Worth Revisiting: A Theology of Migration

With the most recent attention on immigration within our nation’s political sphere, there was ample discussion on the cost, danger, and long term effects of our current policy on immigration. While each of these are worthy considerations from a financial and security standpoint, there still remains a profound understanding that under guards our Catholic teaching  and our relationship with our Creator

…that of the human person.

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This post is based on Daniel Groody’s Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees as a means of providing a fuller discussion on this very tenuous current discussion.

In this piece by Groody, theology is examined not as a static discipline set apart from an understanding of migration, but as inherently entwined and alive in the migrant experience. For through the perspective of the migrant, we become witnesses to the prophetic voices of those who encounter the Gospel anew in their struggles and hopes for a changing world.  Here, we are invited to glimpse the fundamental nature of the human person, and its relationships with God, others, and the world as it is, as well as how it should be.[1] We are challenged to hear how God is speaking to the particular social location of the migrant, while calling us to accept responsibility and embrace our relationality with all humanity. Thus, as we are beckoned to reconcile with God, we are also called to reconcile with one another working towards the Kingdom values of the Gospel. Correspondingly, we lessen the divide between us and reach through the borders which mankind has created towards the unity that God intended.

Imago Dei (Image of God)

First, through a revisiting of imago Dei, we are called to transcend the social and political labels that humanity has imposed on one another, to recognize our intrinsic creation in the image of God.  Rather than the disproportionate relationality created by these labels and intended to “control, manipulate, and exploit”, migrant and native alike are called to affirm mutual equality and identity as children of God.[2] Further, imago Dei is a reminder that our existence is linked from the very beginning to God sharing also in the Trinitarian relationship. As such, it carries immense moral responsibility to ensure the dignity and protection of life for its most vulnerable, as part of the universal human community.[3] Groody aptly points out that Catholic social teaching and encyclicals like that of Gaudium et spes, and Laborem exercens, summon us to examine the social and economic structures themselves.[4] Here, we come to understand many of the root causes of migration and become aware that change is needed in creating opportunities for economic growth, education, and political status. [5]

Verbum Dei (God’s revelation to us)

Next with Verbum Dei, we receive the truth of God revealed through Jesus Christ entering into our world and “movement in love to humanity”, leading us back to God.[6] In Jesus we witness the self-sacrificing love reaching beyond societal borders to the outcast and sinner, all the way to the cross. For in the midst of pain and suffering, the light of Christ’s love is fully revealed calling us to see the “other” and follow him.[7]

Missio Dei (Mission of God)

As a church then, with missio Dei, we recognize that the mission of Christ calls us forth to spread the Good News of salvation and hope throughout the world. For those denied their inherent rights endowed by God, to justice and equality under the law, or a voice in determining the course of their lives, this is indeed Good News! Beautifully, Groody points to the idea of “creating space” in migration theology to allow the message to take root in hearts and lives of those who hear it.[8]

Next week, we’ll touch on Fr. Goody’s consideration of Visio Dei (the vision of God) and some final reflections on the path forward as a community of faith..

Peace,

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[1] Daniel Groody, “Crossing the Divide: Foundations of a Theology of Migration and Refugees,” Theological Studies 70 (September 2009):642.
[2] Ibid., p. 643.
[3] Ibid., p. 645.
[4] Ibid., p.646.
[5] Ibid., p. 647.
[6] Ibid., p. 649
[7] Ibid., p.652
[8] Ibid., p. 659

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Knowing Thy True Self

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”
― Thomas Merton

New year’s resolutions and Lenten commitments have one important common thread, they are only as effective as they are intuitive about the strengths and weaknesses of the individual.  For this reason, neither can be a one size fits all and both need to strike a balance between being challenging and in some degree feeling achievable. For instance, setting a goal of running a 5k would not be a worthy goal for a marathoner, and running a marathon would not be a realistic goal for someone who has never ran around the block. A primary difference, of course, rests in where we seek strength and desire to follow through with these commitments. For the Christian, there is a fundamental understanding that the path of discipleship and virtue is not a solitary one. Through Christ, however, there is both strength and guidance at the ready to lead us to God’s will to becoming the best version of ourselves.

