Tag Archives: trials

28 October, Sunday – Seasons of Change

28 October 2018

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Jeremiah 31:7-9

The Lord says this:

Shout with joy for Jacob!
Hail the chief of nations!
Proclaim! Praise! Shout:
‘The Lord has saved his people,
the remnant of Israel!’

See, I will bring them back
from the land of the North
and gather them from the far ends of earth;
all of them: the blind and the lame,
women with child, women in labour:
a great company returning here.

They had left in tears,
I will comfort them as I lead them back;
I will guide them to streams of water,
by a smooth path where they will not stumble.
For I am a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my first-born son.

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Hebrews 5:1-6

Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; and so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness. That is why he has to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God, as Aaron was. Nor did Christ give himself the glory of becoming high priest, but he had it from the one who said to him: You are my son, today I have become your father, and in another text: You are a priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.

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Mark 10:46-52

As Jesus left Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (that is, the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting at the side of the road. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and to say, ‘Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.’ And many of them scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him here.’ So they called the blind man. ‘Courage,’ they said ‘get up; he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he jumped up and went to Jesus. Then Jesus spoke, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Rabbuni,’ the blind man said to him ‘Master, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has saved you.’ And immediately his sight returned and he followed him along the road.

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With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back

Today’s first reading brings much consolation to my heart. In life, each of us goes through seasons of change. My season now is best described as autumn – what used to be green has turned to shades of mustard, yellow, purple, black, blue and brown. I feel like a chapter of life is dying and I feel extremely melancholic. When acquaintances chirpily ask me “So how’s the going?” I would simply reply, “OK.” Who wants to speak to a ‘downer’ right? Not everyone wants to hear my story. For a while, I have kept my emotions buried so deep that I almost forgot about them. In my busy-ness over the past few months, I was actually quite upbeat. I thought I was finally on the way to healing.

Then one day, a couple of weeks back, I had a tête-à-tête with a dear friend. We laughed and were thankful that with each other, we could be ourselves; not have to wear masks and build up walls. We spoke about what irritated us, what made us sad, and what worried us. What a relief it was to be able to share freely. However after that chat, I felt that my wounds opened again, they were still raw with a numb, aching pain. In the days that followed, I didn’t know quite how to handle these feelings. That weekend, I sat in a crowded café with my sugar brioche and latte and to my surprise, my tears started to stream.

I reflected on this further – I learnt that we are not meant to try to handle our problems alone. A priest said during a weekend homily that if we carried our crosses alone, we’d probably be crushed under that weight. But if we carried it with Jesus, we will eventually find joy and peace — hard to comprehend when we are buried deep in the pain of our wounds. However, I realise that I wasn’t alone in that crowded café. Yes, a lot of other people and my unsuspecting coffee partner was there. But Jesus was right there with me. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back. This may be a season of autumn, and soon it will be winter. But in winter, there is always Christmas and then it will be spring again.

Brothers and sisters, whatever season we are in, we have to just acknowledge that season of life. We cannot bypass these seasons of change, we are not meant to. Do not ignore it, nor bury it. But let us sit with it. Invite Jesus in, just like how Bartimaeus called out to Jesus. And let Jesus restore us and heal us. And soon, it will be summer again!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, we often try to do things on our own strength and fail miserably. Let us cling onto you and call out to you in faith, knowing that you are ever loving and just waiting for us to invite you in.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the marvels you have worked in our lives. For being with us in the different seasons of our lives, for carrying our crosses with us.

27 October, Saturday – The Time is Now

27 October

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Ephesians 4:7-16

Each one of us has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. It was said that he would:

When he ascended to the height, he captured prisoners,
he gave gifts to men.

When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth? The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.

Then we shall not be children any longer, or tossed one way and another and carried along by every wind of doctrine, at the mercy of all the tricks men play and their cleverness in practising deceit. If we live by the truth and in love, we shall grow in all ways into Christ, who is the head by whom the whole body is fitted and joined together, every joint adding its own strength, for each separate part to work according to its function. So the body grows until it has built itself up, in love.

