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11 December, Wednesday – Human Strength is Finite

Dec 11 – Memorial for St. Damasus I, pope

Damasus (306-384) was raised in a pious family. His father was a priest in Rome, and Damasus served for a time as deacon in his father’s church, St. Laurence. He was ordained a priest and became assistant to Pope Liberius. He was elected the 37th pope in a disputed election in which a minority chose the anti-pope Ursinus. The two reigned simultaneously in Rome which eventually led to violence between their supporters and Damasus’ false accusation of a crime.

His pontificate suffered from the rise of Arianism, and from several schisms including break-away groups in Antioch, Constantinople, Sardinia, and Rome. However, it was during his reign that Christianity was declared the religion of the Roman state. He enforced the 370 edict of Emperor Valentinian controlling gifts to prelates, and opposed Arianism and Apollinarianism. He supported the 374 council of Rome which decreed the valid books of the Bible, and the Grand Council of Constantinople in 381 which condemned Arianism.

He was the patron of his secretary, St. Jerome, and commissioned him to make the translation of scripture now known as the Vulgate. Damasus restored catacombs, shrines, and the tombs of martyrs, and wrote poetry and metrical inscriptions about and dedicated to martyrs. They state that he would like to be buried in the catacombs with the early martyrs, but that the presence of one of his lowly status would profane such an august place. Ten of his letters, personal and pontifical, have survived.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Isaiah 40:25-31

‘To whom could you liken me and who could be my equal?’ says the Holy One.

Lift your eyes and look. Who made these stars if not he who drills them like an army, calling each one by name?

So mighty is his power, so great his strength, that not one fails to answer.

How can you say, Jacob, how can you insist, Israel, ‘My destiny is hidden from the Lord, my rights are ignored by my God’?

Did you not know? Had you not heard?

The Lord is an everlasting God, he created the boundaries of the earth. He does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming. He gives strength to the wearied, he strengthens the powerless.

Young men may grow tired and weary, youths may stumble, but those who hope in the Lord renew their strength, they put out wings like eagles.

They run and do not grow weary, walk and never tire.

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Matthew 11:28-30

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

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He does not faint or grow weary

One of my favorite scriptures is Lamentations 3:22-24, “The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, His mercies are not spent. They are renewed each morning, so great is His faithfulness.”.

There have been times in my life when I could only get through the next minute because of my faith in Him. It was His strength I needed to even take another breath. As I continue to grow in my spiritual life reading scripture daily, I find this sentiment reiterated on so many pages.

Mental and emotional strength make the difference in our days. Some days, we have mental and emotional toughness, and some days we do not. Some days, just getting out of bed can be the victory. Our strengths are conditional and can be exhausted. Day after day after day of a hardship can take a significant toll on our bodies, minds and emotions. We can get a good night’s sleep, but our mental, emotional and physical bodies are not always renewed to the brim upon waking.

Sometimes, it’s a small issue that we need His strength to get through a test in school, a presentation at work, a confrontation at work, an issue with a friend or a family member.  These are common daily situations that are scattered throughout our life. And then there are the bigger situations, times when we pray and all we can do is lean into His strength to continue. Seasons in our life when we are faced with a serious illness or loss of a significant relationship, job and even death of someone we love. We all experience times when we feel (and actually left to our own are) helpless and hopeless, and without our faith we would be.  Our shoulders are not broad enough. We labor and are heavy laden. We need rest. And He takes our yoke. He does not faint nor grow weary. He can handle our burden, all of our burdens.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:  Father God, I give you my problems, those I’ve created on my own and those that You have allowed to be placed in my path. I ask you to constantly remind me that I am not bothering You with my problems and that You desire to carry my yoke.   Your grace and mercy amaze me!

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father, for always carrying my burdens, especially the ones that I have only because of my disobedience. Thank you Father God, for always giving me rest in your loving arms. 

10 December, Tuesday – We Are Never Lost to Him

10 Dec 2019

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Isaiah 40:1-11

‘Console my people, console them’ says your God.

‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice commands, ‘Cry!’ and I answered, ‘What shall I cry?’” – ‘All flesh is grass and its beauty like the wild flower’s. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on them. (The grass is without doubt the people.) The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains for ever.’

Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion. Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem. Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’ Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him. The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him. He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.

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Matthew 18:12-14

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

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The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever

Yesterday’s scripture spoke to me about my hiding, and today about my being lost. These two ‘places’ are similar, but not the same. Hiding is a proactive decision, being lost is usually an unforeseen outcome; yet, both are results of our own decisions.

When I was in my early 20s, and again once in my early 30s, I remember feeling lost, helpless and even hopeless, just uncertain of what my next move would be. Knowing that I had a decision to make that would impact all my tomorrows. I stressed, cried and prayed over these two issues. One of these times of feeling lost was because I had been hiding (ha!) from God, and the other was just a series of incidences that I ignored long enough (because I didn’t want to deal with the truth of the situation) to feel that I was lost due to not being honest with myself and another person in my life. It was as if I were in a pit and no one had a clue where I was.

