants, but has not even started to carry out those wishes, will receive very many strokes of the lash. The one who did not know, but deserves to be beaten for what he has done, will receive fewer strokes. When a man has had a great deal given him, a great deal will be demanded of him; when a man has had a great deal given him on trust, even more will be expected of him.’

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You may have been freed from the slavery of sin, but only to become ‘slaves’ of righteousness.

A few years back, I attended a Bible Study on the book of Exodus delivered by Msgr Ambrose Vaz. One of the key phrases that struck me was that the Israelites were freed from Egypt and made free for something.

What am I made free for?

St Pope John Paul II said that “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” In our lives, there are many things that enslave us – our vices, our negative tendencies, our emotions, the activities that fill our days, ministry, past trauma, hurts, pains, relationships, dreams, etc. Sometimes, even prayer, when it’s preventing us from doing what we ought to, enslaves people. And the list goes on.

One of the tips for breaking free from a bad habit is to replace that habit with a good one. Our minds are like a vacuum — if you remove something, it will either fill up with another thing, or cling on to what it was freed from. The same is true with our lives. If we do not do what we were made free for, we will definitely revert back to our old ways. Sometimes, being made free for something causes us anxiety since we may be facing something unfamiliar. It’s all too easy to crave for what we feel is familiar.

One of the things I recently gave up was being active in the ministry. Let me emphasize that I am not asking any of you to leave the ministry but I would encourage you all to discern. You see, I have been active in the ministry for a good 10 years but recently, I have been feeling like I have not been receiving any formation. I was feeling empty. So I left and now, I’m not part of any ministry.

And immediately afterwards, I planned what ministry I should do. I was thinking of creating more Catholic YouTube videos, or writing more in my blog. Then, I realized that I was just filling up my time which God is calling me to dedicate to Him, under His terms. I really feel that this is the time God wants to use to fill me up, and as with all decisions, we’ll know if it’s right if you start seeing fruits. I have never felt truly loved and appreciated until I quit the ministry to work on myself with God. Now that I am no longer contributing to anyone, I could feel how much the people in my Church care about me. I think this is it — God freed me from what I was doing, so I could be free to see and receive the love people are giving me.

When God is freeing us from something, I think we should have that conversation with God as to what He wants us to do. And sometimes, the answer is just to be free to wait on Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Father, help me trust you when you are freeing me from something.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for giving me the freedom to do what you made me for.

 

22 October, Tuesday – Always Prepared

22 Oct 2019

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Romans 5:12, 15, 17-21

Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned; but the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall. If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift. If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall, it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous. Again, as one man’s fall brought condemnation on everyone, so the good act of one man brings everyone life and makes them justified. As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. When law came, it was to multiply the opportunities of failing, but however great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater; and so, just as sin reigned wherever there was death, so grace will reign to bring eternal life thanks to the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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Luke 12:36-38

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks. Happy those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. I tell you solemnly, he will put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them. It may be in the second watch he comes, or in the third, but happy those servants if he finds them ready.’

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See that you are always dressed for action and have your lamps lit

In martial arts, one has to practice a certain move over and over again until one is able to execute it perfectly. Eventually, the movement is committed to what we call ‘muscle memory’. When we need to execute those movements, we execute them instinctively and almost unconsciously.

I’d like to think that we have something similar in our spiritual life. There are actions we can do to prepare ourselves for battle, for our daily struggles – something that when we do over and over again, we could execute them fully with minimal or almost no effort when the time comes. So when God sends us, or when God sends someone to us, we are ready.

How do we dress for action? Firstly, we have to practice saying ‘yes’ to what God wants of us in every moment of our lives. How many times in our day do we get the chance to obey the Ten Commandments? When we do, do we consciously obey them? For example, how many times during the day do we get the chance to stop the spread of gossip once it reaches us? Do we indulge or do we stop? How many chances are we given to tell the truth and what did we do?

Secondly, how often do we spend the time to get to know God’s word? Being dressed for action means knowing what to wear so we are ready to do what we ought to do. If you’re called to be a nurse, you dress as a nurse. If you are called to be a soldier, you dress as a soldier. Knowing God’s words allows us to choose the right dress for the action we are called to do. We do have a ‘generic’ dress (Colosians 3:12) which all of us have to wear.

The second part of the verse talks about having our lamps lit. This is the light of Christ which we use to illuminate our ways in the world. To carry it, we need to have the fuel. This fuel is our regular getting-to-know the heart of God sessions. Reading the bible, reflecting on God’s words, attending formation sessions. This allows us to see things as how God will see things.

And of course, our prayers prepare us for life.

My spiritual director told me that I should have a plan of life. This plan of life is a schedule of my spiritual activities that will allow me to connect with God more. This includes daily prayer, 10-minute reading, and others. Brothers and sisters, perhaps you can try to commit to doing something for God to prepare yourself for the future God wants to bring you to.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, give me the discipline to prepare for what you will call me to.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for giving me all the means to be prepared.

21 October, Monday – Faith in God’s Promise

21 Oct 2019

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Romans 4:20-25

Since God had made him a promise, Abraham refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, convinced that God had power to do what he had promised. This is the faith that was ‘considered as justifying him.’ Scripture however does not refer only to him but to us as well when it says that his faith was thus ‘considered’; our faith too will be ‘considered’ if we believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, Jesus who was put to death for our sins and raised to life to justify us.

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Luke 12:13-21

A man in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Master, tell my brother to give me a share of our inheritance.’ ‘My friend,’ he replied, ‘who appointed me your judge, or the arbitrator of your claims?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.’