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Luke 13:1-9

Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices. At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’

He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”’

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“…. it may bear next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”

The earliest part of my life was really challenging. I was born out of wedlock, brought up by my grand aunt, and had a childhood when I felt everything to be a struggle.  I started going to church at the age of 12, and sometime after that, I remembered asking God, “Why me?”.

Since then, I have had many similar conversationswith others. In fact, an acquaintance saw that I had been putting some faith-related posts on social media and touched base with me. His first question to me was something like this: “Would you still have faith iflife was difficult for you?”. His point to me was that if God was all loving, why does He allow bad things to happen, and why does He allow it to happen to good people?

In the Gospel today, Jesus teaches us that those who were killed by Pilate, or who were killed in Siloan were no more guilty that those who were not. This is an important lesson as the Israelites believed that God punished only those who were more sinful than others. This is something relevant for our understanding as well.

Rather than going into a discussion about why bad things happened to people, Jesus stressed the importance that everyone prepare for the time for us to leave this earthly world. He gives the parable about a fruitless fig tree. While the vinyard owner had intended to have the tree cut down, the gardener convinces the owner to keep it for an additional year to fruit, failing which it would be be cut down.

While it continues to live, the fig tree does not know that it has just an additional year. Like the fig tree, we do not know how long more we have.  By talking about “perishing”, our Lord does not talk about our physical deaths. Rather, He is talking about our eternal lives.

Let us focus on doing the right things, now. We simply do not know when our time on earth is up.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Help us to have a sense of urgency Father, to make our faith in You red-hot. Help us to believe and act in line with Your plans.

Thanksgiving: We are grateful to You for Your teaching Lord Jesus. For Your reminder that our time here on earth is limited. Thank You for blessing us with each day to do Your work.

13 October, Saturday – Faith Is A Gift

13 October

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Galatians 3:22-29

Scripture makes no exceptions when it says that sin is master everywhere. In this way the promise can only be given through faith in Jesus Christ and can only be given to those who have this faith.

Before faith came, we were allowed no freedom by the Law; we were being looked after till faith was revealed. The Law was to be our guardian until the Christ came and we could be justified by faith. Now that that time has come we are no longer under that guardian, and 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 11:27-28

As Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, ‘Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked!’ But he replied, ‘Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it!’

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“For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus”

When I was in secondary school, someone told me that I was experiencing depression because I had little faith in God, and because of that, I thought that I was unwanted by God and was expected to endure punishment from Him. I was confused by that statement and it made me feel more isolated and alone than I already was. I started to question whether God allowed me to experience depression because I was weak in my faith, and I felt that I was fighting a losing battle with regards to the perception of others and thus left the Church.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul wrote that faith is a gift from God, and because faith is a gift, it cannot be taken back. Despite leaving the church, I knew that I still had faith in God, but I could not bring myself to return to a community where I would be judged for my faith. I met a friend who knew the hurts I experienced from my previous community and she reminded me of the book of James. In the book of James, we are encouraged to be joyful when we experience trials in our lives because trials encourage perseverance and increases our maturity. They also help us to strengthen our faith in and reliance on God. She also directed me towards today’s first reading, and reminded me that because I have faith, I am a child of God and no matter where I go, I will always remain a child of God. This conversation made me reflect on my life and my faith, and it brought me one step closer to returning to the Church. Shortly after that conversation, I was convicted to return to the Church, and to embrace the trials that come my way, and to find that sliver of hope and learning point in each trial. I am also reminded on a daily basis that my faith is a gift from God, and I will always be a child of God because of my faith.

Brothers and sisters, let us remember that we are all children of God, bounded by the gift of faith from God.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Hannah Huang)

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Prayer: Dearest loving Father, we pray for the desire to increase our faith in you and to embrace the trials in our lives. We pray that through our trials, we will continue to grow in maturity and perseverance. 

Thanksgiving: Dearest Father, thank you for your gift of faith to us. Thank you for giving us trials in our lives and reassuring us that you will not give us more than we can handle.

