12/22/2014

Theotokos no. 7: 4th Week of Advent


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Empty
7th Week of Advent

“the time came for her have her child” (Luke 2:6)

For the past 27 days you have come to know Mary as the Theotokos. You have journeyed the emotional roller coaster with her and the pilgrimage has led you to Mary’s triumphant moment of physical surrender.

You have listened to her questions. You have tasted her love for God. You have savored His presence in her womb.

For the past four weeks you have come to know her true identity.

Chosen. 

Echo. 

Gaze. 

Intimacy. 

Poverty. 

Empty.

These are not simple words anymore, these are springboards that plunge you into the heart of a woman who danced with God—forever.

Now, she is in labor.

To the naked eye, one could think that Mary’s delivery will empty her womb of the child within. However, to you who have been on retreat with her, you know that the child’s birth into the world will simply be an echo of praise birthed from the perpetual emptiness that will always remain.

There, in the stillness of simplicity, Mary waits.

And, with the manger’s animals attentive in intrigue, the time comes ... Mary’s labor pushes forward ... Joseph clutches her hand ... heaven leans in ... with Mary’s soul singing her refrain of praise ... she gasps for one last breath ... your eyes widen ... your heart quickens ... the baby is seconds away .... and ...

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:6.

“Father, I ask for the grace today to taste profound depth of your joy for me. Inflame my desire for you so that my Christmas may be filled with your joy.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

Theotokos no. 6: 4th Week of Advent


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Simplicity
6th Week of Advent

“in a manger” (Luke 2:7)


Because “there was no place for them” (Luke 2:7) Mary and Joseph were led to the poorest of places, “in a manger” where the animals were. 2nd century tradition places the birth of Christ in the caves on the outskirts of Bethlehem. In Dawn of the Messiah, Edward Sri writes, “This tradition was so strong that by 325, Constantine erected a basilica over a series of Bethlehem caves to commemorate the place where Jesus was believed to have been born.”

Regardless of the exact place of Christ’s birth, this we know—it was simple. No hospital. No bed. No epidural. Nothing. Just bare simplicity. However, how fitting. With Mary lying on the naked earth, there was a sweet music that sang to her.

Empty. 

Nothing. 

Everything. 

Dependence. 

Poverty. 

These were her companions since her Annunciation, and these were her companions as she prepared for birth. It was a symphony of empty and the orchestra was led by simplicity.

If we embrace the Theotokos we must embrace simplicity.

Our lives can seem awfully busy. The faster our frenzied life becomes the more complicated it feels. Busy-ness cramps our spirit. Life gets complicated, and the simplicity of God’s design grows crowded. On the other hand, with simplicity I have nothing—nothing else except God. There, I am completely receptive to the glory of God, deep union, and my soul’s deepest desire. It is pretty simple—simplicity leads me to God.

Ask Mary to reveal the utter simplicity of “the manger.” Ask her to help you really focus on Christmas—its true meaning. So, we end where we began. Slow down. Get quiet. Listen. After all, what’s the rush? What are we really preparing for?

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with Psalm 131. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Psalm 131. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:7.

“Father, I ask for the grace today to slow down. Prepare my heart so that might experience miracles this Christmas.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

Theotokos no. 5: 4th Week of Advent


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Inside
5th Week of Advent

“there was no place for them” (Luke 2:7)

Poor, dependent, and exhausted, Mary and Joseph urgently search for lodging, for Mary’s contractions have started and the time has come for “her to be delivered” (Luke 2: 6). Joseph restlessly searches; however, the only thing he finds is rejection.

“There’s no room.”

“You can’t stay here.”

“I told you to leave.”

Doors close—one after another. And, as Mary sighs in contraction, all they see is rejection.

Instead of being welcomed by the arms of Bethlehem, they are rejected—cast aside to the outside.

Sometimes our commitment to discipleship challenges us. Depending on where we find ourselves, sometimes we can feel as if we’re cast aside to the outside. Because of different situations—holiday family gatherings, conversations at work, or difficult encounters in strained relationships—our commitment to Christ can cause us to feel as “we’re on the outside looking in.”

In those moments, commitment can lead to rejection, rejection can lead to dependency, and dependency can lead to intimacy. Mary was able to embrace the rejection of Bethlehem, cast outside, because she knew who she had on the inside. Instead of grasping for acceptance on the outside, Mary adjusted her gaze to the inside, finding God with her.

