Tag Archives: surrender

5 August, Friday – This Cruel Marketplace

5 August – Memorial for Dedication of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome

First raised at the order of Pope Liberius in the mid-fourth century, the Liberian Basilica was rebuilt by Pope Sixtus III shortly after the Council of Ephesus affirmed Mary’s title as Mother of God in 431. Rededicated at that time to the Mother of God, St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world honouring God through Mary.

St. Mary Major is one of the four Roman basilicas known as patriarchal cathedrals in memory of the first centres of the Church. This basilica represents the See of Antioch, where Mary is supposed to have spent most of her life.

http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/SaintOfDay/default.asp?id=1098

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Nahum 2:1,3,3:1-3,6-7

See, over the mountains the messenger hurries!
‘Peace!’ he proclaims.
Judah, celebrate your feasts,
carry out your vows,
for Belial will never pass through you again;
he is utterly annihilated.
Yes, the Lord is restoring the vineyard of Jacob
and the vineyard of Israel.
For the plunderers had plundered them,
they had broken off their branches.

Woe to the city soaked in blood,
full of lies,
stuffed with booty,
whose plunderings know no end!
The crack of the whip!
The rumble of wheels!
Galloping horse,
jolting chariot,
charging cavalry,
flash of swords,
gleam of spears…
a mass of wounded,
hosts of dead,
countless corpses;
they stumble over the dead.
I am going to pelt you with filth,
shame you, make you a public show.
And all who look on you will turn their backs on you and say,
‘Nineveh is a ruin.’
Could anyone pity her?
Where can I find anyone to comfort her?

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Matthew 16:24-28

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

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

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What has a man to offer in exchange for his life?

The world is a marketplace. This description is too cruelly realistic for us to be content with it. What do I mean? The ‘marketplace’ is an arena of commercial dealings, trades, transactions. So what? Some may say it is a fact and this is just what is necessary. We need to trade and cut deals. We need to maximise profit, minimise loss. I’ve got to keep my job. Money talks. Business is not charity. “Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.” This quote, attributed to big-time 19th century New York gangster Al Capone, pretty much paints today’s reality in the world of trade and industry.

The grave problem here is, the terms and objects of transactions are more than inanimate commodities. For some parts of the world, and in some societies, people are the goods and services. Yes, we cannot turn a blind eye to this. Prostitution, slavery, child labour, sweatshop industries, exploitation of wages/lives/trust/hope of refugees and the common man… these today are the ills of our world. In the words of Pope Francis, “This is terrorism too.”

The first reading from the Book of Nahum gives us a clue about the extent of man’s igornance, sin, and indifference to sin.

Woe to the city soaked in blood,
full of lies,
stuffed with booty,
whose plunderings know no end!
…a mass of wounded,
hosts of dead,
countless corpses;
they stumble over the dead.

Isn’t this image so real even today? Stories of garment factories in India who have utter disregard for fire regulations cause hundreds of their workers to perish by fire. Captains of the South Korean MV Sewol Ferry who told their passengers, numbering hundreds and with school children onboard, to stay in their cabins as the ferry capsizes – just so they themselves could escape in the limited numbers of lifeboats. Thousands of migrant construction workers (from India, Nepal, and elsewhere) who die from extreme working conditions in Qatar in the frantic infrastructure construction surrounding the 2022 World Cup stadium. These are but some examples of how our cities are indeed soaked in blood.

I do not have the answer for such clearly complex and wicked problems – so many actors and layers of decision-making are at play here. However, Jesus poses the ultimate question: “What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?” At the end of the day, it boils down to each individual and our personal encounter with Christ who hangs before us on the Cross, asking: “Do you choose me? If you want to be a follower of mine, will you renounce yourself and take up your cross and follow me?”

Are there any big and small decisions you face today that Jesus is asking you to surrender and obey Him? Are there any seemingly banal choices that we make each day which may seem insignificant, but are actually grounded in ethical and moral dimensions? Let us pause and confront this heartless and maddening marketplace for what it is. The Lord is calling us out of our distractions/obsessions/compulsions – to ponder and cherish the dignity of each human life formed in His divine image. How shall we honour our Heavenly Father? What is God revealing to you at this moment? Truly, when it comes down to our last breath, nothing we own in this world can be used for barter with God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: May our hearts be open today to receive the correction that Jesus lovingly points out. There is nothing beyond His forgiveness. He has the message of true and eternal life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for loving me while I was still a sinner mired in my own chaos and ignorance. Lift me up with Your mercy and help me bring glory to You with my life and my choices.

