Tag Archives: stephanie villa

16 June, Saturday – Commitment

Jun 16 – Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is a devotional name used to refer to the interior life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her joys and sorrows, her virtues and hidden perfections, and, above all, her virginal love for God the Father, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people.[1]

The Eastern Catholic Churches occasionally utilize the image, devotion, and theology associated with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. However, this is a cause of some controversy, some seeing it as a form of liturgical latinisation. The Roman Catholic view is based on Mariology, as exemplified by Pope John Paul II‘s Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae.[2]

Traditionally, the heart is depicted pierced with seven wounds or swords, in homage to the seven dolors of Mary. Also, roses or another type of flower may be wrapped around the heart.

  • Wikipedia

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1 Kings 19:19-21

Leaving Mount Horeb, Elijah came on Elisha son of Shaphat as he was ploughing behind twelve yoke of oxen, he himself being with the twelfth. Elijah passed near to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you’ he said. Elijah answered, ‘Go, go back; for have I done anything to you?’ Elisha turned away, took the pair of oxen and slaughtered them. He used the plough for cooking the oxen, then gave to his men, who ate. He then rose, and followed Elijah and became his servant.

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Matthew 5:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not break your oath, but must fulfil your oaths to the Lord. But I say this to you: do not swear at all, either by heaven, since that is God’s throne; or by the earth, since that is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, since that is the city of the great king. Do not swear by your own head either, since you cannot turn a single hair white or black. All you need say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no; anything more than this comes from the evil one.’

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All you need to say is “Yes” if you mean yes, “No” if you mean no…

“Yes” and “No” are committal words many of us hesitate to use. While they appear to be on opposite sides, I feel that they actually do the same thing. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else. Saying “no” to something is indirectly saying “yes” to something else. I guess that’s why we sometimes do not make a decision; perhaps it’s because we fear what we may lose.

Saying “yes” to a wedding proposal means saying “yes” to companionship and at the same time, some people see it as saying “no” to certain types of freedom. Saying “no” to a wedding proposal makes it possible for one to continue enjoying the ‘freedom’ one is enjoying at the moment while it says no to the companionship being offered. At the end of the day, I feel that the actual question is really which one is most important for you?

What, who or which one is most important for you? I think that is the essence of commitment. It’s choosing to prioritize someone or something over other things, and choosing the same when it gets tough. Unfortunately, our world now makes us believe that we can have it all. We can’t. We must choose and we must be committed to what we have chosen.

God said we can’t serve two masters. I feel that it’s the same as saying “yes” to one and “no” to another. There is just no compromise. It’s a commitment. It’s never half-way.

I know it’s really difficult to decide. Choosing God might cost us our jobs, our friends, our ‘happiness’, our family, our reputation and many more. Saying “yes” to God is prioritizing him over and above all these and doing it all the time. It’s a tough call and this is what adds value to our ‘yes’es. If our ‘yes’ to God is always easy, will it have any significance at all?

What is God asking you to commit to right now? Pray over it and, when the time to decide arrives, let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, commitment is such a heavy word and yet, you are asking this of me every single time. Help me to make those commitments and especially help me to live up to those commitments.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for making commitment difficult, because only our choice to struggle through the difficulty is what we can offer to you as gifts.

15 June, Friday – Standing In Wait Amidst Storms & Earthquakes

15 June

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1 Kings 19:9,11-16

When Elijah reached Horeb, the mountain of God, he went into the cave and spent the night in it. Then he was told, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord.’ Then the Lord himself went by. There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there came the sound of a gentle breeze. And when Elijah heard this, he covered his face with his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then a voice came to him, which said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He replied, ‘I am filled with jealous zeal for the Lord of Hosts, because the sons of Israel have deserted you, broken down your altars and put your prophets to the sword. I am the only one left and they want to kill me.’

‘Go,’ the Lord said, ‘go back by the same way to the wilderness of Damascus. You are to go and anoint Hazael as king of Aram. You are to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat, of Abel Meholah, as prophet to succeed you.’

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Matthew 5:27-32

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body thrown into hell. And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.

‘It has also been said: Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a writ of dismissal. But I say this to you: everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.’

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There came a mighty wind, so strong it tore the mountains and shattered the rocks…

Often when this reading is read, the fact that the voice of God came in a whisper is highlighted. This time, during my reflection, I was drawn to reflect on the strong winds and the earthquake before the tiny voice. You see, I realized that the Bible stories are sometimes too sanitized. Most of these events were written in a very factual manner, without sharing much about the emotional or psychological challenges the characters when through.

