Tag Archives: wisdom

23 September, Sunday – Wisdom from above, Peace from within

23 September 2018

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Wisdom 2:12,17-20

The godless say to themselves:

‘Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.

‘Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

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James 3:16-4:3

Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above is essentially something pure; it also makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good; nor is there any trace of partiality or hypocrisy in it. Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness.

Where do these wars and battles between yourselves first start? Isn’t it precisely in the desires fighting inside your own selves? You want something and you haven’t got it; so you are prepared to kill. You have an ambition that you cannot satisfy; so you fight to get your way by force. Why you don’t have what you want is because you don’t pray for it; when you do pray and don’t get it, it is because you have not prayed properly, you have prayed for something to indulge your own desires.

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Mark 9:30-37

After leaving the mountain Jesus and his disciples made their way through Galilee; and he did not want anyone to know, because he was instructing his disciples; he was telling them, ‘The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men; they will put him to death; and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him.

They came to Capernaum, and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ They said nothing because they had been arguing which of them was the greatest. So he sat down, called the Twelve to him and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ He then took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

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This wisdom that comes from above makes for peace 

Today’s second reading reminds me of the two homilies at my parish. One homily was about jealousy and envy. One was about praying, in particular, praying for what we want in the right way.

Most people use envy as a synonym for jealousy. However, as explained by Msgr. Charles Pope, in traditional theology, envy is different from jealousy. When I am jealous of you, there is something good about you or something good that you have, and I want to have it for myself. Jealously is sinful when one desires something exceedingly and irrationally.

Envy runs deeper and darker. There is often a sadness and anger at the goodness and excellence of another because it feels like we are reduced by their distinction. The main difference with envy, is that I not only want to possess the good or excellence of yours, but I want to destroy it.

There are different ways that envy can manifest itself. It can blatant or subtle. We can actively seek to destroy the good or excellence in others by ostracizing and ridiculing them. Or the more common and subtle form of envy is gossip and slander, which is just as sinful as the blatant form. I, shamefully, admit to the sin of jealousy and envy – not of other’s possessions of goods, but of their talents and opportunities. Although I do not actively seek to destroy, I harbor ill feelings and secretly revel in their failures. This kind of thinking does not bring me any joy. It brings more anger, sorrow, and discontent. The only way to combat the sin of envy is with the virtue of joy and zeal. What is that, you may ask. The virtue of joy and zeal is the ability to recognize the good in others and celebrate it genuinely, with wholeheartedness, and without hesitation. Easier said than done? Of course it is – for us humans. But not for God. When we suspect that the green-eyed monster is rearing its ugly head, it is then that we need to pray for wisdom, peace with others and within ourselves. Then we must make the conscious decision of listening to the voice and wisdom from above. We must practice rejoicing in the goodness and excellence of others and to see their blessings as blessings to all of us from on high.

This brings me to the other point of prayer and prayer intentions. Our prayers and prayer intentions can be divided into two broad categories. One of which aligns with God’s plan for us and our desire to become more Christ-like. There should be no hesitation in asking the Father for such gifts. The other is simply our wishes and desires, not necessarily bad, but more of this world. It is when we are praying for these intentions, we should pray in such a way that God’s will be done, not ours. When we truly understand and believe that our Heavenly Father has our best interests at heart and will not lead us astray, we learn to trust and then, only then, do we gain the wisdom and the peace that we all seek.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Winnie Kung)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for the wisdom that comes from above, to guide us in our thoughts, words, actions and prayers.  Grant us the virtues of joy and zeal so that we do not fall to the sin of envy.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, our Heavenly Father, for granting us wisdom and peace.

10 September, Monday – On Defiance

10 September

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1 Corinthians 5:1-8

I have been told as an undoubted fact that one of you is living with his father’s wife. This is a case of sexual immorality among you that must be unparalleled even among pagans. How can you be so proud of yourselves? You should be in mourning. A man who does a thing like that ought to have been expelled from the community. Though I am far away in body, I am with you in spirit, and have already condemned the man who did this thing as if I were actually present. When you are assembled together in the name of the Lord Jesus, and I am spiritually present with you, then with the power of our Lord Jesus he is to be handed over to Satan so that his sensual body may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

The pride that you take in yourselves is hardly to your credit. You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be. Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

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Luke 6:6-11

On the sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up! Come out into the middle.’ And he came out and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, ‘I put it to you: is it against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?’ Then he looked round at them all and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was better. But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.