28 October, Saturday – Me too

Oct 28 – Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles

Simon was an apostle called the Cananean, or Zealot, because of his zeal for the Jewish law. He was not from Cana, nor a member of the Zealot party. Like all the Apostles, he was a convert, and was trained by St. Peter the Apostle. He evangelised in Egypt and Mesopotamia, though there are traditions of him being in several other locations. Several places claim to have been the site of his martyrdom – Abyssinians claim he was crucified in Samaria; Lipsius says he was sawn in half at Suanir, Persia; Moses of Chorene writes that he was martyred at Weriosphora in Iberia.

– Patron Saint Index

Jude Thaddeus was the son of Cleopas who died a martyr, and Mary who stood at the foot of the Cross and who anointed Christ’s body after death. He was the brother of St. James the Lesser, and nephew of Mary and Joseph. He was the blood relative of Jesus Christ, and reported to look a lot like him. He may have been a fisherman, and was an apostle.

He was the writer of a canonical letter. He preached in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Persia with St. Simon. He was a healer and an exorcist, and could exorcise pagan idols, which caused the demons to flee and the statues to crumble. He was beaten to death with a club, then beheaded post-mortem in 1st century Persia.

His patronage of lost or impossible causes traditionally derives from confusion by many early Christians between Jude and Judas; not understanding the difference between the names, they never prayed for Jude’s help, and devotion to him became something of a lost cause.

– Patron Saint Index

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Ephesians 2:19-22

You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of God’s household. You are part of a building that has the apostles and prophets for its foundations, and Christ Jesus himself for its main cornerstone. As every structure is aligned on him, all grow into one holy temple in the Lord; and you too, in him, are being built into a house where God lives, in the Spirit.

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Luke 6:12-16

Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. When day came he summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’: Simon whom he called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot who became a traitor.

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When day came, He called His disciples to Himself, and from them He chose Twelve, whom He also named Apostles.

Today’s Gospel reading talks about Jesus choosing his apostles. The Twelve would function as his champions, his supporters and believers, who would uphold his teachings and ways. Yes, they are helpers in a way, but the definition of ‘apostle’ does not mention ‘help’ anywhere. The Apostles were Jesus’ support system.

Very recently, a whole host of actresses, interns, models and former employees of Harvey Weinstein stepped out to speak of their personal experiences of sexual harassment at the hands of Mr. Weinstein himself. In what I am sure has been a PR nightmare, the Weinstein company sacked Mr. Weinstein. But the nightmare isn’t just confined to the company. In fact, the company will probably be acquired, undergo a name change, have a reshuffle in the board and with some luck, it will continue to exist as though all of this never happened. As for the women… the nightmare has only just begun, or will worsen, and they will live in constant fear of always being judged, gossiped, and scrutinised.

My heart breaks to read of reports of women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed and, in what clearly would be a case where they are the victims, the fingers are now pointed at them, the spotlight shining brightly on their ‘so-called’ values, casting shadows on their integrity. And this goes beyond just sexual harassment. This goes beyond gender. Anyone who has ever felt marginalised, bullied, taken advantage of, anyone who has felt depressed, or suicidal – this is for you too.

Why are we, as victims, so afraid to speak up and speak out? I’ll tell you why. Because we are afraid. Afraid that no one will believe us. Afraid that people will look at us and say “we had it coming” or that we’re “making a mountain out of a molehill”. Afraid that people will scrutinise our character and think so much less of us. We are already thinking less of ourselves, undignified and blemished. We have been made to believe, by our self-talk and by others’ talk, that we are somehow crazy, ugly, weak, worthless or ‘damaged goods’. And so we retreat. We build a wall of silence around ourselves, scared to speak, hoping that if we can keep the judgments from coming in, we can keep the problem out.

The Weinstein scandal however, has started a movement on media, a “Me too” movement. Women from everywhere are coming out to speak up about their own experiences. Women are now speaking up to show solidarity — that we aren’t alone, that we don’t have to build walls around us, and we don’t have to be ashamed for we have not done anything wrong. We may be victims, but we don’t have to feel victimised because we are strong. We are not crazy or worthless; we are strong and unique, and we should live our uniqueness. Sometimes though, we have retreated so far into ourselves that we need help to get back out, but we just don’t know how.