Spend some time with Mary. Ask her to reveal how she handled the rejection of Nazareth. Ask her to reveal to you how you handle rejection. Ask her Son to help you taste His consistent presence on the inside, even if you feel rejected on the outside.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with Psalm 31. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Psalm 31. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:7.

“Father, I long for your unconditional acceptance when I’m rejected. Help me to stand firm in your Truth, no matter the circumstance.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

Theotokos no. 4: 4th Week of Advent


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Poverty
4th Week of Advent

“while they were there” (Luke 2:6)

As Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem the quiet silence of their journey was invaded by the frantic noise of thousands of pilgrims cramming into the Judean city. Joseph’s meager income hadn’t provided for the surprise “decree”; therefore, the simplicity of his Galilean lifestyle was strained. There was the census tax. There were obvious travel expenses. Joseph had not prepared for any of this. Plus, it was a sellers market, and the unexpected census created an unseasonable demand. Everything cost more—food, water, lodging, etc. This young couple, tired from 90 miles of exhausting travel had no one and nothing. They were utterly dependent on God. Mary and Joseph were swaddled in poverty.

God loves poverty—so much so that it was the canvas upon which He painted His birth into humanity. However, why do we not like inner poverty? Perhaps it is because it feels like we are dying—as we let go, it feels as if we have nothing to hold on to. Perhaps it is because we feel vulnerable—and vulnerability feeds panic because of a loss of security. Perhaps it is because we have nothing to offer God—and we really believe that we have to give God something in order for Him to love us. Perhaps it’s because we are afraid—and there is a lie in us that sounds something like, “I’m alone, and God won’t come through.”

Now, listen to the voice of God—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). God loves poverty. Why? Because poverty leads to emptiness ... empty leads to perfect echo ... and echo leads to perfect worship.

Mary was empty, which means she was poor. Spend some time with the Theotokos and ask her what was it was like to be utterly poor.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have prayed with the Book of Zephaniah. Prep your imaginative prayer by reading Zephaniah 2 and 3. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:6.

“Father, I ask for the grace today to taste your strength in my weakness. I beg you to open my heart so that I embrace my poverty.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

Theotokos no. 3: 4th Week of Advent


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Dependent
4th Week of Advent

“while they were there” (Luke 2:6)

The 90-mile pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken about a week and a half. With miles behind them and Bethlehem now just a few days before them, we take great interest in what is not said about their arrival.

Joseph is returning to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of his family; however, there is no mention of his family. There is no mention of a relative, no mention of a family caravan, no mention of his plans to reunite with kinsfolk.

As Mary neared delivery and Joseph led them into Bethlehem they had no idea of what they would do in Bethlehem. They were both utterly dependent on God. But, then again, considering what we have tasted during this Advent retreat, how could it be any other way?

Most of us don’t like to be dependent. In fact, our culture champions those who are independent and who go out make it own their own. However, God loves it when we are dependent because it is there that we most need God to be God.

Where are you most dependent on God? What circumstances in your life are out of your control? What situations will you face this holiday season that will make you feel utterly dependent on God? Where do you feel weak, helpless, or vulnerable?

Now, say this with me, “I can’t” ... “You can” ... “And, you promised.” That’s a great prayer. “God, I can’t, but I know you can. And you know what, you promised.” Whenever you feel dependent and God is the only thing you have, say that prayer—“I can’t, You can, and You promised.” Then, wait with Mary and watch for God to act.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with the Book of Genesis. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Genesis 15:1-6; 16:1-16; 22:1-7. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:6.

“Father, I yearn to taste your desire, fidelity, and consistency.I beg you to open my heart so that I embrace dependency.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

Theotokos no. 2: 4th Week of Advent


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Ordinary
4th Week of Advent

“Mary … was with child” (Luke 2:5)

Mary would have had quite a 90-mile pilgrimage to Bethlehem. Mary “was with child” and according to basic gynecology, traveling would have created disproportionate pressure on the pelvic area creating lower back discomfort. Without a chair to support her lower back, the constant swaying from the donkey’s rhythm increased movement in her torso, further intensifying her aforementioned discomfort. As pregnancy matured, Mary’s stomach shrunk, holding less food; however, in the womb, Jesus used much of Mary’s nutrients. Holding less food, but sharing more of it with her son, Mary’s body had less energy, craving 20% more rest.