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“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath, rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

Yesterday we talked about how we have a responsibility to seek the truth and speak the Word of God, even if that truth rattles cages. It seems fitting then, that today’s readings deal with defiance. In the first, an act of incest is committed by one of the newly converted Christians in Corinth. It is further implied that the sordid affair has been flaunted publicly at church (1 Cor 5:1-7), with no seeming push back from the congregation’s elders. Instead, everyone has chosen to look the other way. Why was the incestuous couple allowed to carry on? We are not told specifically but Scripture verses reveal the church in Corinth to be deeply factious and intensely political (1 Cor 1-4). Elitism was rife. So it may have been that the sinner in question was someone powerful. Someone no one wanted to persecute. The sin of incest, committed in open defiance of Christ’s teachings, affected the believers’ faith journey in Corinth and the credibility of the new Church. Paul courageously calls this out and urges for excommunication (1 Cor 5: 1-8), that the sinners be “expelled from your midst”. All of this sounds familiar – except that our present day Catholic Church has yet to find its ‘Paul’.

The second incident is Jesus’ seeming defiance of the Sabbath by healing a man at the synagogue. He knows that the Jewish religious elite are watching to see what he will do. The Sabbath is a holy day for the Jewish people. Work of any kind is forbidden. By healing the man so publicly, Jesus was taking a defiant stand – that the spirit of the law was more important than the law itself. Shouldn’t the afflicted man be shown mercy and released from his suffering, especially on the Sabbath? The Jewish leaders saw this as a personal attack on them, instead of the act of mercy and compassion that it was. They took Jesus’ defiance as a challenge to their authority.

It’s easy to discern the significance of things when we have the benefit of hindsight. It’s a little more tricky in practice. When is defiance not an altruistic act? For that, we have to examine our own consciences. We have to pray. And we have to scrutinize the fruits of our actions. Are our actions supported by pure motivations or are we trying to push our personal agendas? Are we working towards the good of God’s faithful or satisfying our own selfish desires? Are we trying to put across God’s message or trying to make ourselves famous? Be certain that if our intentions are anything but noble, the Holy Spirit will see through us and we will find no peace. Judgment awaits all who subvert God’s Word for their own ends.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to make good judgments, to see the straight and narrow path, even when it seems to be obscured by a thicket of lies and propaganda. We pray for God’s protection, that He watch over all who labour to put things right in His house.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who helps us to discern God’s message in His Word.

28 August, Tuesday – True Repentence

28 August – Memorial for St. Augustine, Bishop, Doctor

After investigating and experimenting with several philosophies, Augustine (354-430) became a Manichaean for several years; it taught of a great struggle between good and evil, and featured a lax moral code. A summation of his thinking at the time comes from his Confessions: “God, give me chastity and continence – but not just now.”

Augustine finally broke with the Manichaeans and was converted by the prayers of his mother and the help of St. Ambrose of Milan, who baptised him. Upon the death of his mother he returned to Africa, sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor, and founded a monastery. He founded religious communities and fought heresies. His later thinking can also be summed up in a line from his writings: Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.

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2 Thessalonians 2:1-3,14-17

To turn, brothers, to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we shall all be gathered round him: please do not get excited too soon or alarmed by any prediction or rumour or any letter claiming to come from us, implying that the Day of the Lord has already arrived. Never let anyone deceive you in this way.

It cannot happen until the Great Revolt has taken place and the Rebel, the Lost One, has appeared. Through the Good News that we brought he called you to this so that you should share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Stand firm, then, brothers, and keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who has given us his love and, through his grace, such inexhaustible comfort and such sure hope, comfort you and strengthen you in everything good that you do or say.

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Matthew 23:23-26

Jesus said, ‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who pay your tithe of mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law – justice, mercy, good faith! These you should have practised, without neglecting the others. You blind guides! Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!

‘Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who clean the outside of cup and dish and leave the inside full of extortion and intemperance. Blind Pharisee! Clean the inside of cup and dish first so that the outside may become clean as well.’

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“… so that you should share the glory…”

Funny as it sounds, one of my favourite movies is ‘Shallow Hal’, a comedy starring Jack Black as Hal. Because of a childhood trauma, he sought the company of women who were very beautiful in terms of physical beauty.

So spoilers ahead for those of you planning to watch this particular movie.

Hal chances upon a hypnotist (the ever affable Tony Robbins) who then helps him see the real beauty in the ladies he meets. From then on, he meets with many beautiful women, who also find him attractive. He also meets with a few who not only are less attractive, but also turn out to extremely nasty individuals.

