16 April, Saturday — Easter Vigil

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, we feature a few of our regular contributors and welcome back Daryl. It is a long read, but we hope you enjoy the reflections and be inspired by them!

Blessed Easter!

Desmond (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)

16 Apr – Holy Saturday

FIRST READING

Hearing God in the call to care for Creation

Gen 1:1 – 2:2
Ps 104:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.

I had not heard about the Catholic Social Teaching on stewardship of creation till a few years ago, when a priest mentioned it in his homily in relation to possible observances for Lent. He suggested that we could try fasting from the use of styrofoam containers when ordering takeaways, and at that time, I had considered it an unusual, almost slightly extreme suggestion since I had yet to encounter the widespread use of reusable containers.

Things are very different now – ironically I have too many metal straws and cupholders — and yet I still feel that I am taking a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ approach, particularly since the ongoing pandemic has made me more particular about hygiene and more prone to order food delivery. Further, the constant stream of news on climate change and the deep wide-ranging reforms needed to mitigate it are almost depressing; how can our small efforts really lead to any difference, especially when so much damage has already been done or is still being done?

But perhaps I need to take a broader approach, and look beyond our immediate circumstances. When reading up on this issue, I came across this USCCB webpage which made me realise that the call to care for creation is rooted in God’s call for us to love and cherish everything that He has created, and to go beyond ourselves to think of others – not just the people in other countries (which I already find very challenging in my little bubble), but those of future generations too. It also dawned on me that nature, which is always present (even in the city), serves both to remind us of God’s gifts and to give praise to our Creator, has been reflected over the centuries in numerous psalms, hymns and praise & worship songs (So Will I is one of the most stirring examples I can find). So the stewardship of creation is a duty which we should always be mindful of, regardless of the present severity of climate change or whether it’s the trending bandwagon to jump on; and failing to do so may even be considered a sin of omission.

Which then brings me back to my original question about what, if anything, I can really do. But perhaps this is where our Lord is calling us to offer our own two loaves and five fishes, whether it be in the attempt to change our habits or to cut down on our consumption (which can both prove more challenging than expected), or just to grow more aware about the Catholic Social Teaching itself, and then trust that He will bring us forward.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jaclyn Lam)

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for the times we have neglected Your call to care for the environment and taken it for granted. Through your grace and patience, give us the wisdom we need to discern Your call in this area and to act on it, however we can.

Thanksgiving: We give you praise and thanks for the beauty of Your creation. Help us to realise and rejoice at how Your hand is present in all things great and small.

SECOND READING

Taking Refuge In God

Gen 22:1-18
Ps 16:5,8-11

Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.

I am writing this at the beginning of a self-imposed period of isolation, because the previous evening, I learned that a friend I had just lunched with had tested positive for Covid-19. I have yet to experience any symptoms, but since I live with my elderly parents, we decided it would be best if I ‘quarantined’ myself for the next few days.

Ironically, I received the message about my friend while I was at evening mass. In the shock of the moment I just mechanically continued with the Stations of the Cross. But after the news had sunk in I started to pray, in anxious half-formed sentences for my friend and myself and, after mass, hurried down to the church grotto to seek Our Lady’s intercession before I realised I might be posing a risk to the others around me; and so I went home to take an ART test.

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that the above line leapt out at me, because after all our procedures and precautions, what else can we do but pray? Usually I would have found this line reassuring, but at this point it had a sobering effect. The ongoing suffering caused by Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, the unrest and poverty which we may not even know about, all combine to feel overwhelming and demoralising, especially when it seems as if our petitions, novenas and rosaries go unanswered.

But I realise that I also have much to give thanks for. I am blessed to have the ‘refuge’ of my own room. I am surrounded by family and friends who continually check in over WhatsApp and have access to virtual media. I even have an opportunity to spend more time in prayer (and write this post!); indeed, I should also be grateful that I managed to attend mass, since I would not have a chance to receive Holy Communion if I came down with Covid-19.

This made me (guiltily) recall how the Israelites complained to God about getting bored with the manna that they received while they were wandering in the desert; it also made me recall how God never gave up on them despite the times they turned away from Him. Perhaps this experience serves to show me that God is closer to me, either ‘before me’ or ‘at my right hand’, than I realise; and that He is providing for me in ways I do not yet understand. Perhaps this is why this Psalm is chosen for the Easter Vigil, as a constant reminder of our Lord’s steadfast love and goodness which we can take heart in, wherever we are in our journey of faith.