In conversation with a friend of mine recently, a retired corporate HR director, the idea of personality and leadership traits came up. Many of us have taken personality assessments like the Myers Briggs, the Big 5 or emotional inventories. While these assessments are far from perfect, they can give us a glimpse into how we perceive our strengths and weaknesses and react in various situations. This is not only beneficial for understanding ourselves but also in how to understand and work better with others in community.

I just so happen to be one who enjoys drawing out the introverted, sitting beside the wounded, communicating one on one or to a crowd, diplomatic but not afraid to stand up for what is right or see things through. Yet, on the flip side I have been known at times to spread myself too thin, be overly self-critical, and take on other people’s problems as my own. Delays due to indecision, and multiple projects left incomplete can frustrated me. Self awareness has been invaluable in discerning God’s will in my life, while also helping me to step back and reflect on how best to inspire others to learn and grow too.

As Catholics, the exercise of our faith is never separate from the larger community even when living a cloistered life. And the living out of our truest best self is always a choice. One that we can disguise, or utilize in our daily interactions with others. Though, as Merton would note, if we ignore who we are at our core we “cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.” Likewise, when we  live indifferent to others and their inherent values, we fail as well to fully seek the truth about ourselves.

When we experience conflict, it not only speaks to the the behavior and inner self of others but to our own sense of identity. Conflict, therefore, has the potential to be interiorly revealing if we allow ourselves to ask two seemingly simple questions. Why it is this situation troubling in the first place and what would be necessary for interior or exterior balance?  To this point, the saints were not considered so because they lived lives of perfect peace perfectly. But rather, in the midst of conflict the saints sought to know God, to know themselves and live their truest self in the world around them.

Reflect:

In what situations in my life am I making the choice to be untrue to myself and in my relationships with others? What do the conflicts in my life reveal about myself and where might God be asking me to grow?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Gratitude’s Expression

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This week I once again had the blessing of sitting round a table with religious leaders from within our community from all different walks of faith and backgrounds. The purpose of our meeting not for the proselytizing or the conversion of one another, but the sharing of grace, and desire to serve and work towards a better tomorrow.  Each one of us knows that there are many things, premises or subtleties, which we would most assuredly disagree on and yet that is not the reason we are there.

With a warm bowl of homemade soup, and sandwich in hand the fellowship began and the conversation unfolded. As one delightful woman, of Jewish decent, was relating a recent story she paused to add, “Though it is a small thing really.. I don’t know, it made me feel rich.”  This insightful aside prompted a searching repose of soul for the small things which we found immeasurable appreciation for. Time with our family, nourishing meals, the comfort of our bed, and warmth in the bitter cold.

Today as the forecast for blizzard conditions with snowfall up to 16″ reveals, the last one holds special importance in my thoughts and prayers. Safety and warmth in this kind of weather simply are a luxury that many of our homeless, low income and elderly cannot afford. Right now, I wonder if “Adam” has found a place to hunker down and ride out the storm, or if “Sue” whose home is now her car has found her place on the snow laden roads. Many of our elderly and poor too, due to the rising cost of utilities, cannot warm the house adequately and if the heat goes out do not have a backup.

I mention this not to invoke a feeling of guilt but to illustrate gratitude’s corresponding response. For, gratitude and action go hand in hand. John 9 tells us of the man born blind who healed by Jesus went forth and witnessed to others of the healing he had received. Then when he encounters Jesus again he professes an even deeper belief. But do we? How to we respond to God’s generous gift of love and mercy in our lives? Does our initial thankfulness fizzle or does it lead us to a greater understanding of God’s will for our lives?

What then is it that makes me feel rich?