Fast forward to the end of the movie and Hal begins to see the world normally again. It turns out that the beautiful women were not the ravishing beauties he initially saw, and the nasty ladies were actually physically beautiful. Understandably, he was confused, as he could no longer see just the superficial, physical aspects.

Our Lord Jesus speaks in the Gospel today about how, like Hal, many of us focus on the unimportant aspects of our faith. I remember a priest once sharing about how people are concerned about whether they ate meat on a Friday, but were making wrong choices in terms of their faith, lifestyle or moral decisions.

In my spiritual life, I find it tempting to focus on my ‘less serious’ sins in order to cover up the sins that I am truly ashamed of. And yet, when I rely on God’s grace and face my sins head on, I find that I experience the full experience of His Mercy.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer:  We pray that we may be able to trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us and to help us discern what is truly important to our faith.

Thanksgiving:  Thank You Lord Jesus, for teaching us. Thank You for always showing us what we need to focus on as God’s children.

3 February, Saturday – On Noise And Knowledge

3 Feb – Memorial for St. Blaise, bishop and martyr; Memorial for St. Ansgar, bishop

Blaise (d. 316) was a physician and Bishop of Sebaste, Armenia. He lived in a cave on Mount Argeus. He was a healer of men and animals. According to legend, sick animals would come to him on their own for help, but would never disturb him in prayer.

Agricola, governor of Cappadocia, came to Sebaste to persecute Christians. His huntsmen went into the forests of Argeus to find wild animals for the arena games, and found many waiting outside Blaise’s cave. Discovered in prayer, Blaise was arrested and Agricola tried to get him to recant his faith. While in prison, Blaise ministered to and healed his fellow prisoners, including saving a child who was choking on a fish bone; this led to the blessing of throats of Blaise’s feast day.

Thrown into a lake to drown, Blaise stood on the surface and invited his persecutors to walk out and prove the power of their gods; they drowned. When he returned to land, he was martyred by being beaten, his flesh torn out with wool combs (which led to his association with and patronage of those involved in the wool trade), and then beheaded.

Blaise has been extremely popular for centuries in both the Eastern and Western Churches. In 1222, the Council of Oxford prohibited servile labour in England on his feast. He is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers.

 

Ansgar (801-865) was born to the French nobility. He was a Benedictine monk at Old Corbie Abbey in Picardy, and New Corbie in Westphalia. He studied under St. Adelard and St. Paschasius Radbert. He accompanied the converted King Harold to Denmark when the exiled king returned home.

He was a missionary to Denmark and Sweden. He founded the first Christian church in Sweden in c.832. He was abbot of New Corbie c.834. He was ordained Archbishop of Hamburg by Pope Gregry IV. He was a papal legate to the Scandinavian countries. He established the first Christian school in Denmark, but was run out by pagans, and the school was burned to the ground. He campaigned against slavery.

He was Archbishop of Bremen. He converted Erik, King of Jutland. He was a great preacher, a miracle worker, and greatly devoted to the poor and sick. Sadly, after his death most of his gains for the Church were lost to resurgent paganism.

– Patron Saint Index

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1 Kings 3:4-13

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

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Mark 6:30-34

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

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“… but for understanding so you may know what is right…”

In the Tao Te Ching, there is a famous saying, that “those who know are not learned; those who are learned do not know”. It used to bother me that the Tao Te Ching was advocating for us to remain blissfully ignorant. And then I grew up, started reading the news and realized that the more ‘knowledge’ you acquire, the more ‘noise’ you have to deal with. Noise can seem important if you dress it up with enough bells and whistles, but it serves no purpose other than to waste our time. How do we tell the differnce between knowledge that harms and knowledge that heals? Solomon’s request was for exactly that – to be able to discern truth from the noise.

It’s so easy to be misled. You won’t even feel like you’re going astray. How often have we mindlessly surfed the Internet only to look up and find that we’ve lost half a day? For instance, it has taken me an entire day to write this reflection. Why? Because I’ve been faffing about, looking at headlines, allegedly so I can ‘stay engaged and informed’. Noise throws you off your purpose, and you may not even be aware that it’s happening.

