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OXYGEN core team
Today we are pleased to welcome a new writer to the Oxygen team – Christian Eber. We thank him for stepping forward and pray that this writing journey will be a grace-filled one for him.
Christian was baptised shortly after birth and grew up in the East district of Singapore. After confirmation, he got lost in the frivolous pursuit of pleasure but after his grandfather passed away, he read his biography — Camp Four Kanburi on how a former WW2 POW escaped death by loving and forgiving. He experienced an epiphany and went back to complete his undergraduate studies.
After spending some years in sales attaining a significant milestone, he realised that true joy lies neither in achievement of titles nor in possession of wealth, but a more intimate relationship with the creator and being authentic in all things.
This prompted his career switch into a social enterprise, which serves the youth at risk and tackles global warming. The tenacity of his beneficiaries encourages him to search out the best in people to find the untapped potential in each individual. He now always tries to keeps a balanced approach to pursuing financial goals with spiritual outcomes.
He is thankful for his fiancée Stephanie, who introduced Oxygen to him and finds that the daily articles and reflections help him dive deeper in His Word, hoping to become a wellspring of joy.
25 Jan – Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
St. Paul (3-65) was a Jewish Talmudic student and a Pharisee. He was a tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus to arrest another group of them, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ. The experience had a profound spiritual effect on him, causing his conversion to Christianity. He was baptised, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling and preaching. He died a martyr for his faith.
It is time you were baptised and had your sins washed away while invoking his name
Today’s readings are a retelling of the conversion of Saul and how the newly baptised Paul goes on to preach in Damascus with the Christians, instead of bring them to the Jerusalem prisons as he was commissioned by the religious leader.
The mercy of God upon Saul and the use of men and women to serve are, for me, one of the main reasons for the great expansion of the church today as St John Chrysostom shared:
“Would you even like to hear something strange from the point of view of our behavior but true from the point of view of our religion? Listen! Whereas God shows himself demanding with regard to the just, for the sinner he has only kindness and gentleness. What strictness towards the just! What indulgence towards the sinner! Such is the novelty, the reversal God’s behaviour presents to us… And this is the reason why: to terrify the sinner, and especially the obstinate sinner, would be to deprive him of all confidence, throw him into despair. To flatter the just would be to soften the strength of his virtue, make him slacken his zeal. God is infinitely good! Fear of him is the safety of the just; his goodness brings back the sinner.”
During my national service, I was knocked down by a van while riding a motorbike and almost got rolled over by a bus. The accident gave me much time to reflect in hospital about my irreverent behaviour and six months wearing a cast, due to my fractured right wrist, taught me about being merciful and kind to others, something I had thrown out the window after confirmation. I had developed a false image of God and allowed material possessions and vain ambition to take control of my life. After the fall, came repentance, and I felt the pain but, like Paul, received mercy and love from my family and made new friends. However, several years later, I forgot about his mercy and like the Israelites in the desert, started another bout of prideful and selfish behaviour. This led to another fall, this time off a shipping container on a stormy night while working as a stevedore, fracturing my left wrist and leaving in a tremendous amount of pain, but enough to get me back to school to complete my undergraduate studies.
The falls in my life have helped me realise how much I needed to stay grounded and hold on to faith with much humility. I love how God’s timing is right in every situation and to always trust in His mercy and rely on the wisdom to do the right thing in any given situation.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Christian Eber)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, fill us with an indomitable spirit of joy that no earthly trial can subdue. Holy Spirit, help me to live a life of praise and thanksgiving for your glory.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for providing the light and mercy to convert even the vilest of sinners to become a great witnesses of your eternal joy, which is in store for all who call upon your name.
24 Jan – Memorial for St. Francis de Sales, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was born in a castle to a well-placed family. His parents intended him to become a lawyer, enter politics, and carry on the family line and power. He studied at La Roche, Annecy, Clermont College in Paris, and law at the University of Padua. He became a Doctor of Law, returned home, and found a position as Senate advocate.
It was at this point that he received a message telling him to “Leave all and follow Me”. He took this as a call to the priesthood, a move his family fiercely opposed. However, he pursued a devoted prayer life, and his gentle ways won over the family.
He became a priest, and a provost in the diocese of Geneva, Switzerland, a stronghold of Calvinists. He was a preacher, writer and spiritual director in the distrcit of Chablais. His simple, clear explanations of Catholic doctrine, and his gentle way with everyone, brought many back to the Roman Church.
He was ordained Bishop of Geneva at the age of 35. He travelled and evangelized throughout the Duchy of Savoy, working with children whenever he could. He was a friend of St. Vincent de Paul. He turned down a wealthy French bishopric. He helped found the Order of the Visitation with St. Jeanne de Chantal. He was a prolific correspondent. He was declared a Doctor of the Church.