I imagine Elijah standing, waiting for the Lord, because he was told that the Lord would pass by. Instead of meeting the Lord, he was made to face the storms. The Bible account did not say anything, but I would imagine him shivering in the cold and perhaps, he was wondering if he was at the right place. He would probably have been crying out to Lord and asking him where the Lord was. To make matters worse, after the storms came the earthquake. He must have been really shaken!

For me, this is a story I would remember when facing difficulties in life, and I feel deep in my heart, that the Lord is asking me to stand firm and wait. Sometimes, the storms and the earthquakes would pass by before we hear God. We are not the only ones who had to stand in wait and shiver in the cold. Even the prophets did.

I don’t really fully understand why God works in this way, but maybe it is partially to strengthen our faith, partially to help us be more appreciative of His love, and other reasons known only to him. I try to be satisfied, knowing that God will always be there for me, and he will come and meet me when the time is right. Even this is not easy for me.

Elijah stood firm in front of the storm and the earthquake waiting for the Lord. The Lord will surely come.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, the storms and the earthquakes can be scary. Help me stand firm in waiting for you to fulfill your promise.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for the grace you are giving me to stand firm in wait for you and, most importantly, thank you for being our constant God who keeps his promise.    

14 June, Thursday – Enjoying In The Midst Of Drought

14 June

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1 Kings 18:41-46

Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go back, eat and drink; for I hear the sound of rain.’ While Ahab went back to eat and drink, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel and bowed down to the earth, putting his face between his knees. ‘Now go up,’ he told his servant ‘and look out to the sea.’ He went up and looked. ‘There is nothing at all’ he said. ‘Go back seven times’ Elijah said. The seventh time, the servant said, ‘Now there is a cloud, small as a man’s hand, rising from the sea.’ Elijah said, ‘Go and say to Ahab, “Harness the chariot and go down before the rain stops you.”’ And with that the sky grew dark with cloud and storm, and rain fell in torrents. Ahab mounted his chariot and made for Jezreel. The hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and tucking up his cloak he ran in front of Ahab as far as the outskirts of Jezreel.

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Matthew 5:20-26

Jesus said to his disciples, If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.

‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.’

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Go back, eat and drink; for I hear the sound of rain.

If you were Ahab, would you be able to follow Elijah’s suggestion to eat and drink while your country is suffering from drought? I guess not. I would imagine that Ahab would probably have a spread in front of him, and yet he could not eat. How could he, when he didn’t know when the drought would end?

In the midst of our problems, we should be able to hear God telling us to relax, eat and drink, and he will sort it out once we’ve done what we need to do. Instead of enjoying ourselves as God wanted us to do, and leaving him to do what he planned, we would worry about how God would get things done. And if he did, would it be according to our liking?

I would like to share this quote by St John of the Cross. Hopefully, it will help us eat and drink even in the midst of a seemingly unsolvable problem.

“God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness, because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.”

Brothers and sisters, let us pass the baton to God, and let us take rest and eat and drink.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, it is so hard to let you take control and for us to enjoy ourselves. Help us trust that you are working on it. Help us to enjoy our lives because we know we are living in your plan.  

Thanksgiving: Thank you for wanting me to enjoy my life, no matter how difficult and challenging it is. Thank you for taking care of things.

13 June, Wednesday – Are You Really Catholic?

Jun 13 – Memorial for St. Anthony of Padua, priest, religious, doctor

St. Anthony’s (1195-1231) wealthy family wanted him to be a great nobleman, but for the sake of Christ, he became a poor Franciscan. When the remains of St. Berard and his companions, the first Franciscan martyrs, were brought to be buried in his church, Anthony was moved to leave his order, enter the Friars Minor, and go to Morocco to evangelize.

Shipwrecked at Sicily, he joined some other brothers who were going to Portiuncula. One day when a scheduled speaker failed to appear, the brothers pressed him into speaking. He impressed them so much that he was thereafter constantly travelling, evangelizing, preaching, and teaching theology through Italy and France.

A gifted speaker, he attracted crowds everywhere he went, speaking in multiple tongues. Legend says that even the fish loved to listen. He was a wonder worker. As one of the most beloved saints, his images and statues are found everywhere. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1946.

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1 Kings 18:20-39

Ahab called all Israel together and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah stepped out in front of all the people. ‘How long’ he said ‘do you mean to hobble first on one leg then on the other? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.’ But the people never said a word. Elijah then said to them, ‘I, I alone, am left as a prophet of the Lord, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given us; let them choose one for themselves, dismember it and lay it on the wood, but not set fire to it. I in my turn will prepare the other bull, but not set fire to it. You must call on the name of your god, and I shall call on the name of mine; the god who answers with fire, is God indeed.’ The people all answered, ‘Agreed!’ Elijah then said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose one bull and begin, for there are more of you. Call on the name of your god but light no fire.’ They took the bull and prepared it, and from morning to midday they called on the name of Baal. ‘O Baal, answer us!’ they cried, but there was no voice, no answer, as they performed their hobbling dance round the altar they had made. Midday came, and Elijah mocked them. ‘Call louder,’ he said ‘for he is a god: he is preoccupied or he is busy, or he has gone on a journey; perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.’ So they shouted louder and gashed themselves, as their custom was, with swords and spears until the blood flowed down them. Midday passed, and they ranted on until the time the offering is presented; but there was no voice, no answer, no attention given to them.

Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’, and all the people came closer to him. He repaired the altar of the Lord which had been broken down. Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, ‘Israel shall be your name’, and built an altar in the name of the Lord. Round the altar he dug a trench of a size to hold two measures of seed. He then arranged the wood, dismembered the bull, and laid it on the wood. Then he said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the holocaust and on the wood’; this they did. He said, ‘Do it a second time’; they did it a second time. He said, ‘Do it a third time’; they did it a third time. The water flowed round the altar and the trench itself was full of water. At the time when the offering is presented, Elijah the prophet stepped forward. ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel,’ he said ‘let them know today that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, that I have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, the Lord, are God and are winning back their hearts.’

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the holocaust and wood and licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this they fell on their faces. ‘The Lord is God,’ they cried, ‘the Lord is God.’

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Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven; but the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.’

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I have not come to abolish but to complete them.

Every Sunday Mass, we recite the Creed to remind us of what we profess to adhere to as Catholics. The Creed is the summary of everything the Catholic Church was entrusted to teach. I wish I could say that I always reflect on it whenever I say it during Mass but there were times when I would say it mechanically.

Having grown up in a Catholic household, I used to hear the elders talk about how they disagree with the Catholic Church, and I have seen them live their lives in accordance to what would ‘make them happy’, even though their choices are not aligned with the teachings of the Catholic Church. I know how difficult it is to accept and live by every thing the Catholic Church teaches. Honestly, when I found out that weddings could be so expensive, I really thought cohabiting was more practical.

Jesus’s words today remind me that God is constant and never-changing. He did not come to abolish the law, he came to help us understand the law in its fullness. He didn’t come to remove the yoke, but to show us that we can carry our crosses too. We can’t take just part of the law and choose to live against the rest that do not suit us. We can’t take just part of the cross because it will no longer be a cross.

I honestly think that it is difficult to ‘agree’ on everything the Catholic Church teaches, but I hope we can pray for obedience. Even if we don’t understand, even if it hurts to follow the law to completion, and even though it will cost us a lot, let us still obey and be faithful.

Many things happening around the world, such as Ireland voting to decriminalize abortion and many countries allowing same-sex marriage, had Catholics voting for these changes. I think that we, the Church, are partly to blame, for we have not been able to witness and Catechize well. Even so, I pray that many of us Catholics would first obey our Church’s teachings, and then ask God to help us understand his teachings and his laws. It took me about seven years of struggling with the Church’s doctrines and I can say that I am thankful that I was given the grace to hold on and obey.

Let us be Catholics because we obey what God has entrusted to the Catholic Church for us. And if we disagree with some of these teachings, let not our actions show and let us continue to seek to understand the heart of God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, there are many conflicting messages around the world and sometimes, I emphatize and agree with those who feel that the Church’s teachings are outdated. Help me, Lord, to be firm in following you, trusting that you know what you are doing.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for allowing me to know your laws, even if I don’t understand all of them yet. I know they are for my own good.

24 March, Saturday – Understanding Comes Later

24 March

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Ezekiel 37:21-28

The Lord says this: ‘I am going to take the sons of Israel from the nations where they have gone. I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home to their own soil. I shall make them into one nation in my own land and on the mountains of Israel, and one king is to be king of them all; they will no longer form two nations, nor be two separate kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and their filthy practices and all their sins. I shall rescue them from all the betrayals they have been guilty of; I shall cleanse them; they shall be my people and I will be their God. My servant David will reign over them, one shepherd for all; they will follow my observances, respect my laws and practise them. They will live in the land that I gave my servant Jacob, the land in which your ancestors lived. They will live in it, they, their children, their children’s children, for ever. David my servant is to be their prince for ever. I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant with them. I shall resettle them and increase them; I shall settle my sanctuary among them for ever. I shall make my home above them; I will be their God, they shall be my people. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them for ever.’

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John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary and had seen what Jesus did believed in him, but some of them went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. ‘Here is this man working all these signs’ they said ‘and what action are we taking? If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.’ One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said, ‘You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.’ He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation – and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God. From that day they were determined to kill him. So Jesus no longer went about openly among the Jews, but left the district for a town called Ephraim, in the country bordering on the desert, and stayed there with his disciples.