1 August, Monday – Little Faith

1 August – Memorial for St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop, Religious founder, Doctor

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) vowed early to never to waste a moment of his life and lived that way for over 90 years. As a lawyer, he had his own practice by age 21, and was a leading lawyer in Naples. He never attended court without having attended Mass first.

As he matured and learned more of the world, he liked it less, and finally felt a call to religious life. He was ordained at age 29. As preacher and home missioner around Naples, St. Alphonsus was noted for his simple, clear, direct style of preaching, and his gentle, understanding way in the confessional. He was often opposed by Church officials for a perceived laxity toward sinners, and by government officials who opposed anything religious. He founded the Redemptoristines women’s order and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists).

As bishop, St. Alphonsus worked to reform the clergy and revitalise the faithful in a diocese with a bad reputation. The royal government threatened to disband his Redemptorists, claiming that they were covertly carrying on the work of the Jesuits, who had been suppressed. Calling on his knowledge of the Congregation, his background in theology, and his skills as a lawyer, St. Alphonsus defended the Redemptorists so well that they obtained the king’s approval.

– Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 28:1-17

At the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah in the fifth month of the fourth year, the prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, a Gibeonite, spoke as follows to Jeremiah in the Temple of the Lord in the presence of the priests and of all the people. ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, says this, “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. In two years’ time I will bring back all the vessels of the Temple of the Lord which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon carried off from this place and took to Babylon. And I will also bring back Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who have gone to Babylon – it is the Lord who speaks. Yes, I am going to break the yoke of the king of Babylon.”’

The prophet Jeremiah then replied to the prophet Hananiah in front of the priests and all the people there in the Temple of the Lord. ‘I hope so’ the prophet Jeremiah said. ‘May the Lord do so. May he fulfil the words that you have prophesied and bring the vessels of the Temple of the Lord and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Listen carefully, however, to this word that I am now going to say for you and all the people to hear: From remote times, the prophets who preceded you and me prophesied war, famine and plague for many countries and for great kingdoms; but the prophet who prophesies peace can only be recognised as one truly sent by the Lord when his word comes true.’

The prophet Hananiah then took the yoke off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it. In front of all the people Hananiah then said, ‘The Lord says this, “This is how, two years hence, I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and take it off the necks of all the nations.”’ At this, the prophet Jeremiah went away.

After the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke which he had taken off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah the word of the Lord was addressed to Jeremiah, ‘Go to Hananiah and tell him this, “The Lord says this: You can break wooden yokes? Right, I will make them iron yokes instead! For the Lord Sabaoth, the God of Israel, says this: An iron yoke is what I now lay on the necks of all these nations to subject them to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. They will be subject to him; I have even given him the wild animals.”’

The prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah, ‘Listen carefully, Hananiah: the Lord has not sent you; and thanks to you this people are now relying on what is false. Hence – the Lord says this, “I am going to throw you off the face of the earth: you are going to die this year since you have preached apostasy from the Lord.”’

The prophet Hananiah died the same year, in the seventh month.

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Matthew 14:13-21

When Jesus received the news of John the Baptist’s death he withdrew by boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But the people heard of this and, leaving the towns, went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick.

When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away, and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘There is no need for them to go: give them something to eat yourselves.’ But they answered ‘All we have with us is five loaves and two fish.’ ‘Bring them here to me’ he said. He gave orders that the people were to sit down on the grass; then he took the five loaves and the two fish, raised his eyes to heaven and said the blessing. And breaking the loaves handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected the scraps remaining; twelve baskets full. Those who ate numbered about five thousand men, to say nothing of women and children.

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Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.

One Saturday early this year, both of us were approached by our parish priest to help out in the parish’s fund raising project. I was made to understand that it was simply to look at the finances of the project — simple enough, but I asked for a day to think about it. I was hesitant, given my rather heavy commitment in the music ministry that I am part of.