– Patron Saint Index
1 Samuel 24:3-21
Saul took three thousand men chosen from the whole of Israel and went in search of David and his men east of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds along the route where there was a cave, and went in to cover his feet. Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave; David’s men said to him, Today is the day of which the Lord said to you, “I will deliver your enemy into your power, do what you like with him.”’ David stood up and, unobserved, cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. Afterwards David reproached himself for having cut off the border of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, ‘The Lord preserve me from doing such a thing to my lord and raising my hand against him, for he is the anointed of the Lord.’ David gave his men strict instructions, forbidding them to attack Saul.
Saul then left the cave and went on his way. After this, David too left the cave and called after Saul, ‘My lord king!’ Saul looked behind him and David bowed to the ground and did homage. Then David said to Saul, ‘Why do you listen to the men who say to you, “David means to harm you”? Why, your own eyes have seen today how the Lord put you in my power in the cave and how I refused to kill you, but spared you. “I will not raise my hand against my lord,” I said “for he is the anointed of the Lord.” O my father, see, look at the border of your cloak in my hand. Since I cut off the border of your cloak, yet did not kill you, you must acknowledge frankly that there is neither malice nor treason in my mind. I have not offended against you, yet you hunt me down to take my life. May the Lord be judge between me and you, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be laid on you. (As the old proverb says: Wickedness goes out from the wicked, and my hand will not be laid on you.) On whose trail has the king of Israel set out? On whose trail are you in hot pursuit? On the trail of a dead dog! On the trail of a single flea! May the Lord be the judge and decide between me and you; may he take up my cause and defend it and give judgement for me, freeing me from your power.’
When David had finished saying these words to Saul, Saul said, ‘Is that your voice, my son David?’ And Saul wept aloud. ‘You are a more upright man than I,’ he said to David ‘for you have repaid me with good while I have repaid you with evil. Today you have crowned your goodness towards me since the Lord had put me in your power yet you did not kill me. When a man comes on his enemy, does he let him go unmolested? May the Lord reward you for the goodness you have shown me today. Now I know you will indeed reign and that the sovereignty in Israel will be secure in your hands.’
Jesus went up into the hills and summoned those he wanted. So they came to him and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach, with power to cast out devils. And so he appointed the Twelve: Simon to whom he gave the name Peter, James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom he gave the name Boanerges or ‘Sons of Thunder’; then Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the man who was to betray him.
I will deliver your enemy into your power, do what you like with him.
Whenever the topic of discernment pops up, the most common question I would hear is ‘How would you know what God wants you to do?’ For me, this is the agonizing part of discernment – to find out exactly what God wanted me to do. It used to make me feel very uneasy and agitated, so I read many books on discernment and attended many talks on discernment.
What I learned is that discernment is needed when you are presented with a choice involving morally good options. If something is morally bad, it’s clear that we are not supposed to do it. If it’s a choice between a morally neutral or a morally good option, then we should ask God to give us the courage to choose the morally good option.
Well, what if it’s a choice between two morally neutral options, or two morally good options? What do we do? That’s why we need discernment. We need to pray for wisdom to choose the best. Remember Solomon? God basically gave him a blank cheque so he could write what he would like to wish for. Obviously, he should not have chosen bad options but you see, riches are not bad if they are used for the welfare of his kingdom. Good health for the king is not bad because he could rule longer and provide security for his country. Solomon made a wise choice and chose wisdom. The Bible made it look like an easy choice but I would like to think that he prayed over his choice for some time.
In today’s reading, I think David was given a similar situation. I would like to think that killing Saul would not have been an act of murder but an act of self-defense. And to defend ourselves is not wrong. So in a way, it sounded to me like God had given David a blank cheque.
I know that God will give us many blank cheques in our lives. I understand how this could sometimes drive faithful Catholics crazy — we would rather have a to-do list than a blank cheque. Whenever God puts a blank cheque in front of me, I would have, after praying for wisdom and courage and as part of my discernment, tell him a disclaimer — I would do what my heart feels is right, trusting that he will tell me if there is a better option. And if God wanted me to make a u-turn, I would gladly do it because it is better to make a u-turn so I could do the better option than to stay in the second-best road. And with that, I proceed to write my choice in the blank cheque.
Did God just give you a blank cheque? I hope you don’t agonize over it. Just pray over it faithfully and trust God with your choice. He will definitely tell you when you have to make a u-turn.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)
Prayer: Dear Lord, why do you make choices so ‘complicated’? It would have been easier if you just told me how to do things, step-by-step. I trust that in your wisdom and love, you know that it’s not the best for me, so I’ll trust you more and take a step. I know you’ll lead me — either forward or back.