Whatever our ambitions, we are finite beings. We grow weary, our days on earth are numbered, our efforts are not inexhaustible. So how we apply ourselves is important. We may think that wisdom lies in the acquistion of knowledge, but that isn’t the case. Will we live more meaningful lives by chasing every headline out there? I don’t think so. Wisdom comes from living simply, according to His commandments. Wisdom comes from making Him our unwavering purpose. Without Christ as our focus – and our filter – we are exactly as he decribed the crowd; lost like sheep without a shepherd. We’ll fall for every distraction that calls our name.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for the wisdom to discern between things that are of God, and things that are of this world.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who resides within us and guides our thoughts and actions.

17 October, Tuesday – Wisdom

Oct 17 – Memorial for St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Ignatius (c. 50–107) was a convert from paganism to Christianity. He succeeded Peter as bishop of Antioch, Syria. He served during persecution of Domitian. During the persecution of Trajan, he was ordered to be taken to Rome to be killed by wild animals. On the way, a journey which took months, he wrote a series of encouraging letters to the churches under his care. He was the first writer to use the term The Catholic Church. He was an apostolic father and a martyr. His name occurs in the Canon of the Mass. Legend says he was the infant that Jesus took into his arms in Mark 9.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 1:16-25

I am not ashamed of the Good News: it is the power of God saving all who have faith – Jews first, but Greeks as well – since this is what reveals the justice of God to us: it shows how faith leads to faith, or as scripture says: The upright man finds life through faith.

The anger of God is being revealed from heaven against all the impiety and depravity of men who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world his everlasting power and deity – however invisible – have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made. That is why such people are without excuse: they knew God and yet refused to honour him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew, until they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for a worthless imitation, for the image of mortal man, of birds, of quadrupeds and reptiles. That is why God left them to their filthy enjoyments and the practices with which they dishonour their own bodies, since they have given up divine truth for a lie and have worshipped and served creatures instead of the creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen!

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Luke 11:37-41

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at the table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘Oh, you Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and then indeed everything will be clean for you.’

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The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew
I’d like to touch on a very real trait that is well-known in Singapore society: ‘kiasu-ism’. The Hokkien term ‘kiasu’ denotes someone who is afraid to lose and would literally do anything to get ahead and stay ahead. Sometimes, this includes withholding information from other people, so as to have a “first mover advantage” or to place oneself in an important position because you possessed that information.
I once worked with a manager who liked to do that. In fact he even had a reputation in the office for not sharing important information, even with his own team members. During meetings with the clients and bosses, he would present this information, giving the impression that he was in the ‘know’ and therefore creating value for himself at the expense of his team. It’s difficult to work with people like this. I can understand their motives, though I may not agree with it. In this dog-eat-dog world, it really is the survival of the fittest, and if you can’t stay in the game, you would be out.
In today’s reading, St Paul condemns those who had the knowledge of God but refused to share it with others. God revealed this to them so that they would go forth and spread the Good News of the gospel. Some of these people felt privileged that such a revelation should come upon them and turned that privilege as a bargaining chip for position. They felt important, and believed that they were smart because people would look to them. Consumed by pride, they believed only in their own reasoning and the Word of God became obliterated.
Knowledge is a gift given to us by the grace of God. We know the things that we do because God made it so. Some people are smarter than others, but it doesn’t mean that they are more important. Perhaps others possess a gift for speaking, or a gift for the arts, that another person does not have. The Holy Spirit gives each of us special gifts as he sees fit (1 Cor 12:11). What we know about work and life is because we were given the smarts to do that by God. Our ability to digest numbers, recite the law, or comprehend technical terms is undeniably from our own efforts, but more importantly because God blessed us with the ability to understand these things.
So for those of us whom God has blessed, let us ask ourselves: what are we doing with the knowledge that God has given us? Are we sharing it as we should? Are we using it for the right purposes? Are we applying discernment to what we know? Are we giving Him glory? God gives us the wisdom to know Him, His word and His creations. If we ask, we would receive it. But it is a gift and, as with all of God’s gifts, if we use it unwisely, it may one day be taken away from us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, help us shed our ‘kiasu’ spirit and learn to share what we have with those who need it most.   
Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord for giving us the wisdom to understand Your word and the wisdom to discern. We pray that we will not take this gift of knowledge for granted.

16 October, Monday – Silence Speaks To Open Hearts

Oct 16 – Memorial for St. Hedwig, Religious; Memorial for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin

Hedwig (1174–1243) was the daughter of the Duke of Croatia, and aunt of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. She married Prince Henry I of Silesia and Poland in 1186 at the age of 12, and became the mother of seven. She cared for the sick both personally and by founding hospitals. Upon her husband’s death, she gave away her fortune and entered the monastery at Trebnitz.