We’re not alone. We have to acknowledge that we need help, and we need a support system. We need to be around people who will cheer us on and raise us up. People who will believe in us all the way. And instead of building a wall, we will build a network of supporters who will look out for us, even in the darkest days.

The first reading today says that we are “no longer strangers or sojourners”. We are in this together! More importantly is that with Jesus as our capstone, “the whole structure is held together”. Jesus will send us the help that we need, He is in this together with us too. And He knows the turmoil in our hearts. He will never let our spirit fail, and never let us fall. He will provide us with the support system that we need, and He will be a part of it.

Jesus too needed his own support system. Knowing what he would face, it was imperative that he had his own squad of believers. He turned to God, and prayed the night to Him, and in the morning, he came down the mountain and picked out the Twelve out of all his disciples.

Let us trust God to help us find our support system, by lifting our petition to God. Let us acknowledge that no trial, no matter how big or small it may be, needs to be faced alone. We’re not crazy or weak, we are God’s children, and He will never let us fall.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, in our times of trials where it is hard to even believe ourselves, surround us with people who will love and support us. Help us to believe in ourselves, and keep us secure in the knowledge that Your protective arms are all we need.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for our strength, for our families, loved ones and friends, who love us unconditionally, who are here to help us fight another day.

27 September, Tuesday – Hope

27 September – Memorial for St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

Vincent (1581-1660) spent four years with the Franciscan friars getting an education. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, then freed when he converted one of his owners to Christianity. He started organisations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. With Louise de Marillac, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He also instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists).

– Patron Saints Index

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Job 3:1-3,11-17,20-23

Job broke the silence and cursed the day of his birth. This is what he said:

May the day perish when I was born,
and the night that told of a boy conceived.
Why did I not die new-born,
not perish as I left the womb?
Why were there two knees to receive me,
two breasts for me to suck?
Had there not been, I should now be lying in peace,
wrapped in a restful slumber,
with the kings and high viziers of earth
who build themselves vast vaults,
or with princes who have gold and to spare
and houses crammed with silver.
Or put away like a still-born child that never came to be,
like unborn babes that never see the light.
Down there, bad men bustle no more,
there the weary rest.

Why give light to a man of grief?
Why give life to those bitter of heart,
who long for a death that never comes,
and hunt for it more than for a buried treasure?
They would be glad to see the grave-mound
and shout with joy if they reached the tomb.
Why make this gift of light to a man who does not see his way,
whom God baulks on every side?

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Luke 9:51-56

As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely took the road for Jerusalem and sent messengers ahead of him. These set out, and they went into a Samaritan village to make preparations for him, but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem. Seeing this, the disciples James and John said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’ But he turned and rebuked them, and they went off to another village.

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“Why give light to a man of grief? Why give life to those bitter of heart, who long for a death that never comes, and hunt for it more than for a buried treasure?”

The readings today challenge us as brings us to the question of what is morally right in the eyes of the church. If ultimately our goal is to be united with Christ in heaven, then why can’t we put someone who is suffering to death in order that he may be united with Christ, where there will not be any more suffering?

There are times where after having invested all our time, effort and money into projects/relationships/careers/exams only to see us fail, we want to give up, everything we have worked for, down the drain. We begin to ask ourselves, what’s the meaning of life? Where’s God? And we say that there is no God and life is no more worth living. However, our questioning and our answer has never been based on God but ourselves, OUR hard work, OUR effort, OUR money and MY life. Because the reality is that even after we’ve failed, we realise that we are still alive, even though we may not be as before, we still have a shot at life. We have HOPE.

The readings direct us to the message that indeed God is our HOPE. It is only He who gives life and takes away. And because of this, we ought to be pro-life, to be givers of hope to all, especially those who are suffering.