Thanksgiving: Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to live my life to the fullest by giving me options. And I thank you greatly for the wisdom and guidance you give me, and for my Guardian Angel who always guides me as well.
1 Samuel 18:6-9, 19:1-7
On their way back, as David was returning after killing the Philistine, the women came out to meet King Saul from all the towns of Israel, singing and dancing to the sound of tambourine and lyre and cries of joy; and as they danced the women sang:
‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.’
Saul was very angry; the incident was not to his liking. ‘They have given David the tens of thousands,’ he said ‘but me only the thousands; he has all but the kingship now.’ And Saul turned a jealous eye on David from that day forward.
Saul told Jonathan his son and all his servants of his intention to kill David. Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, held David in great affection; and so Jonathan warned David; ‘My father Saul is looking for a way to kill you,’ he said ‘so be on your guard tomorrow morning; hide away in some secret place. Then I will go out and keep my father company in the fields where you are hiding, and will talk to my father about you; I will find out what the situation is and let you know.’
So Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father; he said, ‘Let not the king sin against his servant David, for he has not sinned against you, and what he has done has been greatly to your advantage. He took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine, and the Lord brought about a great victory for all Israel. You saw it yourself and rejoiced; why then sin against innocent blood in killing David without cause?’ Saul was impressed by Jonathan’s words and took an oath, ‘As the Lord lives, I will not kill him.’ Jonathan called David and told him all these things. Then Jonathan brought him to Saul, and David attended on him as before.
Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lakeside, and great crowds from Galilee followed him. From Judaea, Jerusalem, Idumaea, Transjordania and the region of Tyre and Sidon, great numbers who had heard of all he was doing came to him. And he asked his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, to keep him from being crushed. For he had cured so many that all who were afflicted in any way were crowding forward to touch him. And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he warned them strongly not to make him known.
Great crowds from Galilee followed him.
One of the things I lookout for when ‘people watching’ during lunch is when they make the Sign of the Cross. I get so excited whenever I see someone signing himself in prayer before and after the meal. It’s an affirmation for me that I’m not the sole Catholic in the lunchtime crowd.
While I was finishing my lunch one time, a gentleman asked if the space opposite me was free. Before he began his meal, made the Sign of the Cross. That quickly became a conversation starter and we asked each other which Church we attended and a few other things about our Catholic Faith. For me, it wasn’t just finding another Catholic in the crowd; it was about finding someone who is in the crowd of Jesus’ followers. It was finding someone who was comfortable doing Catholic things that would let the world know that he was a Catholic.
The world can be a cruel place when it comes to Christians. We hear of Christians being persecuted in other parts of the world for their faith but what are usually highlighted are persecutions that lead to martyrdom, or to the refugee centers. We also occasionally hear of people being sued for not selling a cake to celebrate same-sex unions. These situations sometimes make us forget that there are little persecutions that happen, too, and they are in our lives. One of those things that used to make me feel persecuted were the stares of people whenever I made the Sign of the Cross. I’m sure they didn’t mean any harm, but it made me feel like I was doing something different, and different is not always seen as good, even if it is tolerated. So sometimes, these persecutions prevent us from doing things that will show we aren’t in the usual crowd, but that we are in the crowd that follows Jesus.
To find another person in Jesus’ crowd in the middle of the crowd gives me strength and encouragement. It is a clear message to me that I am not alone. My daily activities can be so stressful sometimes that finding another Catholic in the crowd reminds me of God’s presence. It’s reassuring.
Let us not think that our practicing of small gestures of faith is inconsequential to others. Our reverent bows when we enter the Church, our genuflecting that is not rushed, our obvious Sign of the Cross, or the short time we take to pray before we start our work are all being noticed. These loving actions, while small, can be strong tesminonies and witnessing to God which He can use to inspire others and move their hearts.
Some of us feel that we do not know how to witness to God. We forget that God is hugely present in the small things that we do, and these things tell people which crowd we belong to. Let us be mindful how our small actions can be great testimonies.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)
Prayer: Dear Lord, help us show our faithfulness and love for you in our little ways. Help us fill the little things we do with great love and reverence so that others may know that they are not alone.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, that you made it easy for me to become a witness to you. Thank you for the people who I see gladly do these little things as they remind me of your presence.
1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
David said to Saul, ‘Let no-one lose heart on his account; your servant will go and fight the Philistine.’ But Saul answered David, ‘You cannot go and fight the Philistine; you are only a boy and he has been a warrior from his youth.’
‘The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lion and bear’ David said ‘will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.’ Then Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you!’