However, on the very next day, our parish priest sent out an official note to all in the committee introducing us. That’s how both us became ‘Co-Chairs’ of the parish fundraising committee. We didn’t even have the opportunity to say ‘Eh, maybe not…!’ All too soon, we found out that it entailed more than just looking at numbers. We had to put an entire programme together and it was already February! The building works were well in progress and the building would be up before the year ends. Our priest tricked us!!

My partner in crime was more confident than I was. He obviously is stronger in faith. We have never been in parish ministry. We did not know anyone. How would we put together smaller committees to get all the projects going?

“You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Yup, I had little faith that we could pull this off. As we put together our ‘action plan’, my anxiety went from level five to ten. However, we went along with the projects, praying and trusting Jesus to guide us along the way.

Fast forward 6 months later. ‘Five loaves and two fish’ means so much more to me. Jesus has been the project leader all along. He is ever so generous in sending people to help us carry out his work. My initial trepidation was unfounded. Everything has been moving along swimmingly well. All I needed to do was say “Yes!” and surrender everything to Jesus. And He did everything else. Whatever little we had to offer, He multiplied it several times over.

At the end of May, we kicked off our very first project. We told our fellow parishioners we hoped that our five loaves and two fish would come back yielding twelve baskets full of scraps. And indeed it has! Praise God.

“Take my five loaves and two fishes

Do with it as you will. I surrender

Take my fears and my inhibitions

All my burdens, my ambitions

You can use it all to feed them all”

The lovely song by Corrine May says it all.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Jesus, when you call on us, teach us to trust that you will equip us with everything we need to do in order to fulfil your will. May we never fear nor be anxious about anything.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for your graces. Thank you for our gifts and talents. May we use them for your glory. All we need to do is to say ‘Yes’! And you will take over.

14 July, Thursday – Praise, Surrender, Accept

14 July – Memorial for St. Camillus de Lellis, Priest

St. Camillus (1550-1614) used to be a gambling addict. He lost so much he had to take a job working construction on a building belonging to the Capuchins; they converted him. Because of a persistent injury, he moved into San Giacomo Hospital for the incurable, and eventually became its administrator.

Lacking education, he began to study with children when he was 32 years old. St. Camillus founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Sick (the Camellians) who care for the sick both in hospital and home. He honoured the sick as living images of Christ, and hoped that the service he gave them did penance for his wayward youth.

– Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 26:7-9,12,16-19

The path of the upright man is straight,
you smooth the way of the upright.
Following the path of your judgements,
we hoped in you, O Lord,
your name, your memory are all my soul desires.

At night my soul longs for you
and my spirit in me seeks for you;
when your judgements appear on earth
the inhabitants of the world learn the meaning of integrity.

O Lord, you are giving us peace,
since you treat us
as our deeds deserve.

Distressed, we search for you, O Lord;
the misery of oppression was your punishment for us.

As a woman with child near her time
writhes and cries out in her pangs,
so are we, O Lord, in your presence:
we have conceived, we writhe
as if we were giving birth;
we have not given the spirit of salvation to the earth,
no more inhabitants of the world are born.

Your dead will come to life,
their corpses will rise;
awake, exult,
all you who lie in the dust,
for your dew is a radiant dew
and the land of ghosts will give birth.

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Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

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Distressed, we search for you O Lord.

Reflecting on today’s reading over and over again, I try to put myself in the shoes of Isaiah, one who praises and gives thanks, to actually know what our Lord has done for him and sings praises with so much love and admiration. Not that I do not genuinely praise our Lord or give thanks from deep within my heart every week as I worship Him. Today’s readings brought me back to the times where I would attend at least one ‘Praise and Worship’ session from a community every year, where leaders would help us focus on God within our hearts, and to give shouts of praise to the Lord without much reservation and lifting our arms to surrender to Him. There are moments where you can jump and shout your love for God, for everything that He has done for us.

The Gospel today assures us that our relationship with God isn’t only about feeling the high during worship, where we have so much love to be thankful for, but it is about pouring out all our difficulties and distressed moments. We praise, we surrender and we accept. The Father sent Jesus to lighten the burden of sin, the burden of anguish, the burden of fear but raises all of us through eternal hope.

Let us try to bring back the close moments we had with our Lord in the next few months. As we are back in the liturgy and season of Ordinary Time, do not make it an ordinary season of prayer and worship, but to increase our faith more, or spend more time with the Lord or ministry. In this way, we are keeping the Lord close to our lives everyday, going through happy moments with our family and friends, as well as disappointing times. Always remember to shoulder the yoke of our Lord God, because we are never alone.