  The Jewish Passover drew near, and many of the country people who had gone up to Jerusalem to purify themselves looked out for Jesus, saying to one another as they stood about in the Temple, ‘What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?’

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He did not speak in his own person, it was as high priest that he made this prophecy.

I recently read a book by Jacques Philippe entitled ‘In the School of the Holy Spirit’. It was an excellent book and it shared how the movements of the Holy Spirit happens. It shared how sometimes, we feel a tugging in our hearts to do something and even if we don’t know it, we do it out of obedience. Sometimes, we will not know if it made a difference, but sometimes, God will give us consolation and let us know that our obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit bore fruit.

I remember when I used to feel suspicious whenever a friend said with conviction that he felt in his heart that the Holy Spirit instructed him to do something. I thought that he might just be overspiritualizing things. After all, I’m not one for doing something when I don’t understand things. I liked to experiment, but I didn’t want to experiment with my life. Also, I would rationalize that I need to be certain that it was indeed the Holy Spirit who was moving me. I would agonize if I was really being moved by the Holy Spirit or if it was just my own will that was moving me.

There are also instances where events happen in our lives and we cannot make sense of why they have to happen. There was this school I was aiming for when I was in the Philippines. It was the top high school and it provided a scholarship with a living allowance; the other high schools did not provide living allowances. I didn’t get it and, two and a half years later, I understood that it was for the best. You see, two and a half years later, I had the opportunity to get a scholarship to Singapore. Had I been enrolled in that top high school, I would have been bonded and I would have had to pay huge sum just to be able to come here.

What I’m trying to say is that even if we don’t fully understand what the Holy Spirit is moving us to do, or the things that are happening in our present lives, we should still move forward if we really feel called to. The understanding will come later. I bet Caiaphas thought he understood what he was saying, but he really didn’t.

If we still have doubts, we should consult with a spiritual director. He will help us see things from a different perspective.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, how difficult it is to move forward when I don’t understand what you want me to do, or when I can’t make out what is happening in my life right now. Please give me the grace to move forward and to trust that everything happens for a reason.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for putting all these reminders and inspirations in my heart. Even if I can’t understand them, they direct me towards your purpose in my life.

23 March, Friday – Sharing Jesus

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.

But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

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John 10:31-42

The Jews fetched stones to stone him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work but for blasphemy: you are only a man and you claim to be God.’ Jesus answered:

‘Is it not written in your Law:
I said, you are gods?
So the Law uses the word gods
of those to whom the word of God was addressed,
and scripture cannot be rejected.
Yet you say to someone the Father has consecrated and sent into the world,
“You are blaspheming,”
because he says, “I am the son of God.”
If I am not doing my Father’s work,
there is no need to believe me;
but if I am doing it,
then even if you refuse to believe in me,
at least believe in the work I do;
then you will know for sure
that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’

They wanted to arrest him then, but he eluded them.

He went back again to the far side of the Jordan to stay in the district where John had once been baptising. Many people who came to him there said, ‘John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true’; and many of them believed in him.

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John gave no signs, but all he said about this man was true.

I was having a conversation with a friend recently, and he told me that he would only convert to Catholicism if he could see a great sign. I thought that I’m just me, a mere mortal, and miracles are out of my capability. I asked myself if it was really the dead-end, if there was no chance of me being able to invite him to see what the Catholic Church had to offer.

Just the other day, another friend was telling me that she knew of a family who converted to Catholicism after a miraculous healing of their child. I knew it was a good story and I also knew that while every conversion is a miracle, not every conversion is made up of a spectacular miracle.

In today’s Gospel, John gave no signs. Instead, he did something very well – that is sharing about the Truth of Jesus so much so that when the people who heard him talk about Jesus saw Jesus, they knew he was the one John was talking about. So while I cannot perform a miracle, I know that my sharing of who Jesus really is will help people in their conversion.

Pope Francis wrote about the Joy of the Gospel. Some of us, at some points in our lives, live like the Gospel is a chain that binds us and makes Catholics unhappy. The reality is, the Gospel can really be demanding and we are not always happy to obey. This paints a very different reality because instead of a chain, the Gospel is a bitter pill that helps us live well. Our lack of joy in our lives does not make us good witnesses to the Gospel. It does not really tell the Truth of who Jesus is. I know that if I want to tell the Truth about Jesus, I should do it with a smile.

Let me end this reflection by sharing something another friend told me. She shared that one of her office colleagues wanted to join the RCIA. She was surprised because it seemed to come out of the blue. When she asked her colleague why she decided to do so, the colleague replied that she noticed that all the Catholics in their office seemed to be exuding joy and peace. They didn’t even do any preaching. They just smiled and stayed happy despite the office stress.