At both of those times, I remember thinking, “What difference does it really make what I choose to do? I don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. Who really cares? After all the bible even states that we are like a vapor –- God will keep being God and I’ve been of no use to Him. So who cares if I make the easy (albeit wrong) decision?”  But before I could even finish those thoughts, I knew that I mattered –- because I mattered to Him. My choice had to be based on discernment of His will, His ways. Not mine.

I was like the one who left the 99, and the Good Shepard was just behind me — I wasn’t alone. I may have felt lost, but I wasn’t. He never took His eye off of me. I mattered. I mattered to THE ONE who created everything.

The peace that washes over us when we embrace Him and all His ways, knowing that we are never alone, never lost.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:  Father God, Creator of all things good. It is incomprehensible to me how You love us so unconditionally every second, no matter how lost we feel, how far we stray and how unloving our actions may be. Even when we turn from You, you never cease to give us your all-encompassing love. 

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father, for embracing us always. 

9 December, Monday – There’s no place to hide, and no reason to either

Dec 9 – Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On this and the following eight days, the Church celebrates, with particular solemnity, the immaculate conception of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary who, from all eternity, was chosen to be the daughter of the heavenly Father, the spouse of the Holy Ghost, the Mother of the Divine Redeemer, and, by consequence, the queen of angels and of men.

The consideration of these prerogatives convinced the most enlightened fathers and teachers of the Catholic Church that she was conceived immaculate, that is, without original sin. It is very remarkable that among the shining hosts of saints who have, in every century, adorned the Church, no one wrote against this belief, while we find it confirmed by the decisions of the holy fathers from the earliest times.

Pope Piux IX forced, as it were, by the faith and devotion of the faithful throughout the world, finally on 8 December 1854, sanctioned, as a dogma of faith falling within the infallible rule of Catholic traditions, this admirable prerogative of the Blessed Virgin.

It is, therefore, now no longer, as formerly, a pious belief, but an article of the faith that Mary, like the purest morning light which precedes the rising of the most brilliant sun, was, from the first instant of her conception, free from original sin.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Genesis 3:9-15,20

After Adam had eaten of the tree the Lord God called to him. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden;’ he replied ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ he asked ‘Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman replied, ‘The serpent tempted me and I ate.’
  Then the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,
 
‘Be accursed beyond all cattle,
all wild beasts.
You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust
every day of your life.
I will make you enemies of each other:
you and the woman,
your offspring and her offspring.
It will crush your head
and you will strike its heel.’
 
The man named his wife ‘Eve’ because she was the mother of all those who live.

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Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ
for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved,
And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.

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Luke 1:26-38

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

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…and I hid myself

It’s funny how we hide from God.  I know that it is irrational to hide, because I am never hidden from God, yet I continue to play this foolish game.

I hide from God by procrastinating about confession. I always feel so good after confession, but sometimes it is so difficult to get myself there because my sins are embarrassing. I am ashamed that I don’t control myself, that I am less than He has called me to be and less than I want to be. So I hide. And in my hiding, I have become lost at times –- but only lost to myself; I am never lost to Him. God is never wondering where I am.

Mary never hid. Oh how I pray that I will focus on that knowledge when I am inclined to hide. When the Angel Gabriel came to her and spoke, it must have initially been frightening to a young girl. Yet she didn’t run, she didn’t hide. Even when she heard and comprehended the words of Gabriel she didn’t say, “THIS CAN’T BE”. She said, ‘how can this be’. She wasn’t thinking of herself at all. At all. All her thoughts were about God and doing His will.  Living for Him.

When we hide, we are focused on our self – and only our self. Whether we are hiding from friends, family, coworkers and even God, we are focusing on ourselves. On our shortcomings, our weaknesses, our sins; when our focus should be on Him. The God who is all knowing. The God who loves us. The God who has no weakness, no shortcoming, no sin. When I focus on myself, so much can go wrong, and it oftentimes does. When I focus on God, He takes my weakness and transforms.

He makes all things new when I come to Him, instead of hiding from Him.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:  Father God, you destined me in love, knew me before the foundation of the world was even created. You truly are the only Awesome, and you fill me with awe by loving me completely. 

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father, for never hiding from me. Thank you for never allowing me to be lost outside of your love, even when I choose to hide from you. 