– Patron Saint Index

Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690) was healed from a crippling disorder by a vision of the Blessed Virgin, which prompted her to give her life to God. After receiving a vision of Christ fresh from the Scourging, she was moved to join the Order of the Visitation by Paray-le-Monial in 1671.

She received a revelation from our Lord in 1675, which included 12 promises to her and to those who practiced a true devotion to His Sacred Heart, whose crown of thorns represent his sacrifices. The devotion encountered violent opposition, especially in Jansenist areas, but has become widespread and popular.

The Twelve Promises of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary for those devoted to His Sacred Heart are:

  1. I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.
  2. I will establish peace in their families.
  3. I will console them in all their troubles.
  4. They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.
  5. I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.
  6. Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.
  7. Tepid souls shall become fervent.
  8. Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.
  9. I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honoured.
  10. I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.
  11. Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.
  12. The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under any displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My Heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

– Patron Saint Index

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Romans 1:1-7

From Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus who has been called to be an apostle, and specially chosen to preach the Good News that God promised long ago through his prophets in the scriptures.

This news is about the Son of God who, according to the human nature he took was a descendant of David: it is about Jesus Christ our Lord who, in the order of the spirit, the spirit of holiness that was in him, was proclaimed Son of God in all his power through his resurrection from the dead. Through him we received grace and our apostolic mission to preach the obedience of faith to all pagan nations in honour of his name. You are one of these nations, and by his call belong to Jesus Christ. To you all, then, who are God’s beloved in Rome, called to be saints, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send grace and peace.

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Luke 11:29-32

The crowds got even bigger and Jesus addressed them, ‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’

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This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign

Don’t you just hate it when someone asks you for some advice on a situation, yet they continue to persist in the same way, until someone else – or two – comes along with the same advice and suddenly their ears are open and they pay heed? Isn’t it just worse when they come back to you and share how that advice had changed their lives or made so much sense? It seems this person forgot that you gave the same advice from the start. I am sure this is a common experience for many, and it is definitely more irritating when it happens with someone close such as a family member or a good friend.

This happens to me; and I have done the same to the people who try to help me. Actually, for some of us, we do need to hear the same message, probably twice or thrice, before it sinks in and we take note.

However, the readings of today reveal an important ingredient: wisdom. It is not enough for us to ask for a sign, to ask for the way to be shown us. After all, Paul tells us in the first reading, the signs, the Good News had been promised by God long before through the prophets in the scriptures. The people who lived in the time of these prophets had heard the prophecies loud and clear – Jonah, Moses, Elijah – but not everyone heeded their clarion call. Well, they were mere men anyway.

But here comes Jesus. Jesus, Paul proclaims, is the Son of God, the Christ our Lord. Paul is reminding the Romans that Jesus Christ is the sign for this generation. ‘For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation… and there is something greater than Solomon here… and there is something greater than Jonah here.’ (Lk 11:31-32) These were the very words of Christ himself as he preached amongst the Jews and Pagans that he walked amongst.

As I pondered this scene, I wonder if I were one of those around him back then, would I have truly listened with wisdom and discernment, or merely heard and forgot. Would I have walked on from that crowd and joined another gathering to listen to yet another wise man preach, aimlessly asking for teachings and signposts like a mindless addiction for cure-alls? Or do I choose to open my heart to the Living Word of God to seek His wisdom and love for a deep conversion within?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to sit still and let Your Word in the scriptures sink into my being like food from heaven for my weary soul.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for the gift of a morning or night-time silence when we can reflect on our days and Your presence.

10 December, Saturday – Recognising the Coming

10 December

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Ecclesiasticus 48:1-4,9-12

The prophet Elijah arose like a fire,
his word flaring like a torch.
It was he who brought famine on the people,
and who decimated them in his zeal.
By the word of the Lord, he shut up the heavens,
he also, three times, brought down fire.
How glorious you were in your miracles, Elijah!
Has anyone reason to boast as you have?
Taken up in the whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses;
designated in the prophecies of doom
to allay God’s wrath before the fury breaks,
to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob,
Happy shall they be who see you,
and those who have fallen asleep in love.

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Matthew 17:10-13

As they came down from the mountain the disciples put this question to Jesus, ‘Why do the scribes say then that Elijah has to come first?’ ‘True;’ he replied ‘Elijah is to come to see that everything is once more as it should be; however, I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.’ The disciples understood then that he had been speaking of John the Baptist.

