Hey, you Catholics! This is 2014! You gotta get with it and change those unpopular teachings!

 

i-am-the-wayA comment we all frequently hear from people is that lots of people don’t accept the Church’s teaching on certain issues, therefore the Church should change them so that people will come to church again. They will claim, “This is 2014! The Church has to get with the times and change its teachings or more people will continue to leave!” We don’t at all like the idea that people are leaving, but what would it profit us to change the teachings just to keep people in church on Sunday? Recall what happened when Jesus revealed his teaching on the Eucharist and many people found it too hard to accept and no longer followed him (cf John 6). What didJesus do? Did he call out after them and say, “Wait a minute! Come back! You don’t like that teaching? Okay, I’ll change it. What do you want me to teach? Just tell me and I’ll teach that, as long as you stay with me!” No. Instead, with a heavy heart, he let them go. He was not happy that they would no longer follow him, but he could not change his message and the call to unity with himself and the truth he had come to reveal simply because people didn’t like it. Neither can the Church change a teaching just because it is not popular.

“But,” they may object, “if the message were more appealing, more people would come, and you’re never going to get certain people to come back as long as the Church holds that teaching!”  In other words, “give the people what they want and they will come!” I like to use this analogy:

I could fill our church every Sunday night with teenagers, young adults, and others who would never otherwise come to Mass. It’s very simple: give away free beer and show porn. First of all, I’d be arrested. But even if I weren’t, would that be doing anyone any good? Are we merely trying to count how many people are sitting in church on Sunday, or are we trying to bring them the call of salvation by fidelity to the teachings of Christ? I realize this is a drastic example, but it makes the point: anyone who would have us change the teachings just to get more bodies in the pews does not understand the call to salvation by avoiding sin and being formed in the image and likeness of Christ.

Yes, we should do everything in ourpower to be welcoming and acknowledge that even people who are sinners – as we all are – are welcome in church on Sunday and can have positive gifts to offer, which is what Pope Francis has been saying. But under no circumstances can we pretend that sin is not a sin just to make them happy. Our job is not to craft a popular message but to be consistent to the message of salvation by fidelity to the call of Christ. Only that can save people.

Suppose someone, tired of paying over $4 per gallon for gasoline, observing that water from the garden hose is far cheaper, decides he wants his car to run on water. He even gets 96% of car owners to agree with him, and petitions the car manufacturer to allow them to put water and not gas in the gas tank. All the opinion of those people doesn’t change the fact that the car doesn’t run on water. If the people complain that the car manufacturer lacks compassion and understanding of the people’s difficulties and keeps petitioning every new CEO who comes along to change the “law” and allow the car to run on water, does the manufacturer give in and allow it because the people want it? Of course not! Put water in your gas tank and your car will be destroyed! Similarly, when the Church clearly teaches that any given action (such as any sexual act outside of the covenant of marriage, abortion, etc.) does not lead to union with Christ but instead damages that union, no one’s personal opinion changes that. So anyone who advises us to ignore what the Church teaches and “follow their own hearts” is like telling people it’s okay to put water in the gas tank.

“Okay, but how about issues that do notseem to have moral relevance, such as women priests?” Some people are clamoring for the Church to readdress this issue. Well, Pope Paul VI did precisely that. He looked carefully at Tradition, at Scripture, and at previous magisterial teachings, and after extensive prayerful study, he defined in the encyclical Inter Insigniores that the Church does not possess the authority to admit women to the priesthood, and that this is a teaching that is part of the Deposit of Faith which must be adhered to by all. Pope John Paul II further defended and upheld this position in his encyclical Dignitatis Mulieris. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have upheld this, Pope Francis most emphatically so when in one interview he would not even address the question. He simply said, “No. That has been settled definitively.” The question is therefore settled; end of discussion. So those who are still clamoring for women priests are, quite frankly, throwing an ecclesiastical temper tantrum. Like a child who continues to cry and nag when a parent says no, trying to wear them down until they give in and give the child what he wants, so these people continue to cry and carry on, kicking and screaming in their tantrum. This is hardly mature behavior, and hardly what a disciple of Jesus is expected to do. While some issues are within the Church’s power to change (such as married clergy), others are not, such as women priests, gay “marriage”, abortion, contraception, etc. These have been definitively settled by the Church. So let’s end the temper tantrums, but in a spirit of love for the Lord and maturity of action, accept it and move on.