8 December, Sunday – Leave the judging to God

8 December 2019 – 2nd Sunday of Advent

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Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,
a scion thrusts from his roots:
on him the spirit of the Lord rests,
a spirit of wisdom and insight,
a spirit of counsel and power,
a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(The fear of the Lord is his breath.)
He does not judge by appearances,
he gives no verdict on hearsay,
but judges the wretched with integrity,
and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.
His word is a rod that strikes the ruthless,
his sentences bring death to the wicked.
Integrity is the loincloth round his waist,
faithfulness the belt about his hips.
The wolf lives with the lamb,
the panther lies down with the kid,
calf and lion feed together,
with a little boy to lead them.
The cow and the bear make friends,
their young lie down together.
The lion eats straw like the ox.
The infant plays over the cobra’s hole;
into the viper’s lair
the young child puts his hand.
They do no hurt, no harm,
on all my holy mountain,
for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters swell the sea.
That day, the root of Jesse
shall stand as a signal to the peoples.
It will be sought out by the nations
and its home will be glorious.

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Romans 15:4-9

Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God. And may he who helps us when we refuse to give up, help you all to be tolerant with each other, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that united in mind and voice you may give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you. The reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy, as scripture says in one place: For this I shall praise you among the pagans and sing to your name.

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Matthew 3:1-12

In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said:
A voice cries in the wilderness:
Prepare a way for the Lord,
make his paths straight.
This man John wore a garment made of camel-hair with a leather belt round his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judaea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. But when he saw a number of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming? But if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit, and do not presume to tell yourselves, “We have Abraham for our father,” because, I tell you, God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. Even now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees, so that any tree which fails to produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown on the fire. I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing-floor and gather his wheat into the barn; but the chaff he will burn in a fire that will never go out.’

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He shall not judge by what his eye sees

All three readings today speak on peace. Isaiah speaks of a peace with no enemies in that even those who were enemies now live together in calmness with each other. Peter speaks of this same harmonious living. Both refer to our cleansing with water.

After these two readings, I felt a sigh of relief, of tension and stress draining from my body – praising Him for the peace that will fill us when peace reigns on this earth.

Then in today’s gospel ,Matthew introduces us to John the Baptist, and though he speaks on peace, his message is one of woe to whoever is NOT peaceful, loving, etc. John goes on to share that the one to come will cleanse with fire –- not so calming. And now I realize I must choose to love and help even my enemies, let go of my self-righteous mind, or to live outside of God’s peace.

As a Christian in a country where I am able to practice my faith publicly, it is easy for self righteousness to live in me.  This can happen to me in such a way that I am not singing grateful praises of the day we will all know Christ with every knee bending, but wagging my finger at those who seem to be living a life, publicly or privately, with no regard to God, and even denying God’s existence and shouting that Jesus is a fairytale. I am judging, holding myself up with a smug attitude of being glad that ‘they’ will be punished. As I reflect on this, I know that I am judging with my eyes –- I am acting like the Pharisees and Sadducees. I excuse myself by reasoning that I am not a Pharisee, but I know that I am thinking and acting as Martha, and not Mary.

My attitude of wanting the fire to come down on the ‘bad’ isn’t on the path that Christ walked, so I am actually worse than those I wag my finger at –- I know Christ, I should be loving them, even when I hate what they do and say. I want to be praying for their salvation, for them coming to know Christ, not wagging my prideful self-righteous finger. Scripture today calls upon me to live like Isaiah and Romans describe, in a calming peaceful manner helping all those around me so that I won’t be part of the chaff burning in the unquenchable fire.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:  Father God, you are the Almighty, the all knowing, the Just God of all. Help me to let go of my judging nature and live in a manner which will show your love to all those I come into contact with every day. Use me, Father, for your will, not mine.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for judging me with love. Thank you for showering mercy on me every day. Thank you for the many graces that you bestow on me as I desire to walk with You. 

13 October, Sunday – The Power of Him

13 October 2019

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2 Kings 5:14-17

Naaman the leper went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, as Elisha had told him to do. And his flesh became clean once more like the flesh of a little child.

  Returning to Elisha with his whole escort, he went in and stood before him. ‘Now I know’ he said ‘that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Now, please, accept a present from your servant.’

  But Elisha replied, ‘As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing.’ Naaman pressed him to accept, but he refused.

  Then Naaman said, ‘Since your answer is “No,” allow your servant to be given as much earth as two mules may carry, because your servant will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.’

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2 Timothy 2:8-13

Remember the Good News that I carry, ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead, sprung from the race of David’; it is on account of this that I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal – but they cannot chain up God’s news. So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.

  Here is a saying that you can rely on:

If we have died with him, then we shall live with him.
If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.
If we disown him, then he will disown us.
We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful,
for he cannot disown his own self.

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Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus travelled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered one of the villages, ten lepers came to meet him. They stood some way off and called to him, ‘Jesus! Master! Take pity on us.’ When he saw them he said, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ Now as they were going away they were cleansed. Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. This made Jesus say, ‘Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they? It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner.’ And he said to the man, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’

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Your faith has healed you

Today, both the first reading and the Gospel are about lepers being healed. How does this parable relate to me and the world of the 21st century?