He took his staff in his hand, picked five smooth stones from the river bed, put them in his shepherd’s bag, in his pouch, and with his sling in his hand he went to meet the Philistine. The Philistine, his shield-bearer in front of him, came nearer and nearer to David; and the Philistine looked at David, and what he saw filled him with scorn, because David was only a youth, a boy of fresh complexion and pleasant bearing. The Philistine said to him, ‘Am I a dog for you to come against me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come over here and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field.’ But David answered the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have dared to insult. Today the Lord will deliver you into my hand and I shall kill you; I will cut off your head, and this very day I will give your dead body and the bodies of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord gives the victory, for the Lord is lord of the battle and he will deliver you into our power.’
No sooner had the Philistine started forward to confront David than David left the line of battle and ran to meet the Philistine. Putting his hand in his bag, he took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead; the stone penetrated his forehead and he fell on his face to the ground. Thus David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone and struck the Philistine down and killed him. David had no sword in his hand. Then David ran and, standing over the Philistine, seized his sword and drew it from the scabbard, and with this he killed him, cutting off his head. The Philistines saw that their champion was dead, and took to flight.
Jesus went again into a synagogue, and there was a man there who had a withered hand. And they were watching him to see if he would cure him on the sabbath day, hoping for something to use against him. He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Stand up out in the middle!’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it against the law on the sabbath day to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to kill?’ But they said nothing. Then, grieved to find them so obstinate, he looked angrily round at them, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was better. The Pharisees went out and at once began to plot with the Herodians against him, discussing how to destroy him.
The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lion and bear will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.
There are moments in our lives where God puts us in a position to face our Goliaths. Our natural tendency is to focus on the Goliath God has placed before us, on how big he is, on how scary he is, on how small we are compared to him and we tremble in fear. Sometimes, we forget to remember all the times our Lord has delivered us from ‘lion and bear’.
I have been freelancing for two years and I know how scary the experience is. Unlike working full-time, I could never expect a regular paycheck. I never knew when I will get a new project and if I could earn enough for a month to have a positive cashflow. One of the greatest fears I had was if I would have to dip into my savings to support myself. It was not exactly the most comfortable time but it was the time I learned how to really trust God and His providence. You see, my Goliath was being able to trust God and to rely on His providence. I wanted many layers of protection.
God has been really faithful and I can say that he really took care of me. I would say He knew my limits so he made sure that at the end of the year, my cashflow was 0. Yes, it was 0. I didn’t add to my savings but I didn’t have to dip into my savings. It may sound ironic to some but I think that’s my current tolerance level, and God knew it. He didn’t give me a Goliath I couldn’t conquer.
So what sustained me during my freelancing years? Well, I remembered the ‘lion and bear’ in my life. One of them was getting a job even though I submitted a resumé with a typo error. For me, it was so obvious that God took control of that situation because it could have ended worse. Also, I thought God has arranged for me to receive a separation package just when I was thinking of a career change.
I think God allows us to face a ‘lion and bear’ before we face our Goliaths so we can confidently say, as David said, ‘The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lion and bear will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.’ We only need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us find the ‘lion and bear’ in our lives.
Because once we’ve conquered our Goliath, they become the ‘lion and bear’ for our future Goliaths.
If you are being asked to face a Goliath now, I ask that you find a quiet place, perhaps in the Adoration Room, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in remembering the ‘lion and bear’ in your life. I’m confident you will find one, and that will give you the courage to go to the battle zone.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Villa)
Prayer: Dearest Lord, facing my Goliath can be a really scary thing. And you’re sending me there with just a slingshot! Lord, help me trust that you will protect and deliver me from this. Help me find the ‘lion and the bear’ you have protected me from, and help me find assurance in it.
Thanksgiving: Lord, it’s amazing how my previous Goliaths have turned into a ‘lion and bear’ now. I thank you for making me face another of my Goliaths, and I thank you that you chose the best time – now – to have me face him. Even if I am just heading into the battle field, I thank you now for protecting me.
21 Jan – Memorial for St. Agnes, virgin and martyr
At the age of 12 or 13, Agnes was ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods and lose her virginity by rape. She was taken to a Roman temple to Minerva (Athena), and when led to the altar, she made the Sign of the Cross. She was threatened, then tortured when she refused to turn against God. Several young men presented themselves, offering to marry her, whether from lust or pity is not known.
She said that to do so would be an insult to her heavenly Spouse, that she would keep her consecrated virginity intact, accept death, and see Christ. She was martyred for her faith.
St. Agnes is mentioned in the first Eucharistic prayer. On her feast day, two lambs are blessed at her church in Rome, and then their wool is woven into the palliumns (bands of white wool) which the pope confers on archbishops as symbol of their jurisdiction.