Then he told them a parable: ‘There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, “What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.” But God said to him, “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?.” So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’

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Since God had made him a promise, Abraham refused either to deny it or even to doubt it, but drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, convinced that God had power to do what he had promised

Trusting in God’s promise has been one of my struggles ever since I became more serious in my journey of faith. Today, I’ll share with you three of my struggles: maybe they would resonate with you, maybe you have other struggles, too. I hope that in sharing, it will help you see that trusting God can be both easy and difficult at the same time; and just because it is difficult, it doesn’t mean we are not trying to trust God. Perhaps, one of the lessons we need to learn in trusting God is not to be too hard on ourselves.

  • My desire for control of everything – Trusting God means surrendering our control over our lives. This is definitely not that easy. Quoting from the poem Invictus, ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’ We have this desire to be in control of all the aspects of our lives.

If we are to trust God, that means there will be times when we don’t do anything, or when we don’t know what to do. If we are to trust God, that we need to believe that the seed that was planted is growing, and taking root, even if we don’t see it. And during these times, we can’t control anything. And this is scary.

  • My fear of not doing what I ought to do – This is the flipside of my desire for control. Even in fulfilling His promise, God desires our participation. We participate in things God allows us to participate in. However, once I surrender the control to God, I tend to go ‘all or nothing’. It’s almost like telling God, ‘You do everything.’ But I know deep down in my heart that this is not what God wants. This is the balance we need to have, and this is the balance I am learning. I need to do my part, and I need to surrender to God His part.
  • My self-doubt if I really heard God correctly – This is related to the first two. I tend to always ask God if I heard Him correctly. Did He really say what I thought He said? Was it just me or my desire? Did I really discern well? Which part is God’s part and which part is mine? Was I in a state of grace to hear God clearly? Am I missing anything?

It’s not always easy trusting in God’s promise, especially if you have been promised something you desire so much. I would always ask myself if it’s God speaking or my desire dictating. I don’t have any answers nor any suggestions now.

The reason why I shared those three points is to invite you all to have a look at your own circumstances and your own struggles with trusting in God. To understand where you are is the first step to being able to do something about it and to allow God to do something about it.

Let’s continue to work on our faith in God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Father, help us know how to have faith in you.    

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father, for being patient with our struggles in faith.

20 October, Sunday – With the community

20 October 2019

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Exodus 17:8-13

The Amalekites came and attacked Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Pick out men for yourself, and tomorrow morning march out to engage Amalek. I, meanwhile, will stand on the hilltop, the staff of God in my hand.’ Joshua did as Moses told him and marched out to engage Amalek, while Moses and Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. As long as Moses kept his arms raised, Israel had the advantage; when he let his arms fall, the advantage went to Amalek. But Moses’ arms grew heavy, so they took a stone and put it under him and on this he sat, Aaron and Hur supporting his arms, one on one side, one on the other; and his arms remained firm till sunset. With the edge of the sword Joshua cut down Amalek and his people.

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2 Timothy 3:14-4:2

You must keep to what you have been taught and know to be true; remember who your teachers were, and how, ever since you were a child, you have known the holy scriptures – from these you can learn the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy. This is how the man who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work.

Before God and before Christ Jesus who is to be judge of the living and the dead, I put this duty to you, in the name of his Appearing and of his kingdom: proclaim the message and, welcome or unwelcome, insist on it. Refute falsehood, correct error, call to obedience – but do all with patience and with the intention of teaching.

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Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. ‘There was a judge in a certain town’ he said ‘who had neither fear of God nor respect for man. In the same town there was a widow who kept on coming to him and saying, “I want justice from you against my enemy!” For a long time he refused, but at last he said to himself, “Maybe I have neither fear of God nor respect for man, but since she keeps pestering me I must give this widow her just rights, or she will persist in coming and worry me to death.”’

And the Lord said ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now will not God see justice done to his chosen who cry to him day and night even when he delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

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But Moses’ arms grew heavy, so they took a stone and put it under him and on this he sat, Aaron and Hur supporting his arms

In our parish, we have recently started the Neighborhood Christian Communities. There are house visits and gatherings in different households. I’ve never been the ‘community-type’ so I’ve honestly never been to one, but our priest added me to the Whatsapp group so I’ll think I’ll attend the next session.

When asked about what programme is best for Catechism, our parish priest replied that all programmes out there are good, and he wants to focus on building a community between the youths. And during the recent Confirmation Mass, Archbishop William Goh emphasized the need for a community in order to remain in faith (not just grow in faith). He said that if the children leave the faith, that’s because they were not given the community to support the faith.

In today’s reading, God gave Moses the power to ensure the Israelites’ victory – he merely had to raise his arms. Soon, Moses grew tired, and it was through the help of his community members that he was able to fulfill the role he needed to. Without Aaron and Hur, Moses would not have been able to raise his hands until the battle was over.

It is the same in our lives. We need a community in order to do what God has asked us to do. It’s amazing how even though it is our own mission, we need to do it with others. If we reflect about it, we shouldn’t be surprised – God is a trinity, a community, after all.

When we get to heaven, I think we will see all the people who were part of our faith community – those who spent their time with us, those we spent time with, those who inspired us, and those we inspired. We are not going to heaven alone because God wants us to get their with our communities.

Who are the members of your community? Who are your companions in this journey of faith? Let’s ask God to bring us to a community, to make us grow in this community, and to allow us to share our lives in our community.

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord God, please bless the community of believers you have provided me in my life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for not allowing me to be alone in this faith journey.