Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
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 . It is a long read, but we hope you enjoy the reflections and be inspired by them!
Desmond (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
8 April – Holy Saturday
Love Everyone, For We Are Created In His Image
Gen 1:1 – 2:2
God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God He created him, male and female he created them.
Recently, there was an image generated by AI (Artificial Intelligence) of Pope Francis wearing a puffer jacket that took the Internet by storm. He looked magnificent in this image, and I wonder if he had indeed a similar white pontifical jacket in his cabinet during the winter season. Although this image looked real at first glance, if you look harder, you will realise that his hands looked ‘wonky’ and the crucifix appeared to be warped.
According to Aleteia, Pope Francis urged for ethical AI usage in response to this image, “I would therefore encourage you, in your deliberations, to make the intrinsic dignity of every man and woman the key criterion in evaluating emerging technologies; these will prove ethically sound to the extent that they help respect that dignity and increase its expression at every level of human life.”
And so, when I read today’s first reading, our Holy Father’s call came to my mind immediately. Do we respect and recognise each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us created in God’s image?
Sometimes, when my fellow brother or sister has fallen into sin, I tend to focus on his or her errors. I fail to recognise his or her identity as a brother or sister of Christ, whether or not he or she is Catholic. I have been trying to make amends this Lent by asking those whom I have criticised for forgiveness, and seeing the good in them instead.
For example, I used to be angry and bitter towards my family for their mistakes that hurt me. But a priest reminded me that we are not perfect people, and we may not be perfect in our love. So, I have decided to become more observant, and I realised that my family loves me in many small, little ways that I used to overlook. And I have also returned their love by loving them in small, little ways too.
We have good and bad qualities in us, and we should strive to see God in everyone, no matter how flawed the person seems to be.
Today, if you feel a stirring in your heart to reconcile with someone, do it! Some people may not want to be reconciled, and if that happens, you can either try again or know that you’ve tried your best to offer him or her an olive branch.
Lent is almost over, but God is Love. So let us not forget about God’s abundant mercy and love, which we can share with others when we forgive others who have trespassed against us. And let us never forget that we are all created in the same image of God, despite our backgrounds and differences!
(Today’s OXYGEN by Brenda Khoo)
Prayer: Dear Lord, please help us to be more perfect in our love towards our brothers and sisters, for we are all created in Your image of love. Amen.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for creating us all in Your image, and for loving us so that we can love our brothers and sisters. Amen.
The Lord Provides
On the mountain the Lord provides.
Lately, my health has not been too good. Although I am unable to walk without support since birth due to a congenital condition, I realise that several other minor health problems have cropped up, and the symptoms of my condition are getting worse over time.
Although I never once complained against God in my childhood and adolescence, the worsening of my symptoms caused me to be frustrated with myself and with God. I was angry with God initially. I asked Him, “Why me?” And for a long time, I believed that prayer was useless. Praying to God for a miracle made me sound like a very demanding person, and I believe that it was wrong of me to pray for a miracle. And also, I wondered what was the point of prayer if God did not do anything to help me get out of my worsening situation? So, I stopped praying. If I did pray in church, my heart wasn’t in it.
But one day, I got a prompting from the Holy Spirit to take out my Bible and turn to the chapter of James. And I read the passage where faith alone, without works, is dead. (James 2:17)
And at another time, I received another prompting, which made me realise that yes, we don’t pray to God to demand for miracles or ask for materialistic things (like asking God for a promotion at work or full marks in a school examination). But we pray to thank God for the virtues and graces that we possess, and to ask Him for virtues and graces that we lack, so that we can become more Christ-like in our thoughts, words and deeds. A few priests also reminded me to count my blessings.
And truly, God provides. Despite the uncertainties and struggles that I face in my life, He has provided me with a caring and loving family, as well as good friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin. He has also given me the opportunity to enrol in a course with a scholarship to pursue my dream career. And He has provided me with countless blessings and graces.