The problem with us as seen in the Gospel, is that, like the disciples, we tend to judge, “but the people would not receive him because he was making for Jerusalem…. ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to burn them up?’”. Often, we find ourselves saying “he/she deserves it.” But our God is one who despite the many times that we have chosen sin over Him, patiently waits for us and continues to be a provider of this hope that we will truly be united with Him because we treasure this life that He has given us.

There will always be sufferings but we are called to also be hope for others in those times of suffering. In that way, we can see the glory of God, to recognise that we are blessed even in our sufferings for it is in the HOPE that God is present, it is in Him that we live. Let us strive to be hope for the hopeless and light for all those in darkness.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

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Prayer: Dear Lord, our struggles are real, our load is heavy, our flesh is weak. Be our strength and our courage Lord. Help us to see with your eyes, to see the hope in this world, to be the hope in the world. To know that you are present, have always been and will always be. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for reaching out to us today. Many times we really feel like giving up. The workload isn’t lessening and it seems that we are trapped in a never ending cycle. Thank you for your questions and help us to reflect on, what is the meaning of life? And, where’s God? Amen.

21 June, Tuesday – Choose the Hard Road

21 June – Memorial for St. Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

St. Aloysius (1568-1591) was an Italian noble who grew up in a castle as the son of a compulsive gambler. He suffered from kidney disease, but considered it a blessing as it left him bed-ridden with time for prayer. While still a boy himself, he taught catechism to poor boys. At age 18 he signed away his legal claim to his family’s lands and title to his brother, and became a Jesuit novice. He tended to plague victims in Rome in the outbreak of 1591, and died of the plague himself with the desire to see God.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Kings 19:9-11,14-21,31-36

Sennacherib, King of the Assyrians, sent messengers to Hezekiah saying, ‘Tell this to Hezekiah king of Judah, “Do not let your God on whom you are relying deceive you, when he says: Jerusalem shall not fall into the power of the king of Assyria. You have learnt by now what the kings of Assyria have done to every country, putting them all under the ban. Are you likely to be spared?’

Hezekiah took the letter from the hands of the messenger and read it; he then went up to the Temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. Hezekiah said this prayer in the presence of the Lord, ‘O Lord of Hosts, God of Israel, enthroned on the cherubs, you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth, you have made heaven and earth.

‘Give ear, Lord, and listen.
Open your eyes, Lord, and see.
Hear the words of Sennacherib
who has sent to insult the living God.

‘It is true, O Lord, that the kings of Assyria have exterminated all the nations, they have thrown their gods on the fire, for these were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, and hence they have destroyed them. But now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, I pray you, and let all the kingdoms of the earth know that you alone are God, the Lord.’

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah. ‘The Lord, the God of Israel,’ he said, ‘says this, “I have heard the prayer you have addressed to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria.” Here is the oracle that the Lord has pronounced against him:

‘“She despises you, she scorns you,
the virgin, daughter of Zion;
she tosses her head behind you,
the daughter of Jerusalem.”
‘This, then, is what the Lord says about the king of Assyria:
‘“He will not enter this city,
he will let fly no arrow against it,
confront it with no shield,
throw up no earthwork against it.
By the road that he came on he will return;
he shall not enter this city. It is the Lord who speaks.
I will protect this city and save it
for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”’

That same night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib struck camp and left; he returned home and stayed in Nineveh.

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Matthew 7:6,12-14

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.
‘So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets.
‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.’

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“The road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious”

In the previous day’s gospel, Jesus gives us a framework for fraternal correction. While we do our best in reconciling with our brother or sister, today’s gospel tells us that what is holy must not be cast before dogs and that one should not cast pearls before swine.

Jesus also talks about the taking the narrow gate which leads to heaven, versus the wider gate which leads to perdition, or a state of eternal damnation.

In our daily lives, it is always easier to take the path of least resistance. Such a path is easier as one would not be required to stand up for one’s values. The moral question of whether one is right (or wrong) does not come into play… for choosing the wide gate means choosing something that is easy and politically expedient.