(Today’s OXYGEN by  Austin Leong)

Prayer: We pray for those who have lost direction in their lives and finding difficulty in meeting the basics of living, may they get through this period and holding onto the hope presented to us from God.

Thanksgiving: I want to give thanks for all the mentors and educators, in enriching the lives of others in the form of education and guidance, so that the other becomes a more responsible person in society.

19 June, Sunday – Trusting in the Lord

19 June

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Zechariah 12:10-11,13:1

It is the Lord who speaks: ‘Over the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem I will pour out a spirit of kindness and prayer. They will look on the one whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as for an only son, and weep for him as people weep for a first-born child. When that day comes, there will be great mourning in Judah, like the mourning of Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. When that day comes, a fountain will be opened for the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem, for sin and impurity.’

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Galatians 3:26-29

You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the posterity of Abraham, the heirs he was promised.

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Luke 9:18-24

One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.’ ‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’ It was Peter who spoke up. ‘The Christ of God’ he said. But he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone anything about this.

‘The Son of Man’ he said ‘is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’

Then to all he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.’

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“My soul clings to You”

My family and I have just gone to watch Les Misérables. This was a fantastic experience and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite having watched this in earlier productions on stage and the theatre, the story continues to enthrall us.

When watching the story, one cannot help but wonder how Jean Valjean, the main character, is able to always choose to do the right thing despite the challenges he faced. He chose to forgive, and in fact, help, Javert, the policeman who oversaw his nineteen year stay in a French prison. He chose to make the tough decisions in helping those around him, putting himself at risk when doing so. I have imagined what I would have done had I found myself in the same position.

It is one of the main reasons why this musical continues to resonate with me.

Just a warning for those who do not know the storyline of Les Misérables; spoilers are coming up ahead.

The theme of “renouncing oneself” can be seen in what Jesus taught in today’s gospel, and He asks us to do this exact thing. When I first heard this passage, I found it difficult to accept; it felt very much like a motherhood statement; which sounds great on paper and seriously difficult to carry out. Yet when we look at the life of our Lord Jesus, we see Him doing as he preached; praying for those who had hurt Him and put Him on the cross, while dying on that same cross.

A daily choice has to be made when “renouncing oneself”. Jean Valjean demonstrated this in his decision to confess to the court that they had, in fact, arrested the wrong man. He could have kept quiet and allowed the man to be sentenced in his stead. He would then have been able to wipe his slate clean and to enjoy his status as a politician and a businessman! Yet, he chose to do the right thing! Such a choice certainly did not come easy. However, we see that at the end, the decision Jean Valjean made to renounce himself had set him free instead.

Similarly, we need to be able to surrender ourselves. It is only in doing so that we demonstrate our trust in our God. We truly give up “control” over our own situations and leave it to our God to provide and to protect us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer – Help us Father to always have the courage and strength to do the right thing and surrender ourselves. That we may be filled with the wisdom to recognize areas in our lives where we can continue to grow.

Thanksgiving – Thank You Father for guiding and loving us. Thank You for always taking care of us as we continue to grow in faith in You.

Saturday, 20 Dec – Preparing the Nativity of our Hearts

20 Dec

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Isaiah 7:10-14

The Lord spoke to Ahaz and said, ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign for yourself coming either from the depths of Sheol or from the heights above.’ ‘No,’ Ahaz answered ‘I will not put the Lord to the test.’

Then Isaiah said:

‘Listen now, House of David:
are you not satisfied with trying the patience of men
without trying the patience of my God, too?
The Lord himself, therefore,
will give you a sign.
It is this: the maiden is with child
and will soon give birth to a son
whom she will call Immanuel,
a name which means “God-is-with-us.”’

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Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, ‘Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you’ the angel answered ‘and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God’ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me.’ And the angel left her.

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I am the handmaid of the Lord.

It is so hard to recover the lost art of being a handmaiden in our day and age. These days, we have a thousand and one ‘hacks’ and ‘tips’ and ‘lists’ and ‘secrets revealed’ online about just any problematic topic. These lists are concise and quick reads, telling us in just 10 or 20 points how to resolve or overcome difficult marriages/relationships; run a household/company; understand ourselves/others better… and the list goes on! While some could be useful, I have found my recent fixation with these quick-fixes detrimental to my spiritual life.