Update: I didn’t catch Covid-19 from my friend after all. Praise and thanks to the Lord!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Jaclyn Lam)

Prayer: Lord, give us the faith and perseverance we need to trust in You amid the times we feel discouraged in prayer. Make us aware of, and strengthen us in your presence and providence.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your steadfastness and for always being close to us.

THIRD READING

Now God’s People

Exo 14:15–15:1
Exo 15

You will lead your people and plant them on the mountain, the place, O Lord, where you have made your home…

In our third reading and psalm on this Holy Night, we hear of this scene that has become a plot worthy of Hollywood blockbusters. I remember as a child, watching the animated movie, ‘The Prince of Egypt’ and of course for dramatic effect, there was the silhouette of a whale in the sidewall of the sea. Imagine that.

If you have any experience of being at sea in your life, you will know that even the biggest cruise liner is but a speck in the ocean. How much more insignificant in size and strength are each of us, compared to the ocean. But our God decided that we should have dominion over all created things.

In our most powerless of situations, when the walls are closing in, when the deadline has passed, when the s*** has hit the ceiling, when all seems lost, God allowed a man, 1 of us, by His power, to ‘part’ the ocean. Some days, I struggle to carry a pail full of water to wash my car. Moses was given the power to part the ocean. The vast, endless and all-engulfing ocean.

The Israelites had been under the oppression of the Egyptians for too long. Have we too, been under so much pressure, so much stress, so much depression that we have grown comfortable with it? Do we live in conditions or situations not befitting our dignity as children of the most high because the alternative seems impossible?

Today, God tells us that he wants to set us free, most of all, from slavery to sin. He is ready here and now, to give us the same power he gave to Moses, to rise above ourselves and find a way out. Be it pride, gluttony, anger, jealousy or the most crippling sins of the flesh, God wants to bring us through the nightmare, dry shod and lead us to the promised land. To restore the relationship with his people, to set us free from captivity and to once again enjoy each and every day of our lives in creation.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Daryl De Payva)

Prayer: Our Father in heaven, we are but a speck in the ocean but you Lord have raised us above the Angels. Teach us to live as we should and give us the courage to walk through the sea.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your ultimate sacrifice and desiring the best for us.

FOURTH READING

Estate Planning

Isa 54:5-14

“All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children”

Today’s reading gave me much to think about with regard to my legacy. I am not looking to have a street named after me, or to make a scientific breakthrough that will change life on earth immeasurably. I simply want to make choices that will serve possible future generations of my family well.

One example of such a decision was the move to Singapore from India by my grandfather. Because of that, his children had better opportunities for education and were able to live comfortable, middle-income lives.

I find it hard sometimes to look beyond the week or even the day; especially when things are hectic at work and at home. On some days, keeping afloat is surely enough. But we must take the time to reflect on the effects our lives will have on our progeny and on humanity.

While we look forward to an eternity of bliss with Jesus in heaven, the rest of the universe will invariably continue on once we pass. That is why we must plant the seeds for things that will continue to bear fruit for much longer than our earthly lives.

Jesus paid the ultimate price for his children because he knew it was a worthwhile endeavour. He had the visionary foresight to endure great pain so as to give us all a better future.

Brothers and sisters, I wonder if you would consider looking beyond your own life and your troubles to imagine the butterfly effect your actions today will have tomorrow. While it may be tempting to consider the future in years or decades, perhaps it is time that we adopt a generational lens to our views on life.

We are quite likely, more important and much more influential than we give ourselves credit for.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Gregory Mathew)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, inspire us to think and act for the long-term.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Lord, for the hardships our forefathers went through to bring us to where we are today. May we always surpass ourselves to be agents of change for a better future.

FIFTH READING

Saying yes to God’s way is saying no to our fears and desires

Is 55:1-11
Is 12

“…my thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.”

At the beginning of this Lent, I did not know what to give up or do for our Lord. I was at a loss. I thought that I was serving God by being a good daughter to my parents. But I actually had no idea what God’s will for me was.

I felt a sense of emptiness within me — I did not like where my life was heading towards. There was no clear direction in my life. I was angry at God too, because I thought that I was not able to fulfil His will with my physical disabilities. Many gentlemen had rejected me when they found out that I was disabled. As for living a religious vocation, I felt that the door was not yet open to me when I spoke to religious sisters from various convents over many years. In addition, I found out that the formation activities for secular layperson orders near my residence were held at wheelchair-inaccessible premises. I became deeply frustrated. What am I called by God to do?