I have found myself in previous work environments where colleagues (and myself) had found ourselves agreeing with the bosses even though we felt the decisions were either wrong or morally questionable. Rather than defending what is right, we find that it is easier simply to agree. This happens also in our social relationships. Situations where we need to take the narrow gate may tend to be compromised because it is simply more difficult and challenging.

Let us pray to our God for moral courage and strength to do the right thing.

(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)

Prayer – Father, let us to be strong to make the right choice; to walk the path that is more difficult and to enter heaven through the narrow gate. Help us to understand what is required and to act in Your Will.

Thanksgiving – Thank You Father for showing us the path to Your eternal kingdom. Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, who speaks to us in our spirit, guiding our choices and conscience along the way.

Wednesday, 21 May – My Father, the Vinedresser

21 May – Memorial of Saint Christopher Magallanes and his Companions

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

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Acts 15:1-6

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

  All the members of the church saw them off, and as they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria they told how the pagans had been converted, and this news was received with the greatest satisfaction by the brothers. When they arrived in Jerusalem they were welcomed by the church and by the apostles and elders, and gave an account of all that God had done with them.
  But certain members of the Pharisees’ party who had become believers objected, insisting that the pagans should be circumcised and instructed to keep the Law of Moses. The apostles and elders met to look into the matter.

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John 15:1-8

Jesus said:

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

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It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.

There, Jesus has said it. We should bear much fruit. Only then we will be called disciples. It is no coincidence that since Sunday, many of the scripture readings follow in the vein of discipleship – from the royal Priesthood to the accounts of the first Apostles’ missionary adventures. We are awaiting Pentecost, but before that, we must be worked on, and put to work in the fields.

What work? Jesus uses the analogy of vines on the people he preaches to in today’s Gospel passage. He says the vinedresser is the Father. A quick check on the etymology of ‘vinedresser’ shows up a masculine noun: a labourer in a vineyard, one who cultivates, prunes, or cares for grapevines, or gardener. It is derived from the Greek – ampelourgos – which has its roots in ergos, which means: work, labor, action, deed. It is backbreaking and intensive work to cultivate and prune grapevines – and our Heavenly Father is constantly at this with us. This is what Jesus tells us – and he calls himself ‘the true vine’.

God prunes us all. And since Jesus is the true vine, it means he too was being pruned, in order that he might bear more branches. How did God prune His Son? The forty days spent in the wilderness after his baptism by John (Mt 4:1-11); the numerous occasions he was almost stoned by the mob but slipped away (Jn 8:59); unbelief from the crowd, and even his followers (Jn 6:51-53); the sweating of blood in the garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:44); the kiss from Judas (Mk 14:44-46); the merciless sentencing by the crowd before Pilate (Mt 27:15-22); the humiliation and torture of the cross (Jn 19:21-23). This does not contradict Jesus’ fully divine nature but affirms it – he had no need of pruning but took it upon himself for our sakes – and compels us to reflect on something else he had said, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him’ (John 13:16; John 15:20). These were the prophetic words he spoke as he taught his disciples to expect persecution, to expect humble service, and to love God and our neighbour as He first loved us. If the Son suffered for us, so then we too can expect suffering in following him. This all sounds so unpalatable. Who would want this?

What comforts me most is this: that even if I am the branch that does bear fruit, I am pruned more, so that I am made to bear even more fruit. It is tough when I search for the reasons why it is so that when faith grows stronger and roots are plunged deeper, the vinedresser still keeps working on me. Often it feels that He does so with more persistent resolve, such that I can’t help screaming, “Please stop!” in my head. Still I am salved by the image that even if there is pain, His are the loving hands that hold me, guide me, and bend me to become the branch which remains resolutely a part of the One true living vine.

Since I have chosen to make my home in Christ, he has made home in me. And it is by my bearing of fruit in plenty that I bear witness as his disciple. There is no true faith without ergo, in other words, faith can turn into a withered branch without the fruit of deeds.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
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Thanksgiving: I thank you Father for never giving up on me, no matter where I am at.

Prayer: I pray to never let go of Jesus, the true vine, the source on whom my life draws from.