– Patron Saint Index
1 Samuel 16:1-13
God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart
There is a lady who ‘hangs out’ at our Lady’s grotto in the front of Church of the Nativity. By all appearances, she seems a homeless destitute for she literally makes her ‘home’ there. She is there practically every day, the whole day, come rain or tropical sun. She has all her belongings with her — her entire material comforts packed up in 2 pieces of luggage and several plastic bags. Some parishioners have remarked, quite insensitively that she is such an eyesore and that having her presence there gives a bad impression of the Church. Several have insisted she should be put into a home. This is “for her own good”. My question back to these ‘Christians’ is a simple one — Really? Are you guys for real?
In this reflection, let me share my own experience and observations of Aileen (her real name – yes, she does have a name! And she is a real person!
Aileen’s presence every day at the shrine has come to mean something very special to me. I make it a point to drop by each day, just to check on her if she is ok. She is one of the most selfless ‘beggars’ I know. Despite her condition and hardship, whenever someone wants to offer her some money, she would politely decline or even suggest a smaller amount (enough for her next meal) and that the person should keep the rest for themselves or their children. I have even witnessed how she took what was offered to her and gave that to another person who happened to be begging for a hand-out that evening (after the initial donor had already left the premises). On another occasion, she showed me a small toy she bought from a nearby shop which she said she was wanted to give to a small child who frequents the shrine with her grandmother every evening. Talk about the pricelessness of the widow’s mite. A ‘beggar’ using what little she has, to buy a toy so that she could bring joy to a child.
I was and still am, deeply moved by such selflessness from Aileen.
Slowly, I made friends with Aileen and now get to converse with her whenever I am at the shrine. She is reserved about sharing her story but I got hints of rejection by family and some trauma in a relationship which caused her to take this path in her life. Out of respect for her, I did not pursue this. Suffice it to say, that after knowing her better, Aileen is in fact, a highly educated person, who is very articulate, is very knowledgeable about a wide array of topics, has a child-like trust in God and a deep love for our Blessed Mother. Aileen, by the way, is/was a medical doctor.
I am reminded of the story of St Lawrence, an Archdeacon of Rome, who, at the time of the persecution of the Church by Emperor Valerian in 258 A.D, was responsible for the treasury of the Church and also of taking care of the poor. Emperor Valerian commanded Lawrence to surrender all the riches of the Church to him. Lawrence complied. However, Lawrence, sold all the material treasure and gave it to the poor. When summoned in front of Emperor Valerian, behind him streamed crowds of poor, crippled, blind and suffering people. “These are the true treasures of the Church’, he boldly proclaimed. St Lawrence, needless too say, paid the ultimate price of discipleship – martyrdom by being grilled on a rack. Just as we also honor another martyr, St Agnes today.
With a heart that is so tender and thoughtful for the poor, I wonder if Aileen is really such an ‘eyesore’ or if she is in fact, a hidden gem, that sits right in front of our eyes. The message of today’s reading and Gospel is simple and direct – what God sees is not what man sees. What God wills is not what man wills. What is thrown aside by the foolishness, arrogance and ingratitude of man, God picks up, embraces and holds dear to Him as precious treasure and brilliant shining gems. Perhaps, like Valerian, we too only cherish what is valued in this world but fail to be like St Lawrence, to know where true treasure lies.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father, help us. Lift us out of the smallness of our hearts and the narrowness of our vision from which we are so quick to condemn others and to inflict suffering upon others. Help us, for our spirits are often in bondage to the spirit of this world instead of to your Holy Spirit. Set us free. Only but by your merciful grace.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you. For the light that your grace keeps bringing to us – the light that leads us out of darkness of sin and of the darkness of our hearts, minds and spirits. Thank you for seeing us as precious in Your eyes, especially when everyone else thinks we are eyesores.
1 Samuel 15:16-23
Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’ Saul said, ‘Tell me.’ Samuel continued, ‘Small as you may be in your own eyes, are you not head of the tribes of Israel? the Lord has anointed you king over Israel. The Lord sent you on a mission and said to you, “Go, put these sinners, the Amalekites, under the ban and make war on them until they are exterminated.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you fall on the booty and do what is displeasing to the Lord?’ Saul replied to Samuel, ‘But I did obey the voice of the Lord. I went on the mission which the Lord gave me; I brought back Agag king of the Amalekites; I put the Amalekites under the ban. From the booty the people took the best sheep and oxen of what was under the ban to sacrifice them to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’ But Samuel replied:
‘Is the pleasure of the Lord in holocausts and sacrifices or in obedience to the voice of the Lord?
Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness better than the fat of rams.
Rebellion is a sin of sorcery, presumption a crime of teraphim.
‘Since you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.’