Well more than the gift itself- it is the overwhelming presence of gratitude. For with this comes a yearning desire to go deeper in our relationship with Christ – to share what we now recognize as priceless with others. In experiencing God’s generosity, what once appeared small now becomes a precious treasure. And rather than keeping this to ourselves, we wish for others to  partake as well and know in our hearts that there is a way.

Reflect:

Take time today to ask yourself, “What is it that makes me feel rich?”. Are there others that may not readily have access to this gift or for which this is a luxury? How can I better respond to God’s generosity in my life, and encounter Christ more fully in others?

Peace,

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This Epiphany: Still Seeking?

“It is better to be a child of God than king of the whole world!” St. Aloysius Gonzaga

With the approach of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12), we behold quite a scene- one of perceived royalty and the other of unassuming divinity wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And here, this quote by St. Gonzalga finds its resonance, revealing a profound truth of the nativity story. For regardless of worldly stature or knowledge, the maneuvers by peasants and kings alike are guided by the promised birth of a savior.

King Herod, was the proclaimed king of the Jews, and yet his Idumean family had been forcibly converted to Judaism. Herod was known to play both the Romans and the Jewish leadership against the other holding no real allegiance other than to money and power. Thus when the Magi asked “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? ” That in itself spoke to their recognition of just where legitimate power truly rested, and to whom they wished to pay homage.  Couple that with the astronomical occurrence of a star foretold in Numbers 24:17, and promises in Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 7:14 of a child to be born and Herod had good reason to be concerned.

 

The Magi, perhaps more accurate than the term “wise men”, alludes to their knowledge of the movement of the stars and position as Persian priests somewhere in Babylon or Arabia. Was it mere curiosity that carried them from their lands across the desert or was it more than that? They are aware of the prophesies and scriptures accompanying the signs, so we trust that they have knowledge.   Is theirs a “faith seeking understanding” as St. Anselm proposes? Have they sought God through self-knowledge and now seek God’s revelation of himself trusting that it will be affirmed under the light of the star? Up to this point, as St. Augustine would assert, though full of worldly wisdom they had yet to even understand themselves fully until they came to encounter and know God.

What is intriguing about this consideration, and their inclusion in this story is that the Magi were gentiles. And while the Jewish priests and scribes were well versed in the scriptures and could inform Herod, they are seemingly disconnected from its fulfillment. The faith of the Jewish leadership appears content in its present knowledge, and either no longer seeking greater understanding or for its fulfillment to occur differently that they had preconceived.  Their idea of a messiah was a political leader who world provide transformation in the eyes of the rest of the world not in their own lives.

This is a reoccurring theme in the Gospels, and early church. Though initially beginning with the Jews, time and time again the Good News would also be extended to the Gentiles. Was this a conversion for the Magi, we do not know. Yet, these men left behind their lives in pursuit of understanding, and humbly acknowledged the king of kings that day. One can only wonder how their faith journey continued as they returned home.

Reflect:

Am I still desiring greater understanding in my journey with God? Or do I feel that I have my place in this world and God all figured out?

Today, I’d like to invite each of you to consider if your spiritual contentment could actually be keeping you from growing closer to Christ. Maybe, just maybe, God is asking you to leave this safe space to journey with him… to discover the “more” that he has to offer. To seek the God…who is forever faithfully seeking us!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Decision Making

Keeping it short and sweet today, but I thought I’d share my own adaptation of a spiritual decision making tree. The first three are quite essential in that they ask of us to go to the source..

God’s word, God’s voice, and the Holy Spirits guidance in all. The other five invite us to consider our intentions, and the effects of our decisions on others. I enjoy reflecting on these particular scripture verses too, giving each a bit of time to bear fruit.

When making a significant decision,  I have also found it important to discuss the situation with my husband, a close friend and when possible with my spiritual director.