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“I tell you that Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased; and the Son of Man will suffer similarly at their hands.”

As we close this second week of Advent, the readings speak about Elijah, to recognise that Elijah has already come. It doesn’t directly speak about the coming of the Messiah, our Christ but if we can recognise Elijah, we know Christ is near, if not already present in our midst.

Are we able to recognise the Elijahs in our lives? Are we able to recognise Christ in our lives? We are all called, in one way or another, to be Elijah in our lives, as in the example of John the Baptist, a voice that cries out in the wilderness, to prepare a way for the Lord, to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.

Let us not simply wait till we are on our deathbeds or at our wits end before we return to Christ. The coming of Christ is the coming of the joy, peace, hope, love of Christmas as well. It is something we should all look forward to rather than just a festive celebration. We celebrate Christmas every year but have we been able to celebrate the birth of Christ once again in our lives and in our hearts?

Many today are able to share or preach but how many of us actually believe what we ourselves are saying and practice what we preach? Our faith isn’t one that takes away the joys and traps us in boring traditional routines, but one that allows God to communicate Himself to us constantly, whether at mass or through the different celebrations.

This Christmas, let us prepare ourselves and, in turn, be an example, like Elijah, for when others see us, they too know that the Christ is coming, our Saviour, our King.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Benjamin Mao)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray for courage. To not be tempted and distracted by worldly things, but to keep our focus on you. For it is you who gives the eternal joy, peace, love and hope. We pray that this Christmas, we will make a gift of ourselves, not just to others but also to you. To recognise Christ in others and to be Christ to all. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for speaking to us through your Word. Thank you for the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Thank you for your mercy and love.

4 November, Friday – Finding Art in Anything

4 November – Memorial for St. Charles Borromeo, Bishop

Charles (1538-1584) was born to a wealthy, noble family, the third of six children, and the son of Count Giberto II Borromeo and Marghertita de’ Medici. He was the nephew of Pope Pius IV. He suffered from a speech impediment, but studied in Milan and at the University of Pavia, at one point studying under the future Pope Gregory XIII.

He became a civil and canon lawyer at the age of 21, and a cleric at Milan, taking the habit on Oct 13, 1547. He became Abbot of three different abbeys until Jan 13, 1560. He was protonotary apostolic participantium and referendary of the papal court to Pope Pius IV. He was also a member of the counsulta for the administration of the Papal States on Jan 20, 1560. He was appointed abbot commendatario for an abbey in Portugal, and an abbey in Flanders on Jan 27, 1560.

On Jan 31, 1560, he was apostolic administrator of Milan, Italy. On Feb 8, 1560, then a papal legate to Bologna and Romandiola for two years beginning on Apr 26, 1560. He was made a deacon on Dec 21, 1560, and appointed Vatican Secretary of State. He was made an honorary citizen of Rome on Jul 1, 1561, and founded the “Accademia Vaticana” in 1562.

He was finally ordained on Sep 4, 1563, helped reopen the Council of Trent, and participated in its sessions during 1562 and 1563. He was ordained Bishop of Milan on Dec 7, 1563 and was President of the commission of theologians charged by the pope to elaborate the Catechismus Romanus. He also worked on the revision of the Missal and Breviary, and was a member of a commission to reform church music.

He participated in the conclave of cardinals in 1565-66 that chose Pope Pius V, and he asked the new pope to take the name. Due to his enforcement of strict ecclesiastical discipline, some disgruntled monks in the order of the Humiliati hired a lay brother to murder him on the evening of Oct 26, 1569. He was shot at, but not hit.

He also participated in the conclave in 1572 that chose Pope Gregory XIII. He worked with the sick, and helped bury the dead during the plague outbreak in Milan in 1576. He established the Oblates of St. Ambrose on Apr 26, 1578, and was a teacher, confessor, and parish priest to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, giving him his first communion on Jul 22, 1580.

Charles spent his life and fortune in the service of the people of his diocese. He directed and fervently enforced the decrees of the Council of Trent, fought tirelessly for peace in the wake of the storm caused by Martin Luther, founded schools for the poor, seminaries for clerics, hospitals for the sick, conducted synods, instituted children’s Sunday school, did great public and private penance, and worked among the sick and dying, leading his people by example.

He is patron saint for bishops; catechists; catechumens; seminarians; spiritual directors; and spiritual leaders.

