"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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Written on Our Hearts: A Patchwork Heart Blog

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He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; in Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the first-born of the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent  ~ Colossians 1:15-18 It was an early spring Friday afternoon, my little brother and I got off the school bus and walked the familiar two blocks home. As we approached our house we could hear the sound of chainsaws and soon noticed a crew of so-called “landscaping professionals” just about finishing the removal of our neighbor's apple tree. While the roots of this particular tree were definitively on our neighbor's property, the branches hung over a fence by our vegetable garden providing some shade and blocked the view to an ugly bright blue home. My parents liked the tree for these reasons. Our neighbors however had disdain for it, mainly because unlike us they had a pool (may I add that we were never invited once to go swimming) and the apples would fall into it and they would have to fish them out constantly. Because the tree was on their side of the fence, it belonged to them and it was well within their right to cut it down. But we didn’t have to like their decision. As we entered our house, my mother was quite upset. She said to us, “can you believe they are cutting that tree down. I went over and talked to Janet about it and told her that I really like that tree. Why didn’t she come over and talk to me about it before just cutting it down all of a sudden?” My brother and I took one look at each other and knew how we would avenge our mother after our afternoon snack. We quickly changed out of our school uniforms and grabbed the tennis racquet from the garage.  Now, over the years, we played many games of homerun derby and frequently we would hit the balls over the fence and they would land in the pool. Instead of throwing the balls back over, our frustrated neighbor would just throw them in the garbage or give them to their dog to chew. This history coupled with the apple tree violation was reason enough to inflict the worst type of punishment nine and twelve year old boys could mete out to our unneighborly neighbors.  As we ran outside with our tennis racquet, our massive black walnut tree at the opposite end of our yard still towered brilliantly...and more importantly it couldn’t be touched by our neighbor’s chainsaw. It was a healthy tree that yielded a plentiful harvest of sticky and sappy walnuts from spring through fall. The exterior of a black walnut while it had striking resemblance to a tennis ball was not a tennis ball, the outer coating when dissolved by water treatment chemicals in a pool, would release a black ooze in the water. These would serve as the ammunition for our operation code named Pete Sampras Mad at His Neighbors. We gathered the fallen black walnuts, finding easily over one hundred of them, and then one-by-one hit them over the fence aiming for the pool. I pitched them to my brother who with incredible precision for a nine-year-old sent most of them swimming. We listened intently for each walnut to make a splash then cheered exuberantly with each new delivery of retaliatory justice. To this day my younger brother and I laugh about how we defended our mom and protected our territory. Our neighbors never confronted us and our parents never punished us, we still like to think we were angels of God’s perfect justice that day.  Alright, I admit I went off the deep end for a moment, and as my brother recently admitted recounting the experience “the amount of black walnuts we hit into that pool was wildly uncalled for [in that situation].” But by now I’m pretty sure you are wondering what this story has to do with Easter. As grossly flawed as the episode of Pete Sampras Mad at His Neighbors is, like Easter at it’s core is all about a son answering the call to restore justice.  Maybe you’ve never thought of Easter like that before - but it is exactly why God sent His only Son to earth; to restore and make His justice perfect through a new and eternal covenant with His chosen people. We can get easily lost in the soap opera of salvation history, but it boils down rather simply. The original sin of Adam and Eve left a gaping wound between humanity and God, that left us unable to attain union with Him. Our Heavenly Father offered us opportunity after opportunity, covenant after covenant, but each and every time we failed to live up to our end of the deal. Through our repeated failures and unfaithfulness, as detailed through the Old Testament, God recognized that we were incapable of restoring our relationship with Him through our own merit. Then, in radical act of love and mercy, “because God so loved the world, He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).”  What makes this act nearly incomprehensible is that God was not obligated to redeem us, rather He loved us so much and desired to spend eternity with us that He provided “the Way and the Truth and the Life (cf John 14:6)” in the person of Jesus our Christ to restore our access to complete union with Him in Heaven. The manner in which he defeats death is equally unfathomable. He subjected His only Son, the sinless and spotless Lamb, to be slaughtered on a Roman instrument of torture and death for the punishment we deserved for our sins. Simply, Jesus took our place on the cross. Just in case that wasn’t enough for you, He tops it off with a glorious Sunday morning resurrection restoring our life. To us, it might seem wildly uncalled for but that is how much God loves each and every one of the souls He has created - including you. So whether you’ve vindictively launched walnuts into your neighbor’s swimming pool or sinned in some other seemingly brilliant manner, out of perfect love God left his heavenly throne, came to earth and died for you so that you can have eternal life. In return, He asks that you do your best to love Him. How then do we glorify the Lord by our lives? We spend time with Him in daily in prayer, build up the kingdom through serving our neighbors in need, attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and admit to Him the times we’ve stumbled and fallen in sin by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is the real meaning of Easter and by faithfully carrying our crosses to the finish we will receive the imperishable crown of glory in heaven (cf 1 Corinthians 9:24).