With the help of Google, I learned that today about 180,000 people worldwide, most in Africa and Asia, are infected with leprosy, a slow growing type of bacteria. This is an infectious disease that can only transferred from close repeated contact with the nose and mouth droplets of someone with untreated leprosy. Leprosy causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body and dates back to ancient times, often surrounded by terrifying, negative stigmas with lepers shunned as outcasts. Outbreaks of leprosy have affected, and panicked, people on every continent. The oldest civilizations of China, Egypt, and India feared leprosy was an incurable, mutilating, and contagious disease.

Because leprosy is/was such a visual disease, it is a perfect choice for parables.

When I hear the word leprosy, my thoughts immediately go to biblical and ancient times, and Fr. Damien in the Hawaiian Islands. I remember the movie ‘Ben Hur’ from 1959, and the moving scene when we see that Miriam and Tirzah have been healed of their leprosy as they stand in the rivers of rain streaming down the hill, mixed with the blood of Jesus, after His crucifixion.

In Luke, only one of the 10 returns to thank Jesus – I’ve always thought the other 9 were cured but were so caught up in the happiness of no longer being disfigured that their gratitude wasn’t initially evident. Upon reflection, a few others thoughts crossed my mind. Did only one REALIZE he’d been cured? Was only one cured because he had faith? The lepers asked for pity, not healing – so did only one even think healing was possible?

And — the most personal — where do I have leprosy in my own life? Where have I been healed of internal leprosy and not been thankful, thinking that my self determination, my will power, my intelligence, my… whatever is what ‘fixed’ me, when it fact it was His grace showing me mercy?

When have I been like the other nine and not recognized the grace? Not shown gratitude for His mercy? The answer is evident. Every day. Every single day.

So how does the parable relate to us today, in the 21st century?

In today’s world we are so bombarded with books and podcasts, and even prosperity gospel sermons shouting to us that we have the power, that self-help is the answer. We can ‘fix’ ourselves,  the sky is the limit,  power of the mind, power of habit, power of intention, power of these 6 steps, power of these 11 laws, power of getting out of the boat, power of vision boards, power of self talk…… power of You’re Okay, I’m Okay (a best seller from the 1970s). And therein lies the great lie. All those books and podcasts speak much human truth, we should adhere to the wisdom they contain, but we must stop short of a total buy-in. We cannot predict, nor even truly design our future. We do what we can and see where and how God comes in.

After all, if you and I were actually ‘okay’, then we wouldn’t need a Savior.  But we aren’t, and we do, and we have one!  And THAT, brothers and sisters, is the Good News.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God you are the Good Help, the Good Hope, the Only All, True, Loving God. And we are amazed at your perfect and perfecting love.

Thanksgiving: Thank you for your abounding grace and the mercy that flows from that grace all over us every day. Every single day. We pray that we will give grace and mercy to all those around us.

19 Aug, Monday – Trusting In Him is the Treasure

19 Aug 2019

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Judges 2:11-19

The sons of Israel did what displeases the Lord, and served the Baals. They deserted the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from the gods of the peoples round them. They bowed down to these; they provoked the Lord; they deserted the Lord to serve Baal and Astarte. Then the Lord’s anger flamed out against Israel. He handed them over to pillagers who plundered them; he delivered them to the enemies surrounding them, and they were not able to resist them. In every warlike venture, the hand of the Lord was there to foil them, as the Lord had warned, as the Lord had sworn to them. Thus he reduced them to dire distress.

Then the Lord appointed judges for them, and rescued the men of Israel from the hands of their plunderers. But they would not listen to their judges. They prostituted themselves to other gods, and bowed down before these. Very quickly they left the path their ancestors had trodden in obedience to the orders of the Lord; they did not follow their example. When the Lord appointed judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and rescued them from the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived, for the Lord felt pity for them as they groaned under the iron grip of their oppressors. But once the judge was dead, they relapsed and behaved even worse than their ancestors. They followed other gods; they served them and bowed before them, and would not give up the practices and stubborn ways of their ancestors at all.

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Matthew 19:16-22

There was a man who came to Jesus and asked, ‘Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one alone who is good. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said, ‘Which?’ ‘These:’ Jesus replied ‘You must not kill. You must not commit adultery. You must not bring false witness. Honour your father and mother, and: you must love your neighbour as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these. What more do I need to do?’ Jesus said, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard these words he went away sad, for he was a man of great wealth.

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And you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.

Today’s readings are on the common theme of trust. They remind us that the trust is in the WHO, not the what. We see how the Israelites turn from God, again, and we are dumbfounded at their choice. God used Moses to free them, and with their own eyes they saw His miracles for them, the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Sea. And then they did the unthinkable — they put their trust in something else. And we do the same.

In today’s gospel, we meet the young, rich man who is ‘good’ and follows all the commandments — he wants to follow Christ. Jesus invites him, but first he must sell all his possessions. The young man walks away, grieving. He chose not to trust God, instead he put his trust in the treasures of this world.