However, because of the journey—the sun, the dust, and the donkey—Mary couldn’t get the rest she desired. Mary’s journey wasn’t easy—it was anything but easy. Mary experienced ordinary discomfort like any ordinary pregnant woman would have on such a journey. Yet, Mary “was with child” and she knew who that child was. Throughout her journey, especially when the discomfort intensified, she placed her hands on her womb and was reminded that God was with her. Her discomfort may have been like the discomfort of any ordinary pregnancy; however, Mary knew God was in the ordinary.

Most of our life is ordinary—especially this time of year. We sit in traffic. We wait in long lines at department stores. We clean our house for the holidays. Most life is not flashy it is just rather ordinary.  The truth is that God is with you—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, God is with you, even in the ordinary. Take some time and ask Mary to describe the ordinary truths of her trip to Bethlehem.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with Psalm 33. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Psalm 33. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:5.

“Father, I long to taste your presence in my ordinary life. I beg you to open my heart so that I may do all things, even ordinary things, with you.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

12/21/2014

Theotokos no. 1: 4th Week of Advent


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Everything
4th Week of Advent

“all went to be enrolled, each to his own city” (Luke 2:3)

The decree did not simply affect Mary and Joseph, it affected everyone, for “all went to be enrolled.” The news of the census sent shock waves throughout all of Galilee. Nazareth would have quickly frenzied as anxious pilgrims hastily prepared to journey “to his own city.” Again—once again—Mary found herself swaddled with questions. When was her baby due? How long would it take to get to Bethlehem? Would they make it to Bethlehem in time?  Joseph too had questions. Could Mary’s body handle the journey? Where would they stay once they arrived? Would his meager savings be enough for the census tax plus the journey there and back? The census didn’t simply present a convenient answer for Micah’s Messianic prophecy (Micah 5:2), it presented Mary and Joseph with penetrating questions demanding further trust and absolute dependency. The journey to Bethlehem demanded everything.

Sometimes Divine intimacy calls us to places we don’t want to go. Sometimes we wonder, “God, I’ve given you so much already, do you want everything?”

The answer is … yes, God does want everything. But, remember, God seeks intimacy. But, if the essentials for intimacy are complete self-donation and unbridled receptivity, then that’s a two-way street. If God requires your complete self-donation then He’s prepared to give you His complete Being. If God requires unbridled receptivity then He desires to receive all of you. God requires everything so that He can give us everything. The stretching we feel “in the everything” is so that we are more able to receive everything He wants to give us. Spend some time with Mary and Joseph. Ask them how they surrendered everything.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have prayed with the Book of Genesis. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Genesis 22:1-19. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:3.

“Father, I desire to taste just how much you want me. I give you permission to lead me wherever you want so that I may give you everything.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

Theotokos - Week 4 Intro


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BETHLEHEM

As “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.” Mary and Joseph knew where they were headed—Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was a small Judean village about 90 miles south of Nazareth. Bethlehem was the birthplace of the great King David. (1st Samuel 16:1-13)

While small by the world’s standards, Bethlehem had the greatest of promises.

It was the birthplace of David and it was prophesied to be the birthplace of the Messiah, “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.” (Micah 5:2)

This fourth week of Advent finds us on a journey.

It is a journey to the homeland of David.

It is a journey to the homeland of Joseph.

It is a journey to Bethlehem.

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

12/20/2014

Christmas Schedule

Let's Get Ready Confessions in December
Saturday, December 20: Confessions from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Monday, December 22: Confessions from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Tuesday, December 23: Confessions from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Wednesday, December 24: Confessions from 7 a.m. to 12 noon

Christmas Eve Wednesday, December 24
Christmas Eve Mass: 4 p.m. in the Church (Fr. Mark)
Christmas Eve Mass: 4 p.m. in the Family Life Center (Fr. Blair)
Christmas Eve Mass: 6 p.m. (Fr. Mark)
Christmas Eve Mass: 8 p.m. (en EspaƱol; Fr. Glenn)
Christmas Eve Mass: 11 p.m. (Fr. Mark)

Christmas Day Thursday, December 25
Christmas Day Mass: 7:30 a.m. (Fr. Mark)
Christmas Day Mass: 9:30 a.m. (Fr. Mark)

Theotokos: Day 21: December 20


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Called
Saturday of the 3rd Week of Advent

“a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled” (Luke 2:1)

Could the plot thicken any more? Mary wasn’t expecting Gabriel’s annunciation. Joseph wasn’t expecting Mary’s pregnancy. Just when the married couple were adjusting to each other “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled.” Knowing that there was no negotiating the decree, Mary and Joseph dealt with the unexpected census. They prayed. They trusted. They went where God called.