Patchwork Heart
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Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize Jesus Christ is in you? - unless, of course, you fail the test. I hope you will discover we have not failed. ~ 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here” were the words of command module pilot John Swigert aboard the space shuttle Apollo 13  when an oxygen tank exploded during their mission to the moon on April 13, 1970. The in-flight explosion resulted in abandoning the planned trip to the moon and instead getting home alive. In the minutes, hours and days that followed, the circumstance of relying on a spaceship for life-support that was on life-support itself tested, challenged and demonstrated the ingenuity and perseverance of a team determined not to be defeated by the disaster. If you’ve watched the popular 1995 film you’ve got an idea about how NASA engineers and scientists helped the trio of astronauts beat the odds and make it home safely, albeit with a little creative license from Hollywood in parts. The Apollo 13 mission has been popularly termed the successful failure because they made it back to earth alive while never accomplishing their intended goals. This name suits the mission so well perhaps because everyone involved focused only on the essentials of sustaining life and returning home. Food was rationed, water was conserved and power was reduced to only what was necessary to achieve a success that was continually juxtaposed with the reality of a recent failure; a failure that lingered over each member of the team and elevated every decision to a matter of life and death for three men floating two hundred thousand miles from home. Living the Catholic faith in the present state of the world like landing on the moon is a difficult and daunting task. It seems that just to get off the launch pad is a huge accomplishment these days, and after we do lift off…we know that to shoot for the moon in our spiritual lives means entering a weightless vacuum of endless uncertainty. But we are not alone. Like the crew of Apollo 13, when tragedy strikes we turn to mission control. Our Triune God is the all-powerful team that will never fail us, and listening to Him will always get us home. Have you experienced an Apollo 13 moment during this penitential season of Lent? Did you start out with great intentions on Ash Wednesday but now are coping with the effects of a midflight malfunction? If you’ve realized that your Lenten disciplines are dissipating into space; reevaluate and refocus the mission. You may feel like there are two hundred thousand miles between your Lenten goals and you right now, but there is still time to return to the basics and achieve spiritual growth. If you concentrate on the essentials of Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll find the path that leads home. Here are a few suggestions for simplifying the remainder of Lent. First, set aside a time of dedicated prayer each day, start with just fifteen minutes. Pick one day a week and fast from a favorite food or activity on that day. Finally, find a way to help the poor either materially or spiritually, assist at a local food pantry or homeless shelter or donate to a Catholic service organization. Devoting yourself to the basic three pillars of Lent isn’t necessarily easy, but if you do you will be a successful failure; arriving home safely having grown in your relationship with Christ.     
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Today, February 22nd the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair. Some of you are probably thinking “that has got to be one expensive piece of furniture, to have its own feast day!” While there is a physical chair, traditionally attributed to the first pope in St. Peter’s Basilica; the wooden chair, now housed in an ornamented bronze enclosure, actually dates back to the year 875 A.D and is a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII. So it is a real longshot that the Apostle himself ever used the chair, but still I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the Vatican to list it on eBay if you are in the market for second-hand apartment décor. Long before a bald emperor was assembling his latest Ikea purchase, the Church was venerating the Chair of St. Peter, as a symbol of the unbroken succession of the Papal authority and Christian unity. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke of this significance during a papal audience on February 22, 2006. So, what was the "Chair" of St Peter? Chosen by Christ as the "rock" on which to build the Church (cf. Mt 16: 18), he began his ministry in Jerusalem, after the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost. The Church's first "seat" was the Upper Room, and it is likely that a special place was reserved for Simon Peter in that room where Mary, Mother of Jesus, also prayed with the disciples. Again, on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter in 2012 he spoke of the spiritual significance of the relic that has a special place in the basilica in his Angelus address: The Chair of St Peter, represented in the apse of the Vatican Basilica is a monumental sculpture by Bernini. It is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity…The Chair of Peter is therefore the sign of authority, but of Christ’s authority, based on faith and on love. This feast we celebrate today is hardly about the hardwood and more about the visible witness and authority of the Catholic Church throughout history. Simply, our church is fortified by and continues to draw upon the strength of the unbroken succession of apostolic leadership passed down to us through the ages; beginning with Christ and His selection of Peter to take His seat until He returns. Holy Mother Church has been faithful to this seat established by Christ and the result is that the Gospel message is most potently proclaimed by her throughout the world.  In being obedient to promptings of the Holy Spirit, the teaching authority of the Church, is charged with the “authentic interpretation of the word of God (CCC 85).” The eternal truths of our faith are clearly illuminated and the word is made flesh by Christ’s real presence in the sacraments for all those faithful to the Pope and Bishops in union with him around the world. Each of us are marked by our belief and faithfulness to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, when we proclaim in the Nicene Creed. Our credo beckons us to share in that role of “understanding and handing on revealed truth (CCC 91).” In other words we are called to pull up our chair around the banquet table, listen to the clear and consistent voice of Christ spoken to us from the “Chair” of Peter; then nourished by word and sacrament serve others humbly and with great joy.

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