We trust God…mostly. We trust God…most of the time. We trust God…when we don’t have a choice. We trust God with this issue, but not so much with THIS issue. After all, it is the 21st century. We trust God with direction for this relationship, but not with this one.  After all, everyone is doing it. We trust God with our future, but not with the size of our family. After all, I don’t make enough money to put X number of kids through college. And the trusting and the ‘after alls’ go on and on and on.

Our treasure is in the WHO we put our full trust in. And in the winds and tides of life on this earth. What solace, peace, contentment, tranquility, joy and eternal hope we have when we are in full knowing of the assuredness that our trust is secure; our trust will not be in vain; our trust will withstand even the gates of hell, because our trust is in THE God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things seen and unseen. That is a treasure.  Correction, that isn’t a treasure that is, THE treasure. Trusting without fear, no matter the darkness of the skies, the depth and volatility of the oceans and the enemy who is prowling the earth is the treasure.  And we would do well to remind ourselves of that every day, sometimes multiple times a day.

On Facebook last week, while I was reading the following, I assumed I knew how this little anecdote would go, ‘I have money because I value money…’ and I almost didn’t finish reading it. You see, I thought this little story was about the treasure of financial wealth. I am so glad I read it till the end.

Arlene and her husband were invited to dinner with her husband’s very wealthy boss. She was thrilled with the exclusive restaurant choice, one she and her husband would never frequent. As they were approaching the restaurant, the boss suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long silent moment, reached down and picked up a penny. He smiled and put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure. HOW ABSURD!  What need did this man have a single penny? A dirty penny? Why would a man of his wealth and stature even take the time to stop and pick it up?

Throughout dinner the scene nagged at her. Finally she could stand it no longer and casually mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection, and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value.

A smile crept across the man’s face as he reached in his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see.  She had seen many pennies before…what was the point of this?

‘Look at it.” He said, ‘Read what it says.’ 

She read the words – ‘United States of America’.

‘No, not that; read further.’

‘One cent….?’

‘No, keep reading.’

‘In God We Trust…?’ ‘YES!’

‘And…?’

‘And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin, I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States coin, but we never seem to notice it? God drops a message right in front of me telling me, trust Him! Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I DO trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God’s way of starting a conversation with me. Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!’

When I was out yesterday I found a penny on the sidewalk. I stopped and picked it up, and realized that I had been worrying and fretting in my mind about things I cannot change. I read the words, ‘in God We Trust’, and I had to laugh to myself. Yes God, I get the message.

It seems that I have been finding an inordinate number of pennies in the last few months, but then, pennies are plentiful? And, God is patient…

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:  Father God how we praise your name, the name that we trust, the only name that we can trust in any and all circumstances.  We lift our voices and sing praises to Your name and we trust in You, our treasure, for all things.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father, for the ‘pennies’ that you put in our path daily.   Thank you for revealing to us that You are he only treasure we will ever need. We pray that we will always look to You as we journey on this earth, and we thank you for your patience for us every day.

18 August, Sunday – Which house will be your home?

18 Aug 2019

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Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10

The king’s leading men spoke to the king. ‘Let Jeremiah be put to death: he is unquestionably disheartening the remaining soldiers in the city, and all the people too, by talking like this. The fellow does not have the welfare of this people at heart so much as its ruin.’ ‘He is in your hands as you know,’ King Zedekiah answered ‘for the king is powerless against you.’ So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the well of Prince Malchiah in the Court of the Guard, letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the well, only mud, and into the mud Jeremiah sank.
  Ebed-melech came out from the palace and spoke to the king. ‘My lord king,’ he said ‘these men have done a wicked thing by treating the prophet Jeremiah like this: they have thrown him into the well, where he will die.’ At this the king gave Ebed-melech the Cushite the following order: ‘Take three men with you from here and pull the prophet Jeremiah out of the well before he dies.’

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Hebrews 12:1-4

With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it, and from now on has taken his place at the right of God’s throne. Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage. In the fight against sin, you have not yet had to keep fighting to the point of death.

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Luke 12:49-53

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!
  ‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

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…five in one household will be divided

This is such a tough, somewhat confusing teaching from Christ upon the first read, and certainly when we were children. We see Christ as the peacemaker, filled with love, forgiveness, mercy and bringing us all together – yet here he speaks of division, and in the very house we live in. He tells us he came to bring division in our very own house. We look to our house, our home, as a place of joy and love and acceptance, a place where we are all one. And yet, Christ is telling us in no uncertain terms, that He will divide our house.

That division is the pivotal ‘place’ where we make the choice. Where our free will is carried out. Will we choose to focus on our house on this earth, and all things and people of this world, or will we look to our true home – with God? St. Augustine says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Home. For most people that is the most desired place to be. The place where we simply are, who we really are; where all facets of us, the good, the bad and the ugly, are accepted, known and still loved. There is nothing like ‘going home’, especially when you know there is someone(s) there waiting for you, someone(s) who can’t wait to see you and hug you and just sit next to you and be in your space. There truly is nothing like the enveloping comfort of home.