Remember that the Church’s purpose is not to be popular. We’re not battling other religions to see who has the most people in our pews on Sunday. Our commission by Jesus is to preserve what he has revealed to us and to faithfully teach everything he has commanded us and call people to salvation. Our job is to teach the truth whether people accept it or not. Yes, we will do everything we can to help people understandand accept Christ’s call to holiness, but we cannot change Christ’s teaching. That would betray our very reason for existence. going to heaven

No, the Pope did not just permit gay marriage!

On Monday, the Vatican released what it calls a “relatio post disceptationem”—Latin for “report after debate” that has caused a tsunami of discussion and has sent the press into a feeding frenzy of speculation over “changes” in the Church’s teaching about gay marriage. I myself received many questions from people about what was going on, even people asking, “Is it true that the pope said he’d allow gay marriage?” The answer is an emphatic, “Absolutely not!” The Pope did no such thing! Let’s look at the document that caused the controversy:

The document is not a bull or an encyclical; it is a report. It merely summarizes ongoing discussions among top Catholic clergy, which are taking place as part of a two-week synod, or gathering of cardinals and bishops at Vatican City. George Weigel, who wrote the authoritative biography of St. John Paul II, had this to say about the document: “…it was an interim report on themes that had been raised in the previous ten days of debate and discussion at the synod. It had absolutely no legislative weight — synod documents are consultative, not legislative — and I am told by those who were there that various formulations in the report were seriously criticized in the synod debates. Moreover, the interim report will be chewed over in the ten synod language-based discussion groups — where, one suspects, further criticisms will be aired — before any final report is issued. To turn this kind of interim report into the virtual equivalent of a papal encyclical is ludicrous on its face.”

This document was merely the summary of discussions, kind of like minutes of a meeting, and is not authoritative in any way. As I read the document, I understood what the Holy Father was trying to say. It is a sad but true reality that there are many people – even in our churches on Sundays – that are not following all the teachings of the Church. This has been true since the time of Christ Himself. The moral teachings of the Church are absolute and neither can nor ever will change. For moral teachings to change would imply a change in the very nature of God, which is a metaphysical impossibility. But we are all sinners; none of us is a perfect follower of Christ. We are all sinners on the path to perfection. The Church is not a gathering of saints but of sinners trying to become saints. All of us are in need of conversion, and no one is beyond the call to salvation in Christ by adherence to all of the Church’s teachings. If sin precludes someone from coming to church and taking an active role in the life of the parish, then I cannot be a pastor, as I too commit sins and need to confess them. At the same time, there is a huge difference between embracing sinners and calling them to Christ and embracing their sins as acceptable behavior. What would Jesus do? Would he tell people, “Come back when you’re sinless and then I’ll accept you?” That’s what the Pharisees wanted Him to do. Instead, Jesus came to save sinners. He went after the lost, welcomed them, reassured them of His undying love for them, and then tried to bring them around to where He wanted them to be. He never told them it’s okay to continue to live in sin, as he told the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you; go and sin no more”. What would Jesus have said to that woman if in fact she did continue to commit adultery? He would forgive her every time she repented, but He would constantly call her to leave her sin behind, reminding her that she’s only hurting herself by continuing to sin. He would never tell her, “Get away from me! Don’t come back until you’re sinless!”