If you are struggling in life, I hope that my story will encourage you to thank God for whatever blessings that you have been bestowed upon by Him, as well as to ask Him for the graces and virtues that you need to overcome or tide through your problems.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Brenda Khoo)
Prayer: Dear Lord, please provide us with the virtues and graces that we lack, so that we can walk closer to You during this Easter. Amen.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for bestowing upon us virtues and graces, and for providing us with blessings. Amen.
In Cooperation with God
The waters parted…
This reading reminded me of how big missions are accomplished when an individual has been empowered to do so, accompanied by the hand of God moving in the work. Moses stretched out his hand, but God parted the Red Sea. Moses would not have led the Israelites across the sea had he not allowed the hand of God to move in this mission.
Similarly, I’m also reminded that in the work I do, be it a personal endeavour or a piece of work, I would need to allow God’s hand to move in these areas. This would mean more openness, surrender and faith to trust the process that God is leading me in and that He will lead me to the final destination He is calling me to.
Brothers and sisters, let us continue to trust in the Lord and surrender our fears; trust that He will remove any obstacles from our path to the goal that He has set out for us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Grace Yee)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray that I will continue to trust in You to guide and lead me, especially during times when I cannot see what is ahead of me.
Thanksgiving: Lord Jesus, thank you for showing up for me during the times I needed you and sending people to support and guide me when I needed help.
What‘s In A Name?
…give thanks to his holy name.
Title-inflation is all the rage these days. CEOs, Directors, Leaders, and Transformationists abound on LinkedIn. While looking the part and crafting an image may be part of the traditional corporate battlefield, living up to those titles is the hardest component of personifying leadership.
Years ago, when I had just started my career, a boss of mine once wisely said that he would have succeeded once the office could function without him. At the time I thought that it would be quite a quizzical use of money to pay a redundant employee. However, his words held true. Because of his demands for high standards, his sterling example, and his dedication to mentoring, our office was motivated to work hard and not let him down. He instilled a strong sense of mission in us and true enough, everything simply just worked, regardless of whether he was around.
To be worthy of our names and to earn the respect of our flock, we need to do more than bestow ourselves with ranks or descriptors. We have to live our lives in ways worthy of emulation, and live for something bigger than ourselves. Jesus did just as such and is rightfully called our Lord.
I’ve been blessed to have had humble yet amazingly capable bosses who have shown me how heavy the mantle of leadership is. As I lead in, and out, of the workplace, I know that my title means nothing without hard work and Christian values underwriting my daily living. For all of you in positions of leadership (or with fancy titles), I ask that you consider how the title has shaped you, and how you will breathe renewed fervor into your roles.
Someone is surely watching, and waiting to be inspired.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Gregory Mathew)
Prayer: Light in us, dear Lord, a fire of love for your people.
Thanksgiving: Thank you God, for giving us Jesus as the perfect example of human existence.
Over and over and over again
With you I will make an everlasting covenant out of the favours promised to David.
How meaningful these words are, especially in knowing how often I ask God for the same thing…over and over and over again. Whether it is asking His forgiveness, the strength to ‘get through’, the ability to see and hear His guidance, or countless other repetitive prayers.
What peace I find in knowing that His favors do not run out. His favors are not measured out. His favours are not counted. His favours are not limited, even by my sins. His favours truly are inexhaustible…and as the verse continues, ‘…His mercies are not spent’. He wants us to come to Him with everything and simply ASK. He wants to give us favour and His mercy.
If you are like me, then you have people in your life who you offer a ‘limit’ to –- a limit on YOUR time, a limit on YOUR compassion, a limit on YOUR love. These are the people who get on your nerves, the people who keep doing it wrong, the people who talk too much, or talk too much about things you don’t know or care about, or the people who don’t talk enough, and of course, the people who are not enough like you.
There is such favour in simply knowing HIS love and acceptance of us is not like ours –- He is not conditional. He never exhausts in loving us, despite our unloving nature. He never exhausts in wanting to be wholly with us, despite our hiding from Him. He never exhausts in calling us to Him, tarnished and sinful as we are, He has a place for us. Our true home is with Him.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Gina Ulicny)
Prayer: Jesus, my desire is to walk in your footsteps, I know you have called me to love like You. Help me to be limitless in my love for all those you allow in my space. Help me to look only for your face in all those I see.