Sometimes, inviting another perspective and experience can provide both distance and clarity. Notwithstanding, in taking the time to pray together, we begin to appreciate the necessity of community and the strength found through these faithful bonds of fellowship . None of us are ever intended to embark on this journey alone, but invited to reach out, uplift, lean on, and carry one another when the way seems difficult.

Thank you Father for all those you have placed in my life- my family and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. For the truly prayerful counsel of Fr. Jim who continues to fill this time of discernment for me with great joy and faith-filled wisdom.  May every decision be less of me and more of You, for you know the way ahead so much better than I. 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Infancy Narratives

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“God, who has no History because He is eternal, desired to make History by walking alongside His people…He decided to become one of us, and as one of us, to walk with us through Jesus.”
Pope Francis (Sept. 24, 2013, Catholic News Agency)

In this quote, Pope Francis looks at the historicity of the gospels from the perspective of one’s personal “encounter with the living God”. Fr. Joseph  Fitzmyer also addresses historicity, in the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, not to argue for their exclusion but to look deeper into their meaning. While finding their basis for these narratives in tradition after Mark, both Matthew and Luke share agreement on twelve points. This, as Fitzmyer notes, “prevents one from writing off the infancy narratives as mere fabrications out of whole cloth”[1]. Extending this metaphor further, we look as to what can be learned from their weaving of this material that speaks to who Jesus is, how he is to be understood and what this also reveals about God.
If we turn to the genealogy of Jesus, for example, we notice that Matthew places his at the start of his gospel, beginning with Abraham and culminating in Jesus. Here Matthew is setting the stage for Jesus as the fulfillment of OT prophesy, a part of the history of Israel and yet the promise of God doing something new and wonderful in humanity [2]. Luke, places his genealogy not even in the infancy narrative (1:5-2:52), but just prior to the start of Jesus’ ministry following his baptism (3:23-38). This reveals that who Jesus is, particularly in Luke, is indelibly tied to the message and ministry that he has come to proclaim. Luke begins not with Abraham but with Jesus, going all the way back to Adam, illustrating that Jesus came not just for the Jewish people, but for “all humanity” [3].

By starting at creation, Luke also seems to highlight Jesus as God’s son, a new beginning for humanity to understand God’s profound love in a very intimate way.
This is reinforced in Luke’s parallelism of the proclamations of births, circumcisions, and growth of Jesus and John, with Jesus always being greater. [4] These accounts of John present in the Gospel of Luke are absent in Matthew’s Gospel. However, by adding Elizabeth’s miraculous ability to conceive along with Mary’s virgin conception, Luke provides another instance of God’s divine intervention [5]. For, God has reached into our history and made possible the impossible, in order that we come to know just who God is!

Yet, Fitzmyer is correct that looking at the absence of agreement between Matthew and Luke, puts the historicity of these narratives secondary to their “theological and Christological meaning” [6]. As L.T. Johnson notes in the volume on Luke, “from Jesus to David (where no biblical texts can guide either author), they only share five names” [7]. Still, each in their own way seeks to meaningfully engage the questions that arose of Jesus with significant understanding, and are not simply accepted as “historical accounts” [8] Thus, we behold that Luke’s orderly sequence and “historical perspective…is first of all salvation history”.[9]

Peace,

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[1] Fitzmyer S.J., Joseph. A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers,  Paulist Press; Rev Exp Su edition. November 1, 1993., p.31.

[2] Brown, Raymond. An Introduction to the New Testament. The Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library. Yale University Press. October 13, 1997. p. 175.

[3] Brown, p. 236.

[4] Fitzmyer, p.29.

[5] Fitzmyer, p. 30.

[6] Fitzmyer, p. 31.

[7] Johnson, Luke Timothy. Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke.  Michael Glazier; August 1, 2006. p.71.

[8] Fitzmyer, p. 81.

[9] Catholic Study Bible, p. 1433.

Madonna and Child

A very blessed Christmas Eve to you all!

