22 June, Tuesday — God is our guard and our shield

Jun 22 – Memorial for St. Paulinus of Nola, bishop; Memorial for St. John Fisher, Bishop & St. Thomas More, martyrs

Paulinus (c.354–431) was a friend of St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicetas of Remesiana, and was mentioned for his holiness by at least six of his contemporary saints.

He was a distinguished lawyer who held several public offices in the Empire, then retired from public ministry with his wife, Therasia, first to Bordeaux, where they were baptised, and then to Therasia’s estate in Spain. After the death of their only son at the age of only a few weeks, the couple decided to spend the rest of their lives devoted to God. They gave away most of their estates and dedicated themselves to increasing their holiness.

Paulinus became a priest and with Therasia, moved to Nola and gave away the rest of their property. They dedicated themselves to helping the poor. Paulinus was chosen bishop of Nola by popular demand. He governed the diocese for more than 21 years while living in his own home as a monk and continuing to aid the poor. His writings contain one of the earliest examples of a Christian wedding song.

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John Fisher (1469–1535) studied theology at Cambridge University, receiving degrees in 1487 and 1491. He was parish priest in Northallerton, England from 1491–1494. He gained a reputation for his teaching abilities. He was proctor of Cambridge University. He was confessor to Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, in 1497. He was ordained Bishop of Rochester, England in 1504; he worked to raise the standard of preaching in his see. He became chancellor of Cambridge. He was tutor of the young King Henry VIII. He was an excellent speaker and writer.

When in 1527 he was asked to study the problem of Henry’s marriage, he became the target of Henry’s wrath by defending the validity of the marriage and rejecting Henry’s claim to be head of the Church in England. He was imprisoned in 1534 for his opposition, and he spent 14 months in prison without trial. While in prison, he was created cardinal in 1535 by Pope Paul III. He was martyred for his faith.

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Thomas More (1478–1535) studied at London and Oxford, England. He was a page for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was a lawyer. Twice married, and a widower, he was the father of one son and three daughters, and a devoted family man. He was a writer, most famously of the novel which coined the word ‘utopia’. It was translated with the works of Lucian.

He was known during his own day for his scholarship and the depth of his knowledge. He was a friend to King Henry VIII, and Lord Chancellor of England from 1529–1532, a position of political power second only to the king.

He fought any form of heresy, especially the incursion of Protestantism into England. He opposed the king on the matter of royal divorce, and refused to swear the Oath of Supremacy which declared the king the head of the Church in England. He resigned the Chancellorship, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was martyred for his refusal to bend his religious beliefs to the king’s political needs.

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Gen 13:2,5-18
Mt 7:6,12-14                                                                                                   

“…if you take the left, I will go right; if you take the right, I will go left.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the best, and worst, in people around the world.

We read of hordes rushing to the supermarket to panic buy, intending to hoard (pun intended!) everything from toilet paper to instant noodles. We also read of people who end up fighting each other for a preferred position in the queue for vaccines/food/<insert any item of perceived value>.

All of this comes from a mindset of scarcity, where people think that everything is a zero-sum game. In other words, if a certain group of people were to benefit from a particular situation, there must be another who will end up on the losing end. Hence, whenever something good is available, people fight hard for these items, or benefits.

In today’s first reading, both Abram and Lot each had massive amounts of assets, including huge flocks of livestock. This meant that the land was not big enough for all the collective livestock to graze. In order to avoid conflict, Abram makes Lot a proposition; that they go their separate ways. Abram allows Lot to make the first choice, and chooses the Jordan Plain, which, to the naked eye, appears to to be more resource-rich and which seems to provide more opportunities.

The Lord appears to Abram after Lot leaves, and assures him that he would continue to be blessed with more — more descendents, more material wealth, despite being left with the “lesser choice”.

I found this passage really interesting on two fronts.

Firstly, we hear about Sodom, about how the “people of Sodom were vicious men, great sinners against the Lord”. When Lot surveyed the land, that was what he did; he surveyed the land. He could only see what was in front of him, and had no way of knowing what lay in the minds and hearts of the people of Sodom. He could only judge his opportunities based on his superficial analysis.

Another was this — Abram did not make his choice before pitching to Lot which part of the land he preferred. What he did was to leave this choice to Lot and Abram would take the remaining portion. Abram trusted in the Lord and it is the Lord who makes promises to Abram!

These two points really struck me. Lot’s approach to decision-making sounds remarkably like mine. Often, I find myself in situations which appear to be positive, and my mind plays out all the possibilities and scenarios, only to be frustrated when all the hitherto-unexpected challenges start surfacing.

Like Lot, we delude ourselves into thinking that we know everything, and are able to ‘logic’ our way to positive conclusions. Instead of placing our trust in what we see, what we need to do is to place our faith in our Lord; trusting Him to guide us through all circumstances. In God’s conversation with Abram, He never actually goes into analysing all of Abram’s available resources; He focuses instead on making promises to Abram. This is powerful; if like Abram, we keep our eyes on God and not on what is (superficially) available to me, we no longer feel the need to always maintain this cost-benefit-analysis in our heads!

It is also important that we do not pretend to be so. We do not want to pretend to rely on God, and then become frustrated when things do not go the way we expect them to. It is simply too easy to fall into this trap of ‘We need to believe/act a certain way so we will be rewarded with….’. I find myself doing this unconsciously, and often it comes out when I pray “Lord, I have followed You, why did you allow this particular incident to happen?”

I pray that like Abram, I will learn to live my life with total faith, and all the Lord to truly take over.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Paul Wee)

Prayer: We pray for a faith as big as Abram’s; that no matter what, we learn to walk through our lives with our hand in Yours. Father, we pray that we may never be afraid, regardless of the type and intensity of the challenges we face on this Earth.

Thanksgiving: Thank You Father, for your multitude of blessings in my life. We praise You and thank You for Your constant presence and love.

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