Thanksgiving: Father God, thank you for your inexhaustible favour, for your never-ending mercies. Thank you for calling me, for loving me and for allowing me to return to you time and time again.
Turn towards the light
In the radiance of the Lord, make your way to light.
In CS Lewis’ theological classic The Great Divorce, the author encounters several ‘ghosts’ living in a perpetually grey town that could be considered either hell or purgatory. A number of the ghosts, along with the author, take a bus ride to the foothills of heaven. Over there, they meet various ‘spirits’ whom they knew in the earthly world. The spirits persistently try to convince the ghosts to repent and join them in heaven, but most of the ghosts choose to return to the grey town. They are not able to let go of their attachments to their egos, which are manifested in habits and practices that are harmful to others and themselves. In spite of the gloominess of the grey town, it offers more security and familiarity than the painful surrender that heaven demands.
When I read The Great Divorce, I was deeply struck by the relatability of the various sins that the characters chose to continue committing. There is the bishop who is trapped in a warped sense of his own intellectual superiority, no longer certain about his belief in God. There is the woman who is not able to let go of her grief for her dead young son, even though he is in heaven beckoning her to join him. There is also the man who is so used to emotionally blackmailing others with self-pity that his actual self was reduced to almost nothing, while his manipulative side took over.
Sin can become comfortable. If a certain state is comfortable, why should one go through a difficult period of change? In the sixth reading of Holy Saturday, the writer exhorts us to seize the wisdom of God and turn towards Him – “in her radiance make your way to light” (Baruch 4:2). But taking the path of radiance and choosing God’s wisdom instead of one’s own reasoning seems too difficult a task for many. Turning towards the light requires a denial of self, of one’s desires and addictions to wealth, honour, pleasure and power. Simply knowing about the light is not enough to turn towards it. We need to look beyond our present state and circumstances to what lies beyond this life, and cultivate a desire for God that can motivate us to find the courage to overcome our own disordered desires.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)
Prayer: We pray for a stronger faith and a deeper desire for God, that can free us from unhealthy attachments and disordered, self-serving states of mind.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the grace and sustenance that flows from the love of God working through the church.
You shall be my people, and I will be your God.
One of the most memorable times of a being a pet owner is when the owner chooses the name for the pet. To give a name to an animal means the individual is claiming ownership of the person. The readings of today look and remind us of how God is choosing to re-claim us as his children through the pouring of clean water over the people of Israel.
Sin has a way of making us ‘bone-dry’ – a lack of nourishment from the love of God. Indeed it is this issue which troubles a lot of people, because they often feel that God is distant and they lack a sense of communication with God. Perhaps it will be good for us to consider what it is that is required from each one of us from God. Could it be a sense of entitlement where we expect God to demonstrate to us his existence? Continuing the analogy above, does the pet owner need to justify his existence to the pet?
Yet God’s ways are not our ways. He does not seek to demonstrate that he is the boss of our lives, but wants to be our father. A person who cares for us and shows us what it means to be loved. Indeed, God is love. This means that all of us can return to him without any fear of reprimand. The readings in the Easter Vigil remind us of the entire history of God’s love as written in the Bible. God wants us to love Him and he has already made the first step.
Brothers and sisters, what would be our response?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
Prayer: Dear God, give us the grace to acknowledge our own shortcomings.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who continue to love us.
New life in Jesus
When we were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised in his death…and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.”
On this most holy night, as I witness the RCIA and RCIY elects and candidates walk into the waters of baptism, I recall my own baptism 25 years ago. Though I didn’t go through immersion baptism, I was awash with tears that flowed uncontrollably, bathing in God’s love and mercy. I understood then what it means to be reborn, to have a clean slate, as all my sins were washed away and any dark spots wiped clean.