Is that not the best definition of our Catholic faith and the place — the house — that holds the Eucharist? When I am at mass, and especially when I sit in Adoration, that is the overall feeling I experience. Total acceptance and omnipresent love because in that place, I am truly home. I am totally known. I am totally accepted and loved. In many ways, that is the only place on this earth where any of us are truly home. All other places are really just worldly houses.

I am so grateful for my Catholic faith, for mass, for being able to walk into any Catholic church in the entire world, from the biggest and most grandiose cathedrals and basilicas to the smallest and simplest country churches and squeezed in churches in overcrowded concrete cities. Even in a Catholic church in a country that speaks a language foreign to me, I am still home. I can still communicate, I can still understand, because I am with my family in our Father’s house, in our Father’s home on earth. The overwhelming comfort and belonging that I encounter when I attend mass, even when alone and not in my ‘home’ church, surpasses understanding. During mass, I know that all the angels and saints in heaven are in that house of prayer with me, as are all those I love most dearly on this earth.  We are all experiencing that same ‘home’. I am lifted high because this sense of belonging is not only about the fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, but because of the mystery of the Eucharist. The holiness of a Catholic Church during the consecration, or in Adoration, is indescribable. It can only be felt through prayer – even when human words cannot be found, because our bodies are praying without words – how could that not be true when our Lord and Savior is present.

And yet, with all that we receive from being in God’s house, still this world loudly calls us to other places physically, mentally and emotionally. Still it can be a fight, and even more sadly, a chore, to make it to mass with enough time to sit in quiet prayer and properly prepare our hearts and minds for our Lord in the mass. For myself, I know that when I arrive early, I am able to let go of the day, the week, the worries, the plans, the to-do list that preoccupies my mind. And that is when I am emptied out of ‘myself’ and able to talk to God with a contrite heart so that I can be filled to the brim with Him. Again.

Mark Hart said, “Prayer doesn’t help our relationship with God, prayer IS our relationship with God”, so of course, prayer should be a constant stream in our life. Like many, I pray throughout the day. Lots of little prayers and lots of little ‘thank you’s. Praying outside in nature when I am taking in the glorious creations of our God brings a joy and peace that washes over me. Yes, nature is God’s home, but, there is a sense of His Holy Presence in our Catholic churches, in the house of prayer for all people, like no where else on earth.

Let us always remember that our real home is one that is not divided.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God how we praise your name! We are so grateful for your gift of our faith and the church that holds the Eucharist, You. We kneel in amazement at your gifts to us, including the gift of being able to simply talk to You. We desire to live in communication with you and release the stronghold this world has on us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for listening to us. Thank you Father, for always calling us to You. Thank you Father, for never tiring of hearing our voices, and giving us your peace when we let go of all and come to You.

19 June, Wednesday – Whose track are you running on?

New Oxygen writer

Today’s reflection is the third one written by Gina Ulicny, a new addition to the OXYGEN team. Gina is a cradle Catholic who was born in Mississippi to an Air Force Italian father and a Baptist-born mother from the hills of West Virginia. Gina’s relationship with God has always been real and active and she does not remember a time in her life that she didn’t feel His presence, love and acceptance.

She started reading the Bible as a teenager, wanting to know more of my God and our Catholic faith, which she totally embraced and loved. Her ‘push’ to know Jesus and her faith really came about because of her uncle, a Baptist preacher, who knew scripture and talked about Jesus all the time.

She is married to a quiet, devoted Catholic and has a daughter, Veronica, who lives in downtown Atlanta. Gina keeps herself active by playing tennis, going to the movies, writing, reading and just being with family and friends.

We thank Gina for her selfless contribution and welcome all interested writers to join us in sharing their faith journeys.

– OXYGEN team

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19 June 2019 – Memorial for St. Romuald, abbot

St Romuald (951-1027) had been an Italian noble. Acting as second, he witnessed his father kill a man in a duel, and sought to atone for the crime by becoming a Benedictine monk at Classe, Italy where he was abbot from 996–999.

A wanderer by nature, he established several hermitages and monasteries in central and northern Italy. He tried to evangelize the Slavs, but met with little success. He founded the Camaldolese Benedictines and spent the last fourteen years of his life in seclusion. His body, which is enshrined in Italy, remains incorrupt till this day.

– Patron Saint Index

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2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap. Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver. And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works. As scripture says: He was free in almsgiving, and gave to the poor: his good deeds will never be forgotten.

The one who provides seed for the sower and bread for food will provide you with all the seed you want and make the harvest of your good deeds a larger one, and, made richer in every way, you will be able to do all the generous things which, through us, are the cause of thanksgiving to God.