One day when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of fasting while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they could not think of fasting. But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then, on that day, they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!’
Obedience is better than sacrifice
A story by Fr Anthony de Mello goes something like this:
Two monks from an austere Catholic order were walking along a dirt road in the forest one day when they came across a river. Although the river was not very wide and was only about waist deep, it had a very strong current. Along the side of the river, they noticed a young lady crying and in great distress because she was unable to cross the river. She was in a desperate hurry to get back to her dying father at home. The lady was extremely beautiful.
The monks, being from a strict order, were forbidden to have undue contact with females. However, suddenly one of the monks, walked towards the lady and asked if she would allow him to carry her across the river. The lady was delighted, relieved and extremely grateful for the offer. In due course, the first monk managed to get the lady safely across the river and she could carry on her journey. The two monks then continued with their own journey.
Throughout the remainder of the journey, of which there was still quite a long ways to go, the second monk kept going on and on about how the first monk did not show more restraint and to refrain from carrying the lady and how he could not believe that the first monk actually carried a beautiful lady in his arms across the river. This went on for another 6 hours. When the monks eventually reached their monastery, the first monk turned and said to the second monk, “My dear brother monk, as soon as I put the lady down at the opposite bank of the river, I had forgotten all about her. But it seems that you have continued to carry her for the last 6 hours, and she had never left your mind, nor your heart.”.
Letting go — this is one of the hardest things for a human being to try to do. We’ve all been there, done that. Most of us are still stuck in that state. Yet it is precisely due to this inability for us to let go, that we often find we are unable to move forward in our lives and in our faith. We cannot and often, simply refuse to let go of our pain, our fears, our addictions, our sins, our insecurities, our pride, our possessions, our other ‘gods’ that rule our lives. Leaving very little space, if any at all, for our true God to come into our lives and our spirits. Like the second monk, in our hearts, our minds and our spirits, we cling on to our pre-conceived notions of what is important, what is pious, what is righteous. We have replaced norms, rules, expectations and bondages for the freedom, the liberation, the deliverance, the providence, the consolation and the restoration that God wants to give to us. We prefer our insecurities and addictions – because we are familiar with them, rather than the discomfort and insecurity when God leads us along unfamiliar paths which eventually lead us back to the only thing that ought to truly matter – back into His arms. Back into the complete union and true joy that can only be attained when the heart is at peace, and free from anxiety — when his soul is able to grasp the truth of the infinite love of God for him, and he abandons himself to His will, with the confidence of a child in his loving Father who looks after his own with the utmost care. Being thus set free from the worries and concerns of what the future may bring, we finally become able to fully experience the joy of returning God’s love.
New skins for new wine is an imagery for the things that are important and which need to start anew – the essence of faith from rules to obey God, to a relationship of love with God; from a spirit of timidity, fear and oppression to one of freedom, progression and assuredness of God’s love for us; from the idolatry of created things to true worship of the living God; from our false sense of security that our whitewashed façade of piety and regulations will earn us our personal righteousness, to true security in total surrender to the mercy and grace of God which is only given, and never earned.
I have a pet poodle at home named Caramel. Caramel loves playing with rubber balls a lot. He goes nuts chasing a tossed ball. And incessantly, he keeps coming back, ball in mouth, long after I stopped counting how many times I keep tossing it. Then one day, I decided to do this – I threw three balls at him, all at the same time. That literally stumped him. And he no longer came running back to me. Instead, he was busy trying to fit all three balls into his mouth. He did not manage to do so. Because he hasn’t quite figured out that he can only take another ball when he lets go of the one already in his mouth. Guess what – neither have we.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father help us. We are so disconnected from who we really are inside. We have alienated ourselves from you by so often choosing to cling on to the past, to our sins, to our delusions and to our stubborn ways. We have lost you because we have chosen obedience to rules and laws over a loving, life-giving relationship with you.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for helping us come into the light of your truth. The truth of your unchanging, unfailing and uncompromising love for us. A love which can never be earned or bought but by the blood of your Son.
19 January – Second Sunday In Ordinary Time
The Lamb of God
We celebrate the Servant of God who came to do the Father’s will to perfect obedience. Yet he was more than a servant. John the Baptist calls him the Lamb, the chosen one of God.
1 Samuel 9:1-4,17-19,10:1
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
I, Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle, together with brother Sosthenes, send greetings to the church of God in Corinth, to the holy people of Jesus Christ, who are called to take their place among all the saints everywhere who pray to our Lord Jesus Christ; for he is their Lord no less than ours. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.
Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’
I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven
Some of you may have come across a cartoon depicting a priest and a lay person standing on the rooftop of a skyscraper building. The lay person looks down and has terror on his face – the priest looks up and smiles. No words needed – the message is simple but succinct enough.