I am tempted to think I can solve every problem I, or my loved ones, face; that a solution is just out there waiting to pop up on my daily newsfeed; that I can be the harbinger of answers to the people around me. The folly!

Likewise, elsewhere in Scripture, we hear of another Mary, and her sister Martha who received Jesus into their home. In the passage where Jesus visits the sisters, we see two ways of being – the ‘Mary’ way, and the ‘Martha’ way.

‘Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her”.’ (Matthew 10:38-42)

Mary understood what it was to be the handmaid of the Lord. She was not over-zealous to prove her worthiness in the doing-of-things like Martha was. She was aware of the transcendental presence of the Christ in their home. If Christ was the Lord that Martha called Him to be, then certainly He didn’t need the 1001 things to be done for Him. Jesus is the Lord of the Heavens and Earth, not the Lord of the world. There is nothing we can give to Him or add unto Him to illuminate His Holiness further.

The only desire He had in the house of Mary and Martha, was that they be present to Him. Their posture of a handmaid, waiting in watchful silence, ever-alert, ever-listening, surrendering our preoccupations with things to submit to His will. That was Mary’s way. Just as we would find it hard to find an appropriate gift for a very important person if we were invited to the house of say, the President of our country – he would have everything already. The most treasured and one-of-a-kind gift we could offer, would be the dedicated attention of our individual presence in his company. It is most simple, and yet our agendas can often be so obtuse!

Mary, Mother of our God, fashions for us the precise qualities of what it means to be a ‘Handmaid of the Lord’. It is her watchfulness, her humility, her openness and surrendered spiritual posture, that receives the Holy Spirit. It is this diminishment of her Self, and the desire to magnify the Lord, that allows the Holy Spirit to permeate and impregnate this graced moment, and bring us our Christ Jesus, Saviour of the world.

It is no easy feat for me. And I realise I constantly need this reminder to model my spiritual life after Mary our Mother. Being the Type A ‘fixer’ personality that I am, the tendency I have to solving problems (my way), stubbornness, impatience, and pride, has brought much friction to the relationships around me – demanding of others, ‘haven’t you seen what I have been doing?’ It is hard to truly be still and deeply ponder as Mother Mary does.

Indeed, as Jesus reminds me today: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her”. It is of far more eternal value to our Father, that we be-with-Him, than to be buzzing around Him. After all, isn’t He called Emmanuel, God-is-with-us?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

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Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord for giving us Mary our Mother who is our model of faith, humility, and surrender to Your Holy Will. Teach us to love and honour her the way You have specially chosen her for us.

Prayer: We pray for each other: That in this Christmas season, we lose our obsession to plan and over-plan around the festivities and parties, where the misguided focus is on ourselves to be charitable and hospitable to others in our homes and churches – but instead we neglect to prepare our own souls to be hospitable to the Infant Jesus who is waiting to enter into the Nativity of our hearts. May we be more self-aware and humble like Mother Mary.

Tuesday, 12 Aug – Jaded

12 Aug – Memorial for St. Jane Frances de Chantal

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

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

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Ezekiel 2:8-3:4

I, Ezekiel, heard a voice speaking. It said, ‘You, son of man, listen to the words I say; do not be a rebel like that rebellious set. Open your mouth and eat what I am about to give you.’ I looked. A hand was there, stretching out to me and holding a scroll. He unrolled it in front of me; it was written on back and front; on it was written ‘lamentations, wailings, meanings.’ He said, ‘Son of man, eat what is given to you; eat this scroll, then go and speak to the House of Israel.’ I opened my mouth; he gave me the scroll to eat and said, ‘Son of man, feed and be satisfied by the scroll I am giving you.’ I ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey.

Then he said, ‘Son of man, go to the House of Israel and tell them what I have said.’

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Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14

The disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ So he called a little child to him and set the child in front of them. Then he said, ‘I tell you solemnly, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. And so, the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

‘Anyone who welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.

‘Tell me. Suppose a man has a hundred sheep and one of them strays; will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? I tell you solemnly, if he finds it, it gives him more joy than do the ninety-nine that did not stray at all. Similarly, it is never the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.’