As tomorrow is Christmas, I thought it might be a treat to share a Pinterest link to some of my favorite and unique images of Mary and the infant Jesus. Interestingly, in these images, we are able to glimpse perhaps a different perspective of Mary and Jesus through different periods and cultures. With every new day, we too are each invited to contemplate just who Jesus is and desires to be in our own lives. And given our own unique socio-historical context, we may envision this in a  beautiful array of color and dimension.

 

With Peace and Many Blessings,

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Worth Revisiting: Journey with the Shepherds

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For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Isaiah 41:13

Throughout the accounts of the nativity story we encounter God working the extraordinary amidst the ordinary. Today, I find myself accompanying the shepherds in their journey this advent, beside the sheep in solitude and silence.

“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2: 8-14)

The life of a shepherd was simplistic, the daily tasks at hand were few and one day could easily flow into the next. Yet, a lack of attentiveness could put the whole flock at risk and without a shepherd the sheep easily lost their way. The needs of the flock were to always supersede one’s own, and this included the need for community that we have so become accustomed to. Due to a very transient lifestyle, company was but only occasionally found with fellow shepherds along with the animals they watched and cared for.  Moreover, as they could not consistently observe the ceremonial rituals of purity prescribed by Jewish law, shepherds were considered among the lowliest of professions. Gone were the early days of Israel, as with King David, where their responsibility was respected, now they were included among the marginalized in Jewish society.

Artgate Fondazione Cariplo - Mulier Pieter, Annuncio ai pastori.jpg:
Artgate Fondazione Cariplo-Mulier Pieter

Certainly not a life easily undertaken for those who crave conversation or comforts, it did offer its own unique recompense. Under a blanket of stars and away from the hubbub of the city life they had time for quiet moments and reflection. I’ve often wondered if they, while aware their social standing, also recognized the value and purpose in their life’s work.

Even if they had, they most definitely did not expect to have been called out to receive the most magnificent angelic proclamation of the birth of the Messiah. With not one but a host of angels, breaking through the stillness and the darkness, hope was born this night. As Luke truly stresses, God moved from heaven to earth- to the peripheries to reach all of humanity. Undoubtedly aghast at their divine invitation and despite any misgivings they may have had–their unexpected response was to make way for Bethlehem in haste. Oh, the trepidation the shepherds had to have initially felt from the sudden marching orders and the impending arrival to a city, given their unkempt appearance!

Surprisingly instead of a stately palace, or grand estate customary to a king or “Lord”, they were welcomed by the small stable surroundings. Who is this king, that he would choose this as a birthplace, as a seat of governing, a site of lowly stature? Could it be that He has come for us too…and what does this mean for our lives? The peace that the angels spoke of had to have meant more to the shepherds than an absence of physical conflict, but resonated an inner peace of finally resting in God’s grace.

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Consider: Do I believe that Jesus was born for me? And, what does this mean in my life, particularly for those times I feel alone, persecuted, or marginalized?

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. Psalm 56:3

Peace,

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Guest Post: The Present

The following guest post comes from an Advent Taize service led by my close friend and colleague from Loyola Chicago, Paula Kowalkowski.
Readings: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
                    Luke 1:26-38

The idea for this reflection came to me right after the 4th of July – lots of hot and
humid days – highs in the 90’s. Just a bit different from what we are experiencing
now…..
When an idea comes – grab it, I think.
The word PRESENT came to me as I walked along the residential streets of my
Chicago neighborhood on that summer morning.
The word PRESENT comes from the Latin praesentia – being at hand/being
present. In more modern words, being mindful, being attentive to what is.
It’s an invitation to be present to what is. And what is? We are together in this
season of Advent standing – and sitting – in the presence of our Creator God. We
are in this space at St. Thomas Becket Parish – giving praise, giving thanks, asking
our God to be with us in all things. Things we understand and things we may be
questioning. This is what is. This is being present.