What does your life say about Jesus? What does it say about our Catholic Faith? When people around us finally find Jesus, will they say that we said what is true about him?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, I do not always know how to introduce you to other people except through how I live my life. Someone said that my life might be the only bible other people will read. Help me live my life in a way that introduces you to them well.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, for the many things in my life that make me smile. I know that while this joy is also for me, it is also to witness the love you have for everyone.

22 March, Thursday – Am I A Liar?

22 March

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Genesis 17:3-9

Abram bowed to the ground and God said this to him, ‘Here now is my covenant with you: you shall become the father of a multitude of nations. You shall no longer be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I make you father of a multitude of nations. I will make you most fruitful. I will make you into nations, and your issue shall be kings. I will establish my Covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, a Covenant in perpetuity, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land you are living in, the whole land of Canaan, to own in perpetuity, and I will be your God.’

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John 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
whoever keeps my word
will never see death.’

The Jews said, ‘Now we know for certain that you are possessed. Abraham is dead, and the prophets are dead, and yet you say, “Whoever keeps my word will never know the taste of death.” Are you greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? The prophets are dead too. Who are you claiming to be?’ Jesus answered:

‘If I were to seek my own glory
that would be no glory at all;
my glory is conferred by the Father,
by the one of whom you say, “He is our God”
although you do not know him.
But I know him,
and if I were to say: I do not know him,
I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves.
But I do know him, and I faithfully keep his word.
Your father Abraham rejoiced
to think that he would see my Day;
he saw it and was glad.’

The Jews then said, ‘You are not fifty yet, and you have seen Abraham!’ Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
before Abraham ever was,
I Am.’

At this they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself and left the Temple.

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…and if I were to say: I do not know him, I should be a liar, as you are liars yourselves.

I have been fortunate to have known people who inspire me to live up to the Catholic values. I have a friend who refuses to watch any pirated movie or pirate any songs even though it’s the usual practice. I have another friend who told me that he chose to run the full 2.4 km instead of following the lead of his classmates of just adding one more round to their runs. They knew what was the right thing to do, and did it, even in these ‘simple’ circumstances. They didn’t compromise.

Sometimes, some of us lie about knowing what we should be doing. We feign ignorance, or we justify that since everyone is doing the same thing, that must be right. For example, we know that we should show up on time, but since everyone else is late, we let that dictate what is right. We know that saying something bad about a person and passing it off as a joke is not respectful, but we close our eyes if it gives us a good laugh. We know the right thing to do more times than we would admit but we have come up with reasons why another ‘truth’ is acceptable.

Jesus did not compromise. No matter what people told him, he told them about God and His will for us. He did not waiver just because other people are not ready to hear what they ought to hear. Jesus is Truth, and we are called to witness to the truth.

I am confident to say that most of us would like to live in the truth, although it is not easy to always live in the truth. I’ve had people at work who seem ok with doing something we would consider unethical, just because it is the industry practice. It’s either do what they do or risk losing your job. So what do we do? I found consolation talking to a spiritual director. It was difficult for me to share how I am on the verge of doing what I knew was not right, and he was able to advise me what to do.

How can we live our lives in truth? How can we not be liars in our Faith? It’s not an easy answer. Let us seek God’s help, the guidance of spiritual directors, and always pray for God to give us the strength.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, I know you understand how difficult it is to live in the Truth that you have asked us to. I also know that you have given us help and ensured that we receive the graces that we need. Forgive us every time we ‘lie’ about our Faith, and help us not be discouraged to live in the Truth.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, sending Jesus to show us the Truth, and to show us that the Truth can be lived out no matter how difficult it is. For Jesus died for the Truth.

19 January, Thursday – What Would You Write In a Blank Cheque?

19 January

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1 Samuel 24:3-21

Saul took three thousand men chosen from the whole of Israel and went in search of David and his men east of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds along the route where there was a cave, and went in to cover his feet. Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave; David’s men said to him, Today is the day of which the Lord said to you, “I will deliver your enemy into your power, do what you like with him.”’ David stood up and, unobserved, cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. Afterwards David reproached himself for having cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, ‘The Lord preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord and raising my hand against him, for he is the anointed of the Lord.’ David gave his men strict instructions, forbidding them to attack Saul.