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The one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Every now and then, I often hear someone lament “I’m so jaded man…” whether it be about their job, the dismal projections of career, even the state of the dating scene! I am definitely not spared from these sentiments either. In fact, I’ve been having a tough time shrugging off my general air of malaise and jadedness about the direction my life seems to be taking. As though on a patterned cycle, I grow antsy and cynical almost every two years. Frustrations, lamentations, get the better of me – so I can absolutely identify with Ezekiel in our first reading today.

Being made to eat, to swallow, that scroll God hands him. Which was filled with a barrage of complaints and grouses – Why this! Why that! What a bitter taste it should have been – but no. Ezekiel reports back, “I ate it, and it tasted sweet as honey.” Right…

I was trying to wrap my head around this testament from Ezekiel that God’s instruction to him to swallow that long scroll of lamentations, wailings, meanings, should taste sweet at all. Until I pondered on the Responsorial Psalm 118 today:

Your promise is sweet to my taste, O Lord…
I rejoice to do your will… Your will is my delight…
The law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold.
Your will is my heritage for ever, the joy of my heart.
I open my mouth and I sigh
as I yearn for your commands.

There is such a simple and humble adoration being sung today by the Psalmist. Someone who is able and willing to not take the Lord’s commands at face value – as restrictions and demands that are impossible to abide by, and therefore bitter and prison-like. Instead I am struck by the last line, which paints a beautiful image for me – “I open my mouth and I sigh… as I yearn for your commands” – of a little child who flops into bed at the end of a long tiring day and sighs contentedly… waiting for mummy or daddy to read her favourite bedtime stories.

Jesus surprises his disciples in our Gospel reading today, telling them the folly of desiring to be the greatest amongst each other. Instead, he solemnly iterates, “unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…the one who makes himself as little as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” It is not enough to have a conversion of heart and profess our faith in our Lord. But Christ’s instructions challenge us to further cast off our learned ways to return to a simple child-like trust; to discard the thinking that faith is like a tome of treatises and arguments. It is in fact, the exact opposite.

I am reminded that humility is the antidote to jadedness and cynicism. It is with child-like simplicity, honesty, trust, and surrender that we are able to take on the struggles of life without being dragged under. That’s why it is almost impossible to get tired of watching little children play – they can repeat the same game over and over, yet still giggle heartily as if it were the first time!

Recently, whenever I find myself sighing not with contentment, but with exasperation, I try a little practice to call out to the Blessed Mother of our Christ, whispering it at my desk or visualising the words of this comforting Memorare in my head:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known
that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help,
or sought thine intercession was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother;
to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions,
but in thy mercy hear and answer me.
Amen.

I would immediately feel safe as a little babe at her mother’s bosom, suckling on the honey of child-like surrender.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Father God, help me to cast off the chain of this jadedness that prevents me from falling asleep securely in your steadfast providence.

Thanksgiving: I thank you Lord for the trials in my life, that they soften and shape me, and humble me too, so that I remember not to grow complacent and hard-hearted.

Thursday, 31 Jul – A New Vessel

31 Jul – Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Born to the Spanish nobility. Youngest of twelve children. Page in the Spanish court of Ferdinand and Isabella. Military education. Soldier, entering the army in 1517, and serving in several campaigns. Wounded in the leg by a cannonball at the siege of Pampeluna on 20 May 1521, an injury that left him partially crippled for life. During his recuperation the only books he had access to were The Golden Legend, a collection of biographies of the saints, and the Life of Christ by Ludolph the Carthusian. These books, and the time spent in contemplation, changed him.

On his recovery he took a vow of chastity, hung his sword before the altar of the Virgin of Montserrat, and donned a pilgrim‘s robes. He lived in a cave from 1522 to 1523, contemplating the way to live a Christian life. Pilgrim to Rome and the Holy Land in 1523, where he worked to convert Muslims. In 1528 he began studying theology in Barcelona and Alcala in Spain, and Paris, France receiving his degree on 14 March 1534. His meditations, prayers, visions and insights led to forming the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus on 15 August 1534; it received papal approval in 1541. Friend of James Lainez, Alonso Salmerón, Nicholas Bobadilla, Simón Rodriguez, Blessed Peter Faber, and Saint Francis Xavier, the group that formed the core of the new Society. He never used the term Jesuit, which was coined as an insult by his opponents; the Society today uses the term with pride. He travelled Europe and the Holy Lands, then settled in Rome to direct the Jesuits. His health suffered in later years, and he was nearly blind at death.

