"But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people." ~ Jeremiah 31:33


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“Who has measured with his palm the waters, marked off the heavens with a span, held in his fingers the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord or instructed Him as a counselor? Whom did He consult to gain knowledge? Who taught Him the path of judgment or showed Him the way of understanding?” Isaiah 40:12-14 Recently, God has called me into a period of transition in my life to focus on expanding the mission of Patchwork Heart Ministry. Each new day is unpredictable, vastly different than the previous and can be filled with skyrocketing highs or rock-bottom lows. The reward of success is constantly and relentlessly paired with the added stress and responsibility of starting and operating a non-profit. In one of those rock-bottom stressful moments, earlier this month I was trying to hold it all together and began complaining to God, as I began reading Him my shopping list and asking Him for His intervention in my day, He stopped me in my tracks and began reading His list back to me. “If you think you are trying to hold it all together, have you forgotten what I’ve held together. Remember when my Son laid his life down for you? Well, as I was torn to pieces watching Him suffer for you did the world implode? Did gravity disappear? How about the stars, did they cease to give light? As I watched him breathe His last breath, did I forget to sustain the life of every other living creature and human being?” I sheepishly responded “No.” Suddenly, my issues seemed so small and insignificant and I sat there in awe of God. I know if I was watching my innocent Son be executed, I wouldn’t be concerned about the needs of anybody else, worried about paying the electric bill or other temporal matters. But even when God is humiliated, mocked, scorned, crowned with thorns, beaten and crucified, “He makes His sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45 NABRE).” Simply, if God can look down from heaven and watch His only begotten Son’s flesh be brutally torn apart by us sinful human beings and resist the urge to turn all the galaxies into dust, I’m confident that He can help me handle not only my worries, problems, insecurities and issues but your's and everybody's. Therefore, this Lent, let us intentionally spend quality time reflecting on the Paschal Mystery and allow ourselves the opportunity to realize the magnitude of what it means for our salvation and the salvation of the world.
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We are all a great deal luckier that we realize, we usually get what we want - or near enough.  ~ Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Just about everyone knows that the only way to get into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is with a Golden Ticket. According to the vision of Roald Dahl, you can’t enter the famous Chocolateer’s world of pure imagination without one. There are only five authentic tickets and they are hidden inside an ordinary Wonka Bar. The reclusive Wonka knows, the demand of chocolate-loving children will outweigh the supply of golden tickets and madness will likely ensue in sweet shops all around the world. Children everywhere push their parents to the brink of insanity with requests for more chocolate in hopes of winning the ultimate prize. For the vast majority, their dream of touring the enchanted factory comes crashing down just as fast as their blood sugar levels, but the sugar rush is extended for the five Golden Ticket finders; Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee and Charlie Bucket. Regardless of their circumstances or status they have gained entry into the sweetest place on the planet. Their invitation comes with a lifetime supply of chocolate and a notice that one of the five golden ticket holders will receive an additional grand prize.  Immediately upon arriving at the factory, some of the kids (with parental encouragement) begin to compete with one another trying to endear themselves to the noticeably odd Wonka. Ironically it is by jostling for supremacy that the most fierce competitors lose out on the ultimate prize. Gloop’s gluttony, Violet’s hunger for worldly status, Veruca’s greed and Teavee’s self-centeredness end up costing them greatly. Only the disadvantaged Charlie Bucket proves to be humble and docile enough to worthily inherit the fortune. Grace, God’s free gift that enables us to know, love and serve Him is a lot like a Golden Ticket. God both announced and demonstrated by the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, that everyone has an opportunity to receive eternal life. While it is an equal opportunity for everyone, we have to show more than a passing interest. In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:4-8, 13:18-23), Christ reveals the large number of people who for one reason or another only show minimal or have a self-serving interest in the Gospel. A casual acquaintance doesn’t cut it when Christ desires your friendship. In other words, if you spend all your time just looking through the window at the Wonka bar your odds of obtaining a Golden Ticket are nearly zero. Often, grace like finding a Golden Ticket is surprising and unpredictable. Some have to open hundreds of candy bars, others only have to open a handful to find it. Regardless of how many wrappers you you have discarded, finding the Golden Ticket of grace is only the beginning. Your response to the invitation of God’s grace is exponentially more important. Your soil has to be fertile in order for the seed of grace to flourish into faith. A surefire way to lose out on your inheritance is approaching the Gospel by asking “what is in it for me?” Rather, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).”  Have you found your Golden Ticket? If so, don’t let gluttony, worldly status, greed or self-centeredness stand in the way of your heavenly inheritance. Still looking for your invitation? Stop looking at the Church from the expressway and open the door, what is inside just might surprise you.