I once stood at the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world, whilst on holiday some years ago. I am pretty sure most of you have done something similar on holiday – going atop one of these skyscrapers to catch a glimpse of things from up there. From such a vantage point, the very first thing most people would invariably do is to scan the horizon and be wowed. The next thing that will come very naturally is to look down and feel a sense of joyful trepidation. I am confident to conjecture that practically none will bother to look up into the sky. Nothing to see there – the clouds and the sun look the same no matter where you are looking at the sky — nothing exciting, nothing new, nothing worth the time and effort.
Using this as an analogy to life and faith, this sums up the message of today’s scripture readings. How far short we seem to always be when compared to what God has planned for us, how great the potential he sees in us and how glorious His mission and calling is for us. We scan the horizon trying to see into the future, to know what is ahead of us, to try to foresee the problems and to circumvent the crises. We try to identify each step we need to take ahead of us – not just for tomorrow but the tomorrows for the rest of our lives. We also tend to look down. We look at the negative things that have happened in our lives. We look down to see the disappointments, the insecurities, the discouragements, the failures, the hurts, the worries and the terrors. We become filled with despair and despondency.
When we keep our eyes fixed on the past and the future – the hurts, the failures, the illusions and the fears — we lose sight of what truly matters: God in the present. We get bogged down by earth bound things and we get choked by its thorns of worry, of tedium, of its uncertainties, its perils and dangers. We falter, we lose courage, we lose our bearings, we lose hope. We lose sight of God and we lose our faith and trust in Him. When we stand atop and turn our gaze upwards – we sometimes see clouds, we sometimes get the sun in our eyes. But if we push our vision forward, we get to see that heaven lies just beyond those clouds.
It may not be as exciting as scanning an awe-inspiring horizon or the adrenaline of looking 2720 feet down as if floating on air. But looking up heavenwards, we get to see heaven. Therein awaits the light of God which dispels our darkness and points the way forward (and upward) for us, back into His loving embrace. Aurora Borealis aside, the sky looks pretty much the same from wherever in the world you look up at it. And such is the constancy of God – the constancy of His love, His care, His mercy, His fidelity, His providence and protection over us, His love for us. Unchanging and unchangeable. Where the journey of faith mirrors the journey of life. A journey meant to be taken one step at a time, loved in the here and the now. A journey meant not to be taken alone, but with our Shepherd beside and in front of us leading us through each cloud, each valley, each step — one step at a time. Beyond the clouds we get to see our destiny and the place we will one day return to – the only view worth looking at. Looking up, we get to see a vision of home for the rest of eternity. Our eternity.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father help us, we have lost our vision of You. We are bound to this earth and to the narrowness of what our vision of what our lives on earth are meant to be. We have lost our way when we can no longer see you in our horizon. We see only this world and we realize how far we have strayed from you and how lost we really are.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for all the times you have dispelled the narrowness of our hearts and our minds. And for the times, you have allowed us to see your face and to live. To fully live.
1 Samuel 9:1-4,17-19,10:1
Among the men of Benjamin there was a man named Kish son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah; a Benjaminite and a man of rank. He had a son named Saul, a handsome man in the prime of life. Of all the Israelites there was no one more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders taller than the rest of the people. Now some of the she-donkeys of Saul’s father Kish had strayed, so Kish said to Saul, ‘My son, take one of the servants with you and be off; go and look for the she-donkeys.’ They passed through the highlands of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but did not find them; they passed through the land of Shaalim, they were not there; they passed through the land of Benjamin, but did not find them.
When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, ‘That is the man of whom I told you; he shall rule my people.’ Saul accosted Samuel in the gateway and said, ‘Tell me, please, where the seer’s house is?’ Samuel replied to Saul, ‘I am the seer. Go up ahead of me to the high place. You are to eat with me today. In the morning I shall take leave of you and tell you all that is in your heart.
Samuel took a phial of oil and poured it on Saul’s head; then he kissed him, saying, ‘Has not the Lord anointed you prince over his people Israel? You are the man who must rule the Lord’s people, and who must save them from the power of the enemies surrounding them.’
Jesus went out to the shore of the lake; and all the people came to him, and he taught them. As he was walking on he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.
When Jesus was at dinner in his house, a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them among his followers. When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this he said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.’
As a couple, my wife and I attended our first Christian course known as the Christian Life Programme (CLP). When this ended, we joined a cell group and soon after, became facilitators in another CLP run in the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At its conclusion, we continued our journey with the participants and became cell-group leaders.