The Jesuits today have over 500 universities and colleges, 30,000 members, and teach over 200,000 students each year.

– The Patron Saint

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Jeremiah 18:1-6

The word that was addressed to Jeremiah by the Lord, ‘Get up and make your way down to the potter’s house; there I shall let you hear what I have to say.’ So I went down to the potter’s house; and there he was, working at the wheel. And whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong, as happens with the clay handled by potters, he would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do. Then this word of the Lord was addressed to me, ‘House of Israel, can not I do to you what this potter does? – it is the Lord who speaks. Yes, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in mine, House of Israel.’

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Matthew 13:47-53

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea that brings in a haul of all kinds. When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore; then, sitting down, they collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are no use. This is how it will be at the end of time: the angels will appear and separate the wicked from the just to throw them into the blazing furnace where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Well then, every scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.’

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He would start afresh and work it into another vessel, as potters do.

I can be an annoying perfectionist. I used to be worse I remember. If you identify too, perhaps you may find your quirks and ticks insufferable. You can’t let go once you spot a little flaw, no matter how tiny, so you might re-do a whole section of work. Sometimes you don’t mind starting from scratch. Or you get stuck for a really long time, because you’re hung up over a detail, which you can’t presently solve – even if it isn’t critical or crucial, or you know for fact does not affect the bigger picture. You know that even if nobody spots the error, you cannot live it down just knowing it is there. There is such great, accumulated fatigue in being someone persistently like this. I will attest.

It not only tired me out. It can even make relationships tiresome. I once wondered if God was a perfectionist – in the sense that I find myself to be. When I think this way, I realise, He definitely would not be one. Perfectionists derive a lot of their pride when their work is flawless. There is a certain distinct sense of achievement and infallibility when their endeavours prove so meticulous that it hints at their awesome talent/skill/intellect. Perfection is what we seek, and pride is what this illusion feeds. Most of the time, we feel this way because we tie our value as a person, our entire worth and identity to the work we create, in so much as, we embed our personas and sense of being to the work we produce. Hence, perfectionists are a hard people to be around – exacting, demanding, and often unforgiving and impatient.

If God were truly a perfectionist, I suppose He would really ‘wipe the slate clean’ and start over His Creation and all of humanity again. Why would he continue loving and nurturing each and every imperfect one of us? In the first reading, the God reveals to Jeremiah how He embraces each person – just as we are – like the Potter handles the clay. The analogy of ‘starting afresh’ is not what we usually think – as a kind of tabula rasa, or clean slate. The Potter works with the same clay, he adds to it; subtracts from it; wets it; molds and fashions it, all the while allowing the wheel to continue spinning. He sees an abundant creative potential in us – mere wet clay – in every single moment. In other words, He embraces the process and He understands our nature perfectly.

Christ reveals the tender and patient nature of our Heavenly Father to his disciples in the gospel reading today – at the end of time, the angels will separate the wicked from the just and throw them into the blazing furnace. At first sight – what horrible and cruel imagery. But here is the catch, ‘at the end of time’. This begets the age-old questions: if God is truly loving, why would He permit suffering in our world; why would He not exact just punishment on all evil-doers right away? This free will is a tricky gift we have. It is both power and plight.

‘House of Israel, can I not do to you what this potter does? – It is the Lord who speaks. Yes, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so you are in mine, House of Israel.’ (Jer 18:6) God is telling Israel, as He is telling us today – keep steady in My hands, Your life is in My hands, trust Me; be patient and pliable, be meek and gentle as only the moldable clay that surrenders to the Potter’s hands can be turned into a new vessel of any good use.

This process of individual molding will continue until the end of our lives. God waits with all of mankind as we groan outwardly in our suffering within this world – until the end of time. I am grateful for just one more day, when I awake, that He desires to still patiently work on my rough edges, softening my nature when I grow hardened with pride and discontent. This is why I’m glad God is not the kind of perfectionist that I am.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, grant me the grace to remain soft and meek to Your Word and Your Will in my life as St. Ignatius of Loyola was.

Thanksgiving: Lord, I give You thanks for one more day.