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Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.

‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’

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Always having all you need

I just saw the movie ‘Rocketman’, about the life of Elton John. The crux of the movie is about Elton John desperately seeking what all children need, and what he never received from his mother and father. That is also the crux of a movie I saw last summer about Bard Millard, the lead singer of the Christian band, Mercy Me.

These movies are both based on their memories and are similar in so many ways. Both Elton John and Bart Millard are gifted musicians, both creative, both had a supportive loving grandmother, both had unattached parents battling their own demons and making selfish choices at the cost of their son at every turn. Both movies showed deep sadness, pain, hurt, loneliness and even worthlessness. The difference came in who the main characters turned to for help…one to God, and one to man. The difference came in one thinking that his life is what he makes it since this life is all that there is; and the other knowing that his life isn’t about him.

Though Rocketman ends with indications of a happy, healthy and complete man, I felt the story far from over, incomplete. Elton has learned how to live a ‘happy life’, but it doesn’t seem complete. He is living in a much happier lane than before, but still on the same track — the human track without our Saviour. (As I write this, I want to fully acknowledge that I do not know Elton John’s faith and I could be 100% wrong in my thought that Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not part of his life.) On the other hand, Bart Millard did more than change lanes, he changed tracks — he got on God’s track, not just the closest lane in the human track to God’s track. He had been acknowledging God, waving at Christ, enjoying a relationship from a distance, but hadn’t fully given His whole life to God. He recognized his unforgiving heart, recognized that he hadn’t given his whole heart to God, which is why he was still carrying the burden of unforgiveness and not having room to receive forgiveness. He needed to forgive, even though he didn’t ‘deserve’ such a painful childhood  –  and leave it at the cross. Leaving it all at the cross is the only way to ‘have all we need’.

In today’s world, it is difficult to hold onto just God, to ‘have all we need’ because we continue to take back the things we don’t need, the things God never intended for us. And when we are carrying around the burdens of unforgiveness, anger, self-righteousness, comparing attitudes, shame, guilt, vices of wanting more, of believing what we have and what we are, isn’t enough… and all the burdens of human origin, we are not able to carry the grace, the mercy, the joy, the ‘all’ that God has for us in Him.

He is ALL WE NEED. And yes, it isn’t easy to live in this world and live those words; but it is possible. It is possible when we start and end each day in relationship with Him. When we choose daily to make time with Him our priority, make choices that honor Him. When we choose to trust instead of doubt that He really does have our back — that He will either not let us fall, or will catch us if falling is part of His plan. That our life has a purpose that is beyond our knowledge and understanding. When we choose to ask His forgiveness again, and again and again. When we choose to forgive again, and again and again. When we choose HIM instead of ourselves.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer:   Father God, help us to remember how much you love us. To live daily in the belief of your words. Help us stay on your track, remembering that You are the Almighty Father, and in your hands we have all we need.

Thanksgiving:  Thank you Father, for all those you put in our life who help us to stay in your graces and mercy. Thank you for always calling us, blessing us and guiding us back to you, back to your sacrificial love and eternal life.  

18 June, Tuesday – Stumbling into Grace

18 June 2019

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2 Corinthians 8:1-9

Now here, brothers, is the news of the grace of God which was given in the churches in Macedonia; and of how, throughout great trials by suffering, their constant cheerfulness and their intense poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity. I can swear that they gave not only as much as they could afford, but far more, and quite spontaneously, begging and begging us for the favour of sharing in this service to the saints and, what was quite unexpected, they offered their own selves first to God and, under God, to us.

Because of this, we have asked Titus, since he has already made a beginning, to bring this work of mercy to the same point of success among you. You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too. It is not an order that I am giving you; I am just testing the genuineness of your love against the keenness of others. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty.

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Matthew 5:43-48

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven, for he causes his sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and his rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike. For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? Even the tax collectors do as much, do they not? And if you save your greetings for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? Even the pagans do as much, do they not? You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’

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Pray for those who persecute you

To walk the talk of Jesus — that is what my heart desires, but my feet stumble. Often. Daily.  Some days it seems all I do is stumble. C.S. Lewis has given me comfort in his words, “If we only have the will to walk, then God is pleased with our stumbles.” That is a quote I read every morning in my quiet time, and I know it helps me to get up again on the days I stumble, and even more so on the days that I am skipping along just fine in my flesh and end up on the ground.

It can be difficult to be kind and do the loving thing to/for those we love, and sometimes it feels impossible to be kind to those who are unkind to us. But as followers of Christ, we are called to do more than be kind. Jesus tells us to pray for, to love those who hate us. And the simplest and most common way to NOT follow Christ’s words is to focus on ourselves only. The world tells us we ‘deserve’ to be happy, that we should only do things that bring us happiness, that we have a right to be happy, a right to do what we want, a right to do WHATEVER we want. That’s actually the mantra of the pagan, ‘do whatever you want’, and it plays out quite loudly these days. The pagan way of life actually is the opposite of love; it tempts us into running away from Christ, and without even knowing it we stumble, and stay down in the stumble so long that we don’t even know we are on the ground crawling, dying, in the mud and muck.