Saul then left the cave and went on his way. After this, David too left the cave and called after Saul, ‘My lord king!’ Saul looked behind him and David bowed to the ground and did homage. Then David said to Saul, ‘Why do you listen to the men who say to you, “David means to harm you”? Why, your own eyes have seen today how the Lord put you in my power in the cave and how I refused to kill you, but spared you. “I will not raise my hand against my lord,” I said “for he is the anointed of the Lord.” O my father, see, look at the border of your cloak in my hand. Since I cut off the border of your cloak, yet did not kill you, you must acknowledge frankly that there is neither malice nor treason in my mind. I have not offended against you, yet you hunt me down to take my life. May the Lord be judge between me and you, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be laid on you. (As the old proverb says: Wickedness goes out from the wicked, and my hand will not be laid on you.) On whose trail has the king of Israel set out? On whose trail are you in hot pursuit? On the trail of a dead dog! On the trail of a single flea! May the Lord be the judge and decide between me and you; may he take up my cause and defend it and give judgement for me, freeing me from your power.’

When David had finished saying these words to Saul, Saul said, ‘Is that your voice, my son David?’ And Saul wept aloud. ‘You are a more upright man than I,’ he said to David ‘for you have repaid me with good while I have repaid you with evil. Today you have crowned your goodness towards me since the Lord had put me in your power yet you did not kill me. When a man comes on his enemy, does he let him go unmolested? May the Lord reward you for the goodness you have shown me today. Now I know you will indeed reign and that the sovereignty in Israel will be secure in your hands.’

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Mark 3:13-19

Jesus went up into the hills and summoned those he wanted. So they came to him and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils. And so he appointed the Twelve: Simon to whom he gave the name Peter, James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom he gave the name Boanerges or ‘Sons of Thunder’; then Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the man who was to betray him.

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I will deliver your enemy into your power, do what you like with him.

Whenever the topic of discernment pops up, the most common question I would hear is ‘How would you know what God wants you to do?’ For me, this is the agonizing part of discernment – to find out exactly what God wanted me to do. It used to make me feel very uneasy and agitated, so I read many books on discernment and attended many talks on discernment.

What I learned is that discernment is needed when you are presented with a choice involving morally good options. If something is morally bad, it’s clear that we are not supposed to do it. If it’s a choice between a morally neutral or a morally good option, then we should ask God to give us the courage to choose the morally good option.

Well, what if it’s a choice between two morally neutral options, or two morally good options? What do we do? That’s why we need discernment. We need to pray for wisdom to choose the best. Remember Solomon? God basically gave him a blank cheque so he could write what he would like to wish for. Obviously, he should not have chosen bad options but you see, riches are not bad if they are used for the welfare of his kingdom. Good health for the king is not bad because he could rule longer and provide security for his country. Solomon made a wise choice and chose wisdom. The Bible made it look like an easy choice but I would like to think that he prayed over his choice for some time.

In today’s reading, I think David was given a similar situation. I would like to think that killing Saul would not have been an act of murder but an act of self-defense. And to defend ourselves is not wrong. So in a way, it sounded to me like God had given David a blank cheque.

I know that God will give us many blank cheques in our lives. I understand how this could sometimes drive faithful Catholics crazy — we would rather have a to-do list than a blank cheque. Whenever God puts a blank cheque in front of me, I would have, after praying for wisdom and courage and as part of my discernment, tell him a disclaimer — I would do what my heart feels is right, trusting that he will tell me if there is a better option. And if God wanted me to make a u-turn, I would gladly do it because it is better to make a u-turn so I could do the better option than to stay in the second-best road. And with that, I proceed to write my choice in the blank cheque.

Did God just give you a blank cheque? I hope you don’t agonize over it. Just pray over it faithfully and trust God with your choice. He will definitely tell you when you have to make a u-turn.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, why do you make choices so ‘complicated’? It would have been easier if you just told me how to do things, step-by-step. I trust that in your wisdom and love, you know that it’s not the best for me, so I’ll trust you more and take a step. I know you’ll lead me — either forward or back.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to live my life to the fullest by giving me options. And I thank you greatly for the wisdom and guidance you give me, and for my Guardian Angel who always guides me as well.

18 January, Thursday – Are You In The Crowd?

18 January

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1 Samuel 18:6-9, 19:1-7

On their way back, as David was returning after killing the Philistine, the women came out to meet King Saul from all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing to the sound of tambourine and lyre and cries of joy; and as they danced the women sang:

‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.’

Saul was very angry; the incident was not to his liking. ‘They have given David the tens of thousands,’ he said ‘but me only the thousands; he has all but the kingship now.’ And Saul turned a jealous eye on David from that day forward.

Saul told Jonathan his son and all his servants of his intention to kill David. Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, held David in great affection; and so Jonathan warned David; ‘My father Saul is looking for a way to kill you,’ he said ‘so be on your guard tomorrow morning; hide away in some secret place. Then I will go out and keep my father company in the fields where you are hiding, and will talk to my father about you; I will find out what the situation is and let you know.’

So Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father; he said, ‘Let not the king sin against his servant David, for he has not sinned against you, and what he has done has been greatly to your advantage. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it yourself and rejoiced; why then sin against innocent blood in killing David without cause?’ Saul was impressed by Jonathan’s words and took an oath, ‘As the Lord lives, I will not kill him.’ Jonathan called David and told him all these things. Then Jonathan brought him to Saul, and David attended on him as before.

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Mark 3:7-12

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lakeside, and great crowds from Galilee followed him. From Judaea, Jerusalem, Idumaea, Transjordania and the region of Tyre and Sidon, great numbers who had heard of all he was doing came to him. And he asked his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, to keep him from being crushed. For he had cured so many that all who were afflicted in any way were crowding forward to touch him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he warned them strongly not to make him known.

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Great crowds from Galilee followed him.

One of the things I lookout for when ‘people watching’ during lunch is when they make the Sign of the Cross. I get so excited whenever I see someone signing himself in prayer before and after the meal. It’s an affirmation for me that I’m not the sole Catholic in the lunchtime crowd.

While I was finishing my lunch one time, a gentleman asked if the space opposite me was free. Before he began his meal, made the Sign of the Cross. That quickly became a conversation starter and we asked each other which Church we attended and a few other things about our Catholic Faith. For me, it wasn’t just finding another Catholic in the crowd; it was about finding someone who is in the crowd of Jesus’ followers. It was finding someone who was comfortable doing Catholic things that would let the world know that he was a Catholic.

The world can be a cruel place when it comes to Christians. We hear of Christians being persecuted in other parts of the world for their faith but what are usually highlighted are persecutions that lead to martyrdom, or to the refugee centers. We also occasionally hear of people being sued for not selling a cake to celebrate same-sex unions. These situations sometimes make us forget that there are little persecutions that happen, too, and they are in our lives. One of those things that used to make me feel persecuted were the stares of people whenever I made the Sign of the Cross. I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm, but it made me feel like I was doing something different, and different is not always seen as good, even if it is tolerated. So sometimes, these persecutions prevent us from doing things that will show we aren’t in the usual crowd, but that we are in the crowd that follows Jesus.

To find another person in Jesus’ crowd in the middle of the crowd gives me strength and encouragement. It is a clear message to me that I am not alone. My daily activities can be so stressful sometimes that finding another Catholic in the crowd reminds me of God’s presence. It’s reassuring.

Let us not think that our practicing of small gestures of faith is inconsequential to others. Our reverent bows when we enter the Church, our genuflecting that is not rushed, our obvious Sign of the Cross, or the short time we take to pray before we start our work are all being noticed. These loving actions, while small, can be strong tesminonies and witnessing to God which He can use to inspire others and move their hearts.

Some of us feel that we do not know how to witness to God. We forget that God is hugely present in the small things that we do, and these things tell people which crowd we belong to. Let us be mindful how our small actions can be great testimonies.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us show our faithfulness and love for you in our little ways. Help us fill the little things we do with great love and reverence so that others may know that they are not alone.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, that you made it easy for me to become a witness to you. Thank you for the people who I see gladly do these little things as they remind me of your presence.

17 January, Wednesday – The Lord In Control

Dear Readers,

Today, we welcome back Stephanie Villa, who took a sabbatical from Oxygen for a year. 

17 Jan – Memorial for St. Anthony, abbot

Following the death of his parents when he was about 20, St. Anthony (251-356) ensured that his sister completed her education; then sold his house, furniture, and the land he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor, joined the anchorites who lived nearby, and moved into an empty sepulchre. At 35, he moved alone to the desert, living 20 years in an abandoned fort.

Anthony barricaded the place for solitude, but admirers broke in. He miraculously healed people and agreed to be the spiritual counsellor of others. His recommendation was to base life on the gospel. Word spread, and so many disciples arrived that Anthony founded two monasteries on the Bile — one at Pispir, one at Arsinoe. Many of those who lived near him supported themselves by making baskets and brushes, and from that came his patronage of those trades.

Anthony briefly left his seclusion in 311, going to Alexandria to fight Arianism, and to comfort the victims of Maximinus’ persecution. At some point in his life, he met with his sister again. She, too, had withdrawn from the world, and directed a community of nuns. Anthony retired to the desert, living in a cave on Mount Colzim.

Descriptions paint him as uniformly modest and courteous. His example led many to take up the monastic life, and to follow his way. He was a friend late in life to St. Paul the Hermit, and buried the aged anchorite, leading to his patronage of gravediggers. His biography was written by his friend, St. Athanasius.