Then some time in the middle of Lent, a kind-hearted, caring and compassionate gentleman asked me if we could be in a relationship. I said yes, not fully aware of what would happen after that.

For the first few days, I was feeling really happy to be in a relationship. Then, fears started to creep in. I thought to myself, am I dating the correct person? What exactly is going on?

Amidst these fears, I prayed to God and Our Lady, beseeching them for guidance. In the silence, a voice in my heart asked me, what if this is God’s will for me, to freely love this person that God has given me, and to be with him?

It has not been an easy journey ever since, but I trust that with God’s guidance, I will see His hand in everything. For the Lord has plans to make us prosperous, and not plans to make us fail.

This Lent has been a truly spiritually enriching time for me as I learn how to love my boyfriend, to spend more time with God together with him, and to be a better Catholic.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Brenda Khoo)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that as we wait in patience for Your coming on Easter Sunday, we may have faith and trust in Your thoughts and Your Way. Help us to put to death our selfish desires and fears. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for guiding us through life, and leading us gently to Your Way, so that we may see Your hand in everything and glorify You. Amen.

SIXTH READING

God knows us all and loves us all

Bar 3:9-15,32 – 4:4
Ps 19:8-11

But the One who knows all knows her

I have two physical disabilities — I move around on a wheelchair, and I have a hearing impairment.

Sometimes I wish I was not disabled. Life would be so much easier. For instance, I often have to spend more time moving from one place to another place, and this affects my work efficiency and productivity at times. Communication is not easy with family and friends at times too.

But I am grateful to God that He is always by my side, no matter where I am. He comforts me and gives me warmth and love when I am suffering from pain, and He always looks out for me wherever I go. He will always love me as His daughter.

Brothers and sisters, God knows us all, even to our deepest thoughts. We may feel like there’s an invasion of privacy from God, but isn’t it comforting that God is not going to exploit us for some malicious purpose?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Brenda Khoo)

Prayer: Dear Lord, we pray that we can increase our trust and love in You, even though we can never know You completely. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, we thank you for knowing us all and loving us as Your beloved sons and daughters. Amen.

SEVENTH READING

Scattered but not lost

Ez 36:16-17,18-28
Ps 42

..and gather you together from all the foreign countries

Don’t you love a gathering? A place that you are invited to. A place and space you are wanted. 

These days, there are many among us working (consciously and subconsciously) to ‘scatter’ people – by that, I mean people who use words and actions that literally alienate/disrupt/disperse so that there can be no unity, no sense of family. We are separated based on our religion, our culture, the color of our skin, our social standing, our political parties, our fame, our fortune, our fitness, our looks, our hair style/colour, our age, our accent, the size of our family, the clothes we wear, etc. The list to separate us is endless. And it’s all over social media. This great tool that is supposed to CONNECT us actually continues to cause endless harm by SEPARATING us. 

Jesus was – IS – a gatherer. Jesus is a RADICAL gatherer. Jesus ate with people from all walks of life, all cultures, all social and economic backgrounds. From those in the highest to the lowest esteem. He came to gather the scattered flock; we are all of this flock. We all have the same Father. There is NO ONE you will ever look at who Jesus isn’t wanting to gather. God intends to include everyone. 

It’s Easter…truly a rebirth for us, if we choose. If we Christians would choose to embrace what Jesus did and the manner in which he did it, if we would decide to intentionally refrain from separating and, instead, intentionally gather everyone in our heart, we would change the world.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, we sigh deeply with sorrow and regret as we realize how we have intentionally alienated people you’ve put in our path; even whole groups of people. Father, today we will spend extra time in silence so that You can seep into our hearts, into our bones. In doing this, we pray that as we look into the eyes of others who are different than we are, we will see Jesus.

Thanksgiving: Lord God of all creation, how we praise your very name. We thank you for including us, for stretching your arms so wide that you have gathered us in.

EPISTLE

Undeserved

Rom 6:3-11
Ps 118:1-2,16-17,22-23

…His mercy endures forever

Mercy is defined as — compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

WOW.  So powerful.