I am grateful for the saints and all the holy men and women in scripture who have stumbled, from Adam and Eve to Mary Magdalene, to St. Peter to St. Thomas Aquinas, to Mother Teresa.  They are our role models – and knowing they stumbled, some so deep into a pit it seems they should not have been able to recover, gives me hope. They stumbled and then they stood in humility, and asked for forgiveness.

If you’re like me, asking for forgiveness in the confessional can be difficult, embarrassing and filled with shame. But it is in confession that God is most pleased with our stumbles because it is a visible sign – to our selves – that we recognize our stumbling and we are asking for His help. We recognize there that we have been crawling when He has given us the ability to walk. And there He strengthens our legs and guides us on His path.

It is human to stumble.

Stumbling gracefully comes through daily prayer.

Stumbling into grace is a gift.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, how we praise your name for the gifts you lay before us with every step we take.  For the guidance you give us on our walk.  Help us in our desire to walk with you every step, and are grateful for the times you carry us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for the gift of your grace that You allow us to fall into when we stumble.  Thank you for the saints in our midst who help us to keep from stumbling, and thank you for your mercy and forgiveness that allows us to stand after each stumble.

17 June, Monday – Living for Eternity

17 June 2019

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2 Corinthians 6:1-10

As his fellow workers, we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.

We do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants. Instead, we prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering: in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving. We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness; by a spirit of holiness, by a love free from affectation; by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left, prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced; thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.

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Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well; if a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.’

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Now is the day of Salvation

I recently returned from my second pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Israel. It is a time and a space unlike any I have ever known. An experience I couldn’t imagine. An encounter that must be felt to be understood, in even the most basic way.

The Holy Land is the place where salvation was born. It is truly a life-altering place; unlike any other place, ever, because it is THE place where God became man. Even though I read these words inscribed above the doors of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, they didn’t register: THE WORD BECAME FLESH HERE. HERE. As Hani, our guide said, here, where we are standing, no where else. To be in that place where Mary said ‘YES’ filled  every cell in my being. The emotion was overwhelming, so utterly complete that there was no room for any other thought or feeling mentally, physically or emotionally.

There is a sense of eternity, of salvation, in every breath in the land of our Savior’s birth.

Eternity is the biggest of words, is it not? With salvation, eternity is God in pure enveloping love. Without salvation, eternity is hollow, a painful emptiness. And I see so much painful emptiness in the world today, and I know it is because the world doesn’t acknowledge salvation.

My friend, who has coordinated four trips (so far) to the Holy Land, said to me after her first pilgrimage, “In Israel, faith is everything; faith isn’t part of them, it is WHO they are.”  I was eager to see what she meant. I went, and I saw her words come to life. I felt the words. It is like nothing I have ever even glimpsed in America, this constant visual understanding that eternity with God is all that matters.

I live in America, and here approximately 75% of Americans identify as Christian (24% Catholic). In Israel, it is about 1.5% Catholic Christian. Yet the faith of those in Israel is so strong a living faith it is visible. Our Catholic brothers and sisters in Israel live today’s gospel on a daily basis. They are their faith; they know scripture, they understand scripture, they share scripture, they live Jesus’ words. Their lives are surrounded by our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters, faith filled in worship of God, but blinded to the complete truth of salvation thru Christ. In Israel, our fellow Catholics walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give their tunic and cloak, and pray for and love those who neither pray for, nor love them.  There is an undeniable peace and joy felt and seen in these Catholic brothers and sisters, despite the subtle persecution they absorb daily. They are the caretakers of the holy places Jesus walked and lived and died and rose in. Life is hard, but they remain as a remnant of people who can’t bear to leave these holy places, because they know they are called to share the gospel where the word was made flesh, where our salvation was born. They cannot leave here and are willing, as Paul was, to suffer for the gospel, to suffer because they know and love Jesus.

Now is the day of salvation. How different would our daily life be if we acknowledged that truth every day? How different would our words be? Our choices of entertainment? Our time spent in prayer? Our time spent at mass… and in mass. How different would our hearts be if we truly lived those words of truth? How different would this world be if we, those who remain in the church that Christ left us, truly lived in the knowledge that this is the day of salvation.

(Today’s Oxygen by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, help us as we work out our salvation. We are in awe of You, in the gift we don’t deserve and we cling to you asking for your mercy and forgiveness.  Help us to live our lives as a salvation people, sharing your words of everlasting life, sharing the gospel with our actions.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Heavenly Father, for loving us through death, through your resurrection and through all eternity. We desire to live this truth of your merciful love every day by loving all of those around us.