His relationship with pigs and patronage of swineheards is a little complicated. Skin diseases were sometimes treated with applications of pork fat, which reduced inflammation and itching. As Anthony’s intervention aided in the same conditions, he was shown in art accompanied by a pig. People who saw the artwork, but did not have it explained, thought there was a direct connection between Anthony and pigs – and people who worked with swine took him as their patron.

Patron Saint Index

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1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51

David said to Saul, ‘Let no-one lose heart on his account; your servant will go and fight the Philistine.’ But Saul answered David, ‘You cannot go and fight the Philistine; you are only a boy and he has been a warrior from his youth.’

‘The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lion and bear’ David said ‘will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.’ Then Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you!’

He took his staff in his hand, picked five smooth stones from the river bed, put them in his shepherd’s bag, in his pouch, and with his sling in his hand he went to meet the Philistine. The Philistine, his shield-bearer in front of him, came nearer and nearer to David; and the Philistine looked at David, and what he saw filled him with scorn, because David was only a youth, a boy of fresh complexion and pleasant bearing. The Philistine said to him, ‘Am I a dog for you to come against me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come over here and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.’ But David answered the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have dared to insult. Today the Lord will deliver you into my hand and I shall kill you; I will cut off your head, and this very day I will give your dead body and the bodies of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord gives the victory, for the Lord is lord of the battle and he will deliver you into our power.’

No sooner had the Philistine started forward to confront David than David left the line of battle and ran to meet the Philistine. Putting his hand in his bag, he took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead; the stone penetrated his forehead and he fell on his face to the ground. Thus David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone and struck the Philistine down and killed him. David had no sword in his hand. Then David ran and, standing over the Philistine, seized his sword and drew it from the scabbard, and with this he killed him, cutting off his head. The Philistines saw that their champion was dead, and took to flight.

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Mark 3:1-6

Jesus went again into a synagogue, and there was a man there who had a withered hand. And they were watching him to see if he would cure him on the sabbath day, hoping for something to use against him. He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up out in the middle!’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it against the law on the sabbath day to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to kill?’ But they said nothing. Then, grieved to find them so obstinate, he looked angrily round at them, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was better. The Pharisees went out and at once began to plot with the Herodians against him, discussing how to destroy him.

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The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lion and bear will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.

There are moments in our lives where God puts us in a position to face our Goliaths. Our natural tendency is to focus on the Goliath God has placed before us, on how big he is, on how scary he is, on how small we are compared to him and we tremble in fear. Sometimes, we forget to remember all the times our Lord has delivered us from ‘lion and bear’.

I have been freelancing for two years and I know how scary the experience is. Unlike working full-time, I could never expect a regular paycheck. I never knew when I will get a new project and if I could earn enough for a month to have a positive cashflow. One of the greatest fears I had was if I would have to dip into my savings to support myself. It was not exactly the most comfortable time but it was the time I learned how to really trust God and His providence. You see, my Goliath was being able to trust God and to rely on His providence. I wanted many layers of protection.

God has been really faithful and I can say that he really took care of me. I would say He knew my limits so he made sure that at the end of the year, my cashflow was 0. Yes, it was 0. I didn’t add to my savings but I didn’t have to dip into my savings. It may sound ironic to some but I think that’s my current tolerance level, and God knew it. He didn’t give me a Goliath I couldn’t conquer.

So what sustained me during my freelancing years? Well, I remembered the ‘lion and bear’ in my life. One of them was getting a job even though I submitted a resumé with a typo error. For me, it was so obvious that God took control of that situation because it could have ended worse. Also, I thought God has arranged for me to receive a separation package just when I was thinking of a career change.

I think God allows us to face a ‘lion and bear’ before we face our Goliaths so we can confidently say, as David said, ‘The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lion and bear will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.’ We only need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us find the ‘lion and bear’ in our lives.

Because once we’ve conquered our Goliath, they become the ‘lion and bear’ for our future Goliaths.

If you are being asked to face a Goliath now, I ask that you find a quiet place, perhaps in the Adoration Room, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in remembering the ‘lion and bear’ in your life. I’m confident you will find one, and that will give you the courage to go to the battle zone.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)

Prayer: Dearest Lord, facing my Goliath can be a really scary thing. And you’re sending me there with just a slingshot! Lord, help me trust that you will protect and deliver me from this. Help me find the ‘lion and the bear’ you have protected me from, and help me find assurance in it.

Thanksgiving: Lord, it’s amazing how my previous Goliaths have turned into a ‘lion and bear’ now. I thank you for making me face another of my Goliaths, and I thank you that you chose the best time – now – to have me face him. Even if I am just heading into the battle field, I thank you now for protecting me.