One of the challenges was that we felt we were never ‘good enough’. As we prepared for our weekly cell group sessions, we prayed hard for divine inspiration and even when we came up with a topic or something inspired, we still never felt that we had ‘it’. We worked really hard and after a period of time, felt really tired.
The Catholic community we were in is known as ‘Couples for Christ’, and there were many members from the Philippines. One of the things we noticed was how cheerful and happy the Filipinos were in serving. No matter how daunting the project or task as hand, there was positive attitude and faith that it would accomplished. And despite all the challenges faced, every single project has been successful.
Jesus, in the Gospel of today, called on Levi to follow Him and dines with him, as well as sinners and tax collectors. In response to criticisms by the scribes for associating with these people, our Lord responds that it is precisely the sinners who need Him.
Our Lord recognises value in us and loves us. To Him, we are important for Him to spend time with. In order to live up to our full potential, we need to learn from our Filipino brothers and sisters, have faith in our Lord and draw our confidence from Him.
(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)
Prayer: We pray that we will always see the same value in ourselves that You see in us.
Thanksgiving: Thank You Father, for sending Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to tend to us sinners. We praise You and thank You for showing us the way.
1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22
All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. ‘Look,’ they said to him ‘you are old, and your sons do not follow your ways. So give us a king to rule over us, like the other nations.’ It displeased Samuel that they should say, ‘Let us have a king to rule us’, so he prayed to the Lord. But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for it is not you they have rejected; they have rejected me from ruling over them.’
All that the Lord had said Samuel repeated to the people who were asking him for a king He said, ‘These will be the rights of the king who is to reign over you. He will take your sons and assign them to his chariotry and cavalry, and they will run in front of his chariot. He will use them as leaders of a thousand and leaders of fifty; he will make them plough his ploughland and harvest his harvest and make his weapons of war and the gear for his chariots. He will also take your daughters as perfumers, cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields, of your vineyards and olive groves and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and vineyards to provide for his eunuchs and his officials. He will take the best of your manservants and maidservants, of your cattle and your donkeys, and make them work for him. He will tithe your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out on account of the king you have chosen for yourselves, but on that day God will not answer you.’
The people refused to listen to the words of Samuel. They said, ‘No! We want a king, so that we in our turn can be like the other nations; our king shall rule us and be our leader and fight our battles.’ Samuel listened to all that the people had to say and repeated it in the ears of the Lord. The Lord then said to Samuel, ‘Obey their voice and give them a king.’
When Jesus returned to Capernaum, word went round that he was back; and so many people collected that there was no room left, even in front of the door. He was preaching the word to them when some people came bringing him a paralytic carried by four men, but as the crowd made it impossible to get the man to him, they stripped the roof over the place where Jesus was; and when they had made an opening, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic lay. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some scribes were sitting there, and they thought to themselves, ‘How can this man talk like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive sins but God?’ Jesus, inwardly aware that this was what they were thinking, said to them, ‘Why do you have these thoughts in your hearts? Which of these is easier: to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” or to say, “Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk”? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ – he turned to the paralytic – ‘I order you: get up, pick up your stretcher, and go off home.’ And the man got up, picked up his stretcher at once and walked out in front of everyone, so that they were all astounded and praised God saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this.’
“My child, your sins are forgiven”
I used to help at the bookshop at my church. We sold everything from candles to incense, rosaries and other religious articles. What I really loved, however, were the books; and the one book I really adored was “Mister God, this is Anna”.
What caught my attention was the intimate relationship Anna, a precocious 4-year-old, had with God. It was not a conventional viewpoint of God and it was this special relationship that appealed to me. Her conversations with God troubled some people, who did not hesitate to let her know what they thought.
I have always been such a ‘follow the rules’ kind of person. For example, my wife laughs at how I continue to follow directional signs in car parks, even if the car park was empty. Similarly, I was always conventional in the way I worshipped God. I found it difficult to take part in Charismatic or Praise and Worship services, and found I could only properly do so during mass. Like the ‘conventional’ folks from the book, I was extremely uncomfortable with other forms of worship.
In the Gospel, the scribes objected to Jesus telling the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven. Responding to this, Jesus instead told the man to pick up his stretcher and walk. While the ‘form’ looks different, this does not change the essence of what Jesus was saying, or Jesus’ relationship with the man.
“Mister God, This is Anna” really opened my mind, and also taught me that our relationship with God is more just about “looking and acting right”. It goes beyond that. It has also showed me that our relationship with our God is precisely that — our own, and not for others to judge and dictate.
(Today’s Oxygen by Paul Wee)
Prayer: We pray that we may not be like the scribes and be blinded by what ‘ought to be’. Help us Father, to recognise that our primary focus should always be on You.
Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, we praise and thank You for teaching us that faith is a personal relationship with You. Thank You for Your love.