Now that I am serving in the RCIA ministry, Holy Saturday takes on a whole new meaning for me as I watch abounding in joy, witnessing the transformation of lives when inquirers answer God’s call to follow Jesus Christ. As a convert myself who grew up in a Buddhist family, I understand that it is surely not easy to abandon the only way of life we’ve known and taken great pains to build, to pick up a new one in Jesus. This to me, is literally what it means to die to ourselves in order to live. Let our past life and all the sins we’ve committed be dead so that we can live again. So far, what I’ve given up — the desire for acquiring luxury goods, shopping as retail therapy (not sure if grocery shopping is considered one?), reading trashy fiction, love for beauty products, fear of public speaking, and wanting to keep to oneself.
This new life in Jesus doesn’t just mean going for Sunday mass. In fact, that is the least we can do. It means a whole lot more actually – to have eyes opened and look at life with a whole new perspective. I’ve had my whole life turned around since my encounter with the Lord. It includes leaving a cushy job that I’ve enjoyed and loved for over 20 years to seek a new one at the age of 50. If you’re wondering about my last point above about keeping to oneself, I find that the new me has gotten a lot more sociable. I was once a very shy introvert and would prefer to be like wallpaper; but with the Holy Spirit dwelling within, I find so much joy in talking to people, in sharing experiences, and wanting to help people all the time. More often than not, I will even go to the extent of calling myself a spiritual busybody.
All the changes that take place in my life, though exciting, can sometimes be frightening so I just keep clinging on to Jesus and trusting that he knows what he’s doing and has a better plan for me. I know I’ll be more than alright. The best part about the new me is that I am no longer a slave to what others think of me – I am more than happy to be God’s fool. Jesus calls us to pick up our cross (trials and sufferings) and follow him, to love our neighbour as ourselves – even those who hurt us, and to forgive our brothers – this is how to love God.
May Easter be a reminder of our baptism and a resurrection to new life with Jesus.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Cynthia Chew)
Prayer: Dear heavenly Father, help us to recall our own baptism during this Easter, a call to new life, to walking closer with you, and take courage of any trials that may come our way. May we never lose sight of you as we go about with our busy lives. Thanksgiving: Thank you, Abba Father, for calling us your beloved, to be your sons and daughters, and for giving us salvation so that we can one day have a share of the kingdom of God.
Tailoring and Titles
“His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.”
The appearance of Jesus as he emerged from the tomb was in sharp contrast to his sorrowful state during his crucifixion. Brimming with might and splendour, he cut an inspiring and imposing figure.
But appearances are not everything. This was still the same Jesus who was humiliated and scorned just a few days earlier. This was Jesus who suffered for our sins and bore all manner of shame and ridicule. And we must always remember that beauty, service, and achievements are not always immediately apparent to the naked eye.
I remember having to attend many Founder’s Day and speech & prizegiving ceremonies when I was in school. The guest of honour would always be some illustrious alumni who had studied in reputable schools and went on to achieve a lofty position in the civil service, or in the corporate sector. They were in charge of many people, and had completed big projects that made the news.
I always thought to myself that it was unlikely that everyone in the school hall would go on to achieve such levels of success. What then would it mean, if we didn’t accomplish enough to get invited back? For a while, I felt relegated to my portion in life. But as the years went by and I chalked up more life experiences, I began to see things differently.
Every day, countless people go about fulfilling critical roles that keep our societies and ways of life moving. The pandemic highlighted how bus drivers, garbage collectors, nurses and cleaners provide essential services without which our world would descend into chaos. Yet, I don’t think there will ever be a day where one of them is invited to give a speech to inspire young people at a fancy event.
If they were to speak, what would they say? I imagine many of them would say that they believe in an honest day’s work, and that they fulfil their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. And for all of us called to the Christian way of life, this is enough.
Brothers and sisters, may we never chase fame and accolades, and may we always bloom wherever we are planted. We may never get the adulation and recognition that some receive, but we will always know in our hearts that God sees our efforts and will bless us with contentment and a sense of purpose.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Gregory Mathew)
Prayer: We ask you dear Lord, to keep us humble and to do our work to the best of our ability.
Thanksgiving: We are grateful for the faceless and nameless people all around us who do simple yet essential work. May we never take them for granted and always show kindness to all.
These were a blessing to read, ponder on and pray with. Thank you all.