Prayer to St. Charles Borromeo

O Saintly reformer, animator of spiritual renewal of priests and religious, you organized true seminaries and wrote a standard catechism. Inspire all religious teachers and authors of catechetical books. Move them to love and transmit only that which can form true followers of the Teacher who was divine. Amen.

– Patron Saints Index

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Philippians 3:17-4:1

My brothers, be united in following my rule of life. Take as your models everybody who is already doing this and study them as you used to study us. I have told you often, and I repeat it today with tears, there are many who are behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god and they are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things. For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe.

So then, my brothers and dear friends, do not give way but remain faithful in the Lord. I miss you very much, dear friends; you are my joy and my crown.

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Luke 16:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘There was a rich man and he had a steward denounced to him for being wasteful with his property. He called for the man and said, “What is this I hear about you? Draw me up an account of your stewardship because you are not to be my steward any longer.” Then the steward said to himself, “Now that my master is taking the stewardship from me, what am I to do? Dig? I am not strong enough. Go begging? I should be too ashamed. Ah, I know what I will do to make sure that when I am dismissed from office there will be some to welcome me into their homes.”

Then he called his master’s debtors one by one. To the first he said, “How much do you owe my master?” “One hundred measures of oil” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond; sit down straight away and write fifty.” To another he said, “And you, sir, how much do you owe?” “One hundred measures of wheat” was the reply. The steward said, “Here, take your bond and write eighty.”

‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness. For the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’

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‘The master praised the dishonest steward for his astuteness.’

When I was younger, I learned that it is not good to lie or to cheat. Though I know it is wrong, there are instances where I have cheated to get the job done. I could argue that it was a ‘white lie.’ Still, it is a lie.

Our Gospel today teaches us to apply ingenuity in life. It talks about a master who found out that his servant was wasteful of his property. He called that servant and asked for the account of his management because he was going to be dismissed. That servant had been thinking hard about what he would do next.  He was not strong enough to dig and too ashamed to go begging. Then he thought of something so that people will welcome him in their homes. When he collected the notes from the people who owed his master, he reduced the amount unknown to his master.  It may be right to say that he just slashed off his commission. The indicated amount was the actual sum owed by the debtors. By his actions, the servant and the debtors would have a good relationship.

The master applauded his servant. This is not to condone the dishonesty of the steward. Rather, his being resourceful. He was able to think of what to do to save him.

The Gospel reminds us that our resourcefulness quickly surfaces in times of need. Being creative and resourceful is truly a great quality. They are tools that can lift us in any situation. But it is suggested that the use of our resourcefulness and creativity is not for our own good only. We should extend our capabilities to others who need our help.

Another thing to remember is our responsibilities. As a servant, there is a master. We must remember our status and be obedient to our master. We must always instil in our hearts the faithfulness and trustworthiness, not just as a follower but as a person.  We may face a lot of trials tempting us to shatter our values. But when we completely surrender ourselves to God, we can continue to be faithful and trustworthy servants of the Lord.

Coincidentally, today is the memorial for St. Charles Borromeo. He is an example of a creative person.  His artistic sense contributed to the reformation of the Catholic Church. He initiated the steps for people to have a conversion to a better life. He set an example by living a life with humility and charity. He did a wonderful job as a pastor while entrusting everything to God.

Let us be like St. Charles Borromeo to live a life in conformity to the Divine will.

(Today’s Oxygen by Beryl Baterina)

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Prayer: Father God, I ask for the grace that my heart always seeks to do Your will. Please guide us as when we encounter our struggles and choices in life.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father for the gift of wisdom and for the gift of strength, which enables us to face our trials.

1 September, Thursday – Humility and Faith

1 September

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1 Corinthians 3:18-23

Make no mistake about it: if any one of you thinks of himself as wise, in the ordinary sense of the word, then he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise. Why? Because the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As scripture says: The Lord knows wise men’s thoughts: he knows how useless they are; or again: God is not convinced by the arguments of the wise. So there is nothing to boast about in anything human: Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life and death, the present and the future, are all your servants; but you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God.

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Luke 5:1-11

Now Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

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“The Lord knows wise men’s thoughts: he knows how useless they are”

I run a mortgage brokerage firm and as part of my work, I meet with clients who are looking to either take new housing loans or to refinance their existing loans. Prior to this, I had been in the mortgage business for about 12 years. Because of the nature of my work, I am very well-acquainted with the regulations and lending guidelines of the various banks.