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Our entire seventh grade class had been warned about our behavior. Instead of posing for a picture we decided to play a pickup game of basketball in the gym. We were reprimanded for being disobedient and defiant during our opportunity to take the traditional “incoming eighth graders class photo.” Our teacher, Mrs. Cullen was not only angry at our insubordination but also perturbed that the one photo she managed to take she thought we looked like “disheveled hooligans” instead of “nice Catholic school children.” Clearly, our picture was not making it into the St. Patrick’s Easter bulletin. Now that she had managed to gain control of us again, we were about to be walked back to her classroom for more academic enrichment. Many of us, myself included, still had “the naughty giggles” and some left over energy from our unfinished game of basketball. This being evident, she said, “anyone who makes a sound on the way back to class will be punished”, as we started walking. Personally, I was silently ruminating about the basketball game and reliving some of the plays I made (or lack thereof). As we passed through the corridor, I spotted the paper leprechaun crafts the second graders made hanging from the drop ceiling. This happened to coincide with the thought that I might be better at basketball if I had more practice. Pretending that one of the little Irish mythical creatures was a hoop, I jumped up and touched his legs. As I landed back on the ground, my sneaker made a loud squeak. The line came to a screeching halt, Mrs. Cullen glared back and seeing the leprechaun doing the jig above my head raced back to confront me. “Mr. Snyder,” she said in a hasty angry tone, “you will write a 250 word essay on why not to touch someone else’s leprechaun, due in first thing in the morning signed by a parent.” Several thoughts went through my head in rapid succession. Dang, I got caught, now I’ve got more homework. I thought leprechauns were supposed to bring good luck - you sir are not lucky. Did she really just ask me to write an essay about why not to touch leprechauns? So I asked, “Mrs. Cullen, I just want to make sure I heard you correctly, you want me to write an essay on why not to touch someone else’s leprechaun?” My english teacher was surprised by my question. Aware she had misspoke, but reluctant to give in she briefly paused. Unable to come up with a witty response on her own and unwilling to invoke the intercession of the clever mythical leprechauns dangling over her head for help, she replied “Yes! Due tomorrow!” and stormed back to the head of the line. Leaving me to ponder how I might satisfy this requirement. After school, I informed my mother of my creative writing assignment. We both had a good laugh as she read the most exquisite two hundred and fifty words I’ve written to date. My mother autographed the handwritten theme, and said “good luck.” The near pointless exercise ended the next morning as Mrs. Cullen without reading a single word ripped up the essay and threw it in the trash. As I reflect upon the most memorable writing assignment I’ve ever received and the circumstances surrounding it, I believe it can serve as a reminder during the Easter triduum to look at each other from the cross. Jesus was a sinless, but chose to be treated like a sinner. He subjected himself to ridicule, torture and an excruciating death to redeem us because being God He could see and remained focused on our potential, not our weakness while on the cross. Do we deserve Hell for our sins? Unequivocally, yes we do. Without the merits of the Paschal Mystery, I would end up in Hell for touching someone else’s leprechaun in seventh grade, and that isn’t even the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. But Jesus, saw me in defiance reach for the mischievous midget hanging from the ceiling, and took the punishment for the sin by hanging on the cross, saying I’ll take the bullet for this one and every one of your sins. Say you are sorry with all your heart and don’t do it again. That is the meaning of repentance. Our eyes however, get blinded by pride, anger, lust, envy, gluttony, sloth and greed, and we miss the opportunity to show love and mercy. Writing a 250 word essay about being disobedient might have been more appropriate and ultimately bore more spiritual fruit in the long run. Pride and anger got in the way, clouding judgment. It voided the opportunity for personal and spiritual growth for both my teacher and myself instead rendering it a funny story I’ve been telling for years. I share this to remind you that Jesus came to earth with a purpose. He came to redeem your soul, to teach virtue and establish the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. He isn’t a magical creature and doesn’t hand down arbitrary assignments, rather He calls you to live the abundant life. He has charged you with a mission that only you can complete, and, as the Son of God, gifted you with the abilities, talents and skills to accomplish it. It’s for this reason he deeply loves you and redeemed you, gazing on your potential and beyond your weaknesses from the Cross. This is the bold love we are called to imitate on Easter. So don’t spend your life trying to touch somebody else’s leprechaun, you were made for so much more. Even more importantly lead others to heaven not to a pot of gold or the fantasy of instant gratification. Doing this will help you live an abundant life now and forever.

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