We know this – we accept it and go, don’t we. Perhaps because we even think it is ‘easy’ for God to show us mercy because, well, He’s GOD. It doesn’t ‘cost’ Him anything. At least, that is something I am sure I have thought many times. Yet, when we take a minute or two and soak in the enormity of mercy — the enormity of continual mercy — it can bring us to our knees, can it not?

When was the last time you saw mercy given? When was the last time you received mercy? When was the last time you bestowed mercy?

God has been raining mercy down on us from the beginning. We first learn of God’s mercy in Genesis 3:21, the story of Adam and Eve, when God covered their shame with the skins of a sacrificed animal. From the very beginning, man has needed mercy. We are no different than Adam and Eve. We, those like us and those (we believe) to be so unlike us, are all carrying the almost unbearable weight of our sins. Mercy is our only hope, and hope’s name is Jesus. Jesus turns to each of us showering us with mercy as he takes the burden of our self-inflicted cross. Will we accept the mercy? Will we let him carry our sins and will we accept forgiveness so that he too, can put it down? 

It is Easter, let this be the season we begin showering mercy down on others, as our Lord and Saviour has done for us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Gina Ulicny)

Prayer: Father God, we need your mercy. Forgive us our sins Lord; all our sins Lord, and help us to rest in your mercy so that we can imitate the words Jesus taught us, “…forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us…”

Thanksgiving: Father, we come to you in Thanksgiving above all thanksgivings for the mercy you never grow tired of extending to us. We thank you for our faith that teaches us about your love and your mercy, and challenges us to share this love and mercy to all.

GOSPEL

New Life

Lk 24:1-12

Remember what he told you

Each Easter season, the school that I used to teach in would organise a massive school-wide Easter egg hunt, where we would give out Kinder Bueno chocolate eggs in exchange for clues that we hid in various nooks and crannies of the school compound. As teenagers are relatively snack-motivated, the hunt was always a popular event. Although it was mainly a fun activity to commemorate Easter, we always made sure to find ways to highlight the meaning of the season. For example, for one memorable and especially competitive hunt, we had the students search for letters that made up the words “new life”.

What is this new life that Christ’s resurrection brings about? In the gospel reading for today, we see scenes of confusion and disbelief as Jesus’ followers reacted to the news that the angels brought, that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. Besides grappling with the highly inconceivable nature of the news, there was perhaps also that same question that arose in the followers’ minds after the commotion died down – what does this mean for me, and for us? For Jesus’ words have literally come true (for reference, see Mark 8:31, Matthew 17:22, Luke 9:22)! To make sense of Jesus’ resurrection, they would have to heed the angels’ words – “Remember what he told you…” During His ministry, Jesus said and did many things that His disciples had problems comprehending. Now, in the light of His resurrection, they would have to look back at their time with their Lord, recall His words, review the context in which they were uttered, and reflect on how His teachings have transformed their lives.

What does a new life in Christ mean for me? As I am writing this reflection, I am huddled in front of the heater on a cold spring morning in the Netherlands. Coming here for my PhD stint has unexpectedly hit a reset button on my spiritual life, in a good way. The solitude, the geographical distance from my sources of stress and the laid-back culture of the people here have allowed my anxiety and crippling worries to gradually melt away, revealing a heart of desire for God that had been smothered by fear for so long. While I previously struggled to even give thanks to God, I can now feel gratitude that is almost visceral. I am re-engaging with spiritual practices that I have neglected, and recalling quotes from spiritual writers that helped guide my perception towards life and faith. Most significantly, I am learning not to be fazed by things that are unpleasant or do not go my way. One’s state of mind cannot be constantly at the mercy of external circumstances, behaving like a yo-yo as it leaps to wild exhilaration at one occurrence and plummets to the depths of despair at another. As I learn to make my faith my anchor in life, I refer to the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola on holy indifference –

“Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed by free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short. The same holds for all other things.” (Spiritual Exercises # 23)

As lofty an ideal as it sounds, a life of holy indifference is a life centred in and on Christ. No matter life’s circumstances, we do not lose the capacity to love others and to love ourselves, because we would have learned to let go of anything that prevents us from doing so. To me, this is the Easter promise of new life.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)

Prayer: We pray for the fortitude to not fall prey to the superficial and transient allure of worldly attachments. Help us, Lord, to always seek your higher goodness.

Thanksgiving: Dearest Father, we give thanks for the unexpected moments of grace through which your abundant love shines.

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