For reasons they didn’t understand, God called Mary and Joseph to leave the comfort of Galilee and set out for Bethlehem.  The census was a complete surprise and called them into physical discomfort, emotional uncertainty, and spiritual dependence.

Part of intimacy is being called into places we would rather not go. God may call us to darkness—to embrace our past so that He can heal what is still hurting. God may call us to into discernment—to a future with no guarantees, but only His invitation. For greater intimacy, God often calls us to places we do not expect.  When we are called to places we would rather not go we may panic a bit because of where He is leading us. However, the wisdom is not so much to focus on where we are being called, but rather focus on He who is calling us. If God is calling us to go where we would rather not go, trust that the call will lead to greater intimacy, deeper union, and profound relationship.

Is God calling you to a place you’d rather not go? Is God calling you to greater intimacy by calling you to deeper trust?  Spend some time with the Theotokos and ask Her how she dealt with God’s call. Ask her to help you trust God, no matter where He calls you.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have prayed with the Book of Exodus. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Exodus 4:10-17. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:1.

“Father, want to taste your desire for intimacy with me. I beg you to help me follow you—wherever you want to call me.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

12/19/2014

Theotokos: Day 20: December 19


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Intimacy
Friday of the 3rd Week of Advent

“and took his wife into his home” (Matthew 1:24)

Obedient to God’s command, Joseph reached out to Mary “and took his wife into his home.” In doing so, Joseph and Mary transitioned from their temporary betrothal and embraced the fullness of marriage. During the initial days of Joseph taking Mary into his home there was much to discuss. Mary was certainly interested in how Joseph grew from wanting to “divorce her quietly” to wanting to “take her into his home.” Likewise, Joseph was certainly interested in Mary. He would have inquired more about the Annunciation. He would have wanted to know about her emotions. He would have asked about her health, about the baby, and how he could best support her. It was a time of listening to each other. It was a time of talking to each other. It was a time of intimacy.

Unfortunately, our culture equates sex and intimacy as the one and the same. While the Scripture and Tradition teach us that Mary enjoyed perpetual virginity, their marriage was certainly one of profound intimacy. In fact, because of the spiritual maturity that imbued their chastity, Mary and Joseph enjoyed the most intimate of any marriage. Intimacy is a gift; however, there are prerequisites for intimacy. Intimacy requires honesty. It requires vulnerability. It requires complete self-donation and unbridled receptivity. The intimacy that Mary and Joseph enjoyed required all these. Likewise, intimacy with God requires the same.

We were made for intimacy with God. However, our relationship with God requires the same disposition as intimacy with others. We have to be honest. We have to be vulnerable. We have to spend time, commit, and listen. God wants an intimate relationship with you. What do you want in your relationship with God? Ask God what He desires—with you, for you, in you.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary and Joseph would have prayed with the Book of Isaiah. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Isaiah 61:10-62:5. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Matthew 1:24.

“Father, I want to taste your desire for intimacy with me. I beg you to help me grow in honesty, vulnerability, and union with You.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

12/18/2014

Theotokos: Day 19: December 18


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Understand
Thursday of the 3rd Week of Advent

“he did as the angel commanded him” (Matthew 1:24)

When Joseph awoke from his dream “he did as the angel commanded him.” Joseph’s obedience to the will of God implies Joseph’s cooperation with a Divine plan. However, Joseph’s obedience, while illustrating his cooperation, doesn’t guarantee his understanding the details therein. The Scriptures tell us that Joseph surrendered to the command of God. However, there is no mention of Joseph understanding why God chose him. Therefore, certainly the conversation between Joseph and God didn’t end with his dream; perhaps it was there that it really began.

In a related way, yesterday we unpacked the importance of waiting—waiting with God. Many times God does not answer our prayers how we had hoped or when we had expected. Yet, wisdom tells us we are to wait—and wait with God. While we wait with God it is important that we ask God to help understand why we are waiting. What does He want to do in our life while we wait? What does He want to do in someone else’s life while we wait? Furthermore, it is important for us to be honest with God so that we are certain that God understands how we feel.