In our Gospel reading, we heard that on that day – so long ago – in Mary’s life, she
was present. If Mary had not been attentive to what was happening – she may
have missed the Angel – she may have missed the message. Mary heard and
listened and responded. Mary did not understand fully what she was being
called to – yet she trusted and we are called to do the same.
— Mary and Martha – Jesus said that Mary chose the greater part/portion.

The word present – means gift, as well.
And oh, what a gift God has given to us – as we wait for this gift once again in this
holy season. This great present of God – as human being, the gift of Jesus – who
was and is and forever more will be – our greatest example of what it is to be a
fully alive human being.

Jesus, the Christ – who is given to us every time we receive him in the Eucharist –
HIS REAL PRESENCE.

God’s ongoing gift of Godself to us and to the world. This
Jesus – this great gift given to us – is life – is truth – is the way and is hope!
The writer of Deuteronomy reminds us that God has put before us life and death
– blessings and curses. And what are we called to do? Choose life! The
abundant life which God provides for us – as we follow and trust God’s
commands and will for us in God’s time, not ours.

I wish you a blessed Advent and joy-filled, abundant Christmas.

Paula

Paula Kowalkowski
Music Director at St. Thomas Becket in Chicago, Illinois ; MA Loyola Chicago

Worth Revisiting: Examen-ing Obedience

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o·be·di·ence noun

compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority compliance, acquiescence, tractability, amenability; 

Truthfully when we hear the word obedience it is not well received. In part because it requires another less desired virtue, that of humility. And yet when we take time to reflect on advent the models of obedience witnessed in Joseph and Mary cannot be overlooked.
Joseph concerned as to the potential disgrace that not only he faced but that Mary would have endured, had decided to quietly divorce. Still, before the will and persuasion of God  Joseph faithfully obeyed. For as Matthew accounts, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”(Matthew 1:24) Through Matthew’s gospel account we feel for Joseph in the circumstance and in the implications of the decision he would choose to make. Again in Matthew 2:13-15, an angel comes to Joseph in a dream saying,
 “Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him…So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”
In both of these momentous occasions , we notice that God did not leave this steadfast man of God unguided. And neither does God ever leave us alone, whether in the midst of difficult or everyday decisions.

Discovering  God’s presence

Father in heaven, I know that you are here with me. Not because of who I am, but because of who you are. You desire to walk with us, to lovingly guide and instruct us in your will. You ask only that we listen and follow. So it is with this I ask you to help my stubborn prideful nature to accept what it is you would want for me.

Scripture tells us that Joseph didn’t simply marry Mary and take in God’s only son, but resolutely took on the loving role as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father. Carrying out not only what had been prophesied for the world but assuming God’s vocation for his own life.

Looking back with gratitude become aware of the God moments in your day.

Oh what gladness and purpose that awaits with our obedient response to your will for our lives! While I had my own well intentioned way to spend my time, you asked and I followed, however begrudgingly.  Meeting me also with caring family and friends to support and encourage my steps forward. Thank you for always providing exactly what I need, when it is needed. 

God directed Joseph through both his obedience in prayer as well as in angelic proclamations. While not knowing fully what was to come, Joseph would humbly serve his family in he day to day ordinary events. Through Jesus, God drew intimately near to all mankind encountering each of us in our  own journey of faith.

Was there an specific instance today that you felt God draw near, or that your words or actions pulled you away?

Today, in my frustration you heard my complaints. You met my feeble excuses with better reasons for being obedient. You strengthened and helped me overcome my overwhelming desire for down time in order to accept your grace that awaited. All so that I could see that the way is made perfect through your love and my willingness to humbly follow.

Tomorrow awaits- How will we meet God?

Jesus’ birth promises a greater tomorrow with him one day, but also a hope that whatever may come he is there too.

Father, for all the ways that I have been less than loving, faithful or obedient today, I offer you my tomorrow. From the moment my eyes open to when my head rests on my pillow, I humbly ask you to speak to my heart. I so want to be obedient to your will, for you alone know the plans for my life. Please, take all of me.

Peace,

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