Over my time in this business, I have met numerous clients who have their own ideas about the affordability of their loans and the associated rules. Under those circumstances, I have had to (very patiently) explain the intricacies to them, sometimes unsuccessfully.

Such was the situation in the gospel of today.

Simon and the other fishermen had spent the whole night fishing without a single catch. Along comes Jesus, a carpenter, who asked them to go out to deeper water and cast their nets. Imagine that! A carpenter teaching a fisherman how to fish!

Rather than arguing with Jesus, Simon obeyed him and did as He said. What faith!

As we journey along in our faith, we need to connect with God, through regular prayer, reflection, bible reading and spiritual talks. In doing so, the Spirit speaks to us, prompting us. Like Peter, we need to be open to these promptings.

Coming back to the mortgage business, I have had situations where the clients had raised pertinent questions and interesting ideas have actually come out of these discussions. It was then I realized that because of my ‘experience’, I had become arrogant, thinking that I was the ‘expert’.

Similarly, we need to remember not to be arrogant; we need to be humble in order to be led by the Spirit.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: Lord, help us to be humble and to be open to Your promptings. Help us not to think that we are wiser than You and give us the strength to do what is right in Your eyes.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Father for giving us situations to teach us humility. We praise You for always sending Your Spirit to prompt us in the right direction to go.

31 August, Wednesday – Let us be like children at Your feet Lord

31 August

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1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Brothers, I myself was unable to speak to you as people of the Spirit: I treated you as sensual men, still infants in Christ. What I fed you with was milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it; and indeed, you are still not ready for it since you are still unspiritual. Isn’t that obvious from all the jealousy and wrangling that there is among you, from the way that you go on behaving like ordinary people? What could be more unspiritual than your slogans, ‘I am for Paul’ and ‘I am for Apollos’?

After all, what is Apollos and what is Paul? They are servants who brought the faith to you. Even the different ways in which they brought it were assigned to them by the Lord. I did the planting, Apollos did the watering, but God made things grow. Neither the planter nor the waterer matters: only God, who makes things grow. It is all one who does the planting and who does the watering, and each will duly be paid according to his share in the work. We are fellow workers with God; you are God’s farm, God’s building.

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Luke 4:38-44

Leaving the synagogue Jesus went to Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever and they asked him to do something for her. Leaning over her he rebuked the fever and it left her. And she immediately got up and began to wait on them.

At sunset all those who had friends suffering from diseases of one kind or another brought them to him, and laying his hands on each he cured them. Devils too came out of many people, howling, ‘You are the Son of God.’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak because they knew that he was the Christ.

When daylight came he left the house and made his way to a lonely place. The crowds went to look for him, and when they had caught up with him they wanted to prevent him leaving them, but he answered, ‘I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God to the other towns too, because that is what I was sent to do.’ And he continued his preaching in the synagogues of Judaea.

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“You are God’s farm, God’s building”

Being a father of 2, I had the wonderful journey of watching them grow up to be the children they are today. During these years, what was interesting was watching their faith journey. I have been blessed to witness their faith in God and have learned a lot from them.

Watching my children brought to mind the following passage:

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:2-4

In my younger years, I remember spending a lot of time theorizing about my faith. I thought about the ‘rules’ of being in God’s kingdom; would we go to heaven if we did this or that, would God condemn me if I did this, or didn’t do that? In fact, I thought about it so much that it began to get me feeling stressed.

One day, I came across the passage above and realized that I was being foolish. No matter how much time and effort I spend trying to ‘figure it out’, I would NEVER know. NEVER. In that particular moment of clarity, I felt admonished to be like a little child.

But what did it mean to be like a little child? Over the years, I have figured that ‘all’ I had to do was to trust in the Bible and the Church. It certainly is difficult to do.

In the past few months, I took a couple of courses — one to handle one’s business God’s way, and another to learn how to manage our finances God’s way. I had my mind blown during the courses, and learned so many biblical principles which seemed to contradict conventional wisdom. After my initial resistance, I reflected on the principles and began taking baby steps down this path. I have met people who have done so, and I can tell you that these people experience much more joy and peace than many others.

Today’s gospel reminds us that no matter what, we really need Jesus. In a lifetime that lasts forever, our 70-90 years of us do not make us wise. Our God knows better. Let us learn to trust Him.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray that we will not get fooled by our own perceived “wisdom”. Help us Father to always turn to You for true wisdom.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Father, for being there to show us the correct way. Thank You Spirit, for always guiding our own spirit to do the right thing. We praise You and thank You for never giving up on us.