Many of us, when we have to wait on God, feel a temptation to check out and give up. Resist that temptation. Tell God how you feel. Relate all your thoughts, feelings, and desires. In your prayer, empty your heart and tell God everything. Then, be patient and listen. Ask God to help you understand what is going on. Listen to the quiet voice within. Pay attention to what the Scriptures say to you. Look for signs in your life. Spend some time today with Mary and Joseph and ask them to help you understand the ways of God. God is doing something in your life—ask Him to help you understand what that is.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Joseph would have prayed with the 2nd Book of Samuel. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading 2nd Samuel 22:26-31. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Joseph in Matthew 1:24.

“Father, I desire to taste your fidelity. Help me to help me understand your desire for my well-being—even if I don’t understand your timing.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

12/17/2014

Theotokos: Day 18: December 17


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Wait
Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Advent

“all this took place” (Matthew 1:22)

Joseph was going through a lot. He had to sift through his decision to divorce Mary quietly. He had to acknowledge his fear and unworthiness. There was much going on in Joseph. But, what about Mary? What was Mary doing while “all this took place?” Mary waited. With her gaze still on God, with her spirit empty, and her nothingness knowing that “nothing is impossible for God” (Luke 1:37), Mary waited. While Mary waited she continued to relate. She disclosed her thoughts to God. She related her feelings. She shared her desires. While Mary waited for Joseph, Mary waited with God—and there was much happening in the wait.

Most of us don’t like to wait. Television commercials are littered with gadgets and gizmos that save us time so that we don’t have to wait. For most of us waiting is filled with lacking—waiting means the delay of that which we want. However, Mary embraced the wait because Mary waited with God.

So far this Advent we have unpacked our wanting to be in control and the fact that each of us has our plans. Furthermore, last week we read from Habakkuk 2:3 that God’s plan “presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come.” There is a difference between waiting for God to do something versus waiting with God as He does something. When we wait for God to do what we have asked Him, then the wait can seem empty. However, when wait with God as He does something, then the waiting is filled with intimacy and union. Have you asked God to do something in your life? If so, are you still waiting? Spend some time with Mary and ask her to describe her wait.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Mary would have often prayed with Psalm 27. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Psalm 27. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary as she waited in Matthew 1:22.

“Father, I ask for the grace today to taste your personal love for me. I beg you to help me wait with you while you do great things in my life.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005

12/16/2014

Theotokos: Day 17: December 16


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Worthy
Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Advent

“do not be afraid” (Matthew 1:20)

Joseph felt unworthy, thus he planned “to divorce her quietly.” “Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, do not be afraid’” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph felt unworthy and God knew it. So, God pursued Joseph and in a sense said, “do not be afraid—I will make you worthy.” God took the initiative. God did more than enter into Joseph’s dream, God entered into Joseph’s unworthiness and thereby reminded him that God makes things worthy.

When we feel unworthy there is a deep, subtle, subconscious fear—it is a dread that our deepest fear is true—a fear that we aren’t good enough and God will abandon us. Therefore, as we look at our patterns, we learn more about ourselves. Many of us, when we feel unworthy, distance ourselves from God—we abandon God before God can abandon us.

The good news is that God pursued Joseph. God knew exactly how Joseph felt and said, “do not be afraid.” Likewise, when you and I feel unworthy, and all the fears associated with unworthiness, God whispers to us the same words—“Do not be afraid.”

God will never abandon us.  When God has access to all areas of our life, He makes all things worthy. You are worthy because God is worthy. Our worth in life has nothing to do with us and has everything to do with God. Regardless of your past, how people may or may not have loved you—you are worthy. Regardless of your present, and whether or not your life has lived up to the plans you had—you are worthy. Regardless of mistakes, sinfulness, or patterns of distance—you are worthy.

Spend some time with God today. Ask Him, “Why is it that you choose to love me?” Ask Him, “Where does my worth come from?”

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Joseph would have prayed with the Book of Isaiah. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Isaiah 43:1-7 & 49:14-16. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Joseph in Matthew 1:20.

“Father, I ask for the grace today to taste your love for me—at all times. I beg you to help me understand your patterns and how you feel about my feeling unworthy.”

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2005