I currently have in my parish (and have always had in every parish) people who are not validly married. I’m not happy that they’re invalidly married, but my job is not to judge them but to try to bring them into conformity with the mind of Christ and His call to them to holiness, and I have a much better chance of doing that by keeping them in the congregation and trying to bring them to where I want them to be rather than rejecting them and sending them away simply so I can present a “clean congregation” to the public. Many of these people do in fact have many talents and skills that have proved useful to the parish, and I am glad they are able to use their gifts to further the Gospel call to holiness, even for themselves. While they cannot receive Holy Communion and cannot hold certain positions that require one to be validly married, such as being Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, they still make a great contribution to our parish, and I’m hoping that their active involvement will increase their love for Christ and bring them to the point where they willingly choose to adjust their lifestyle so as to be consistent with Jesus’ call to holiness for them. It seems to me that this is what the Pope was saying, and I find that truly Christ-like and compassionate.

As for some of the comments made by a few bishops that seem a bit unorthodox or too lax, I’m sure that once the document reaches any level of authority any such comments will have been deleted. Open discussion among the bishops is vital for the true development of doctrine and discerning the call of the Holy Spirit. So let the debates continue – that’s what the synod is all about – but pray that the bishops will be led by the Holy Spirit in all their deliberations.

Catholic Basics Refresher Sessions video, week two

One of my blog followers made a request of me. He said that, since he does not live in the New York area and cannot physically attend my Catholic Basics Refresher Sessions, could I video them and post the videos on my blog. I am happy to oblige! Sorry I don’t have session one recorded, as the request was made after it was completed. I had to break the session up in several segments in order to get them to upload. They are a little dark because of the projector. Next week I’ll see if I can correct that with better lighting!

It may take a few minutes for the video to start running. But please be patient! It will eventually run!

Fr. Carrozza




If God is so good, Why is there so much evil in the world?

Recently one of my blog followers posted this question: “If God created everything, then isn’t it true that he also created Satan and all the other evils in the world? If he loves us, why would he do this?”

It is an excellent question; in fact, it is probably the biggest obstacle to belief in God for many people. It is the old philosophical dilemma of the problem of evil: if God is so good, why is there evil in the world?

To answer the question properly, we have to discuss what evil is. Let’s begin by saying what it is not: it is not a positive or real identity; it is not a thing. Evil is a privation, a lacking of good where good should be. It’s kind of like darkness: it is not a thing in itself but a lacking of light. Nothing is evil in itself. There is no such thing as a person, place, or thing that is intrinsically evil. Everyone and everything that God created is good. Evil occurs when something is not used for its good purpose but is instead misused. In effect, it is the abuse of an object. For example: fire can do great good. It can heat our homes and cook our food. This is the good use God intended of it. But when someone uses fire to burn not wood in a fireplace but his neighbor’s house down, it is the decision of the person to misuse the fire that constitutes evil, not the fire itself. In the same way, no person is evil. God created all of us in his image and likeness, to show his face to the world in a unique way. But some people choose not to live the calling God gave us, but instead accept the temptation of Satan to use our lives for a purpose contrary to what God intended. That is what sin is, or evil, depending on the context.  So sin/evil is failing to do what God has intended for us. This covers every range of the spectrum, from a child saying no to his mother to murderers. We create the evil by not following God, so the existence of evil is our fault and not God’s. We therefore can say that God did not create evil – we do!

temptation of Adam & Eve

Okay, so how about Satan, the great tempter, who started it all? Well, even Satan is one of God’s creatures. Technically, God did not create Satan; he created an archangel he called “Lucifer”, meaning “light-bearer”. God created Lucifer to be an instrument for showing his light to the world. But Lucifer, using his free will, rebelled against God and did things his way. He in effect decided, “I don’t need to listen to God! I can choose for myself what is right and wrong; I’m just like God!” So he rebelled, but quickly discovered that he was not the equal of God and was not all-knowing. He could not in fact choose for himself and be certain to always get it right. He was fallible, God is not. By rebelling, he turns against God and made himself God’s adversary – Satan – that’s what the name means: God’s adversary. It’s an interesting point to notice what the name of the angel who fought against Lucifer is Michael , which means “Who is like God?’ It was a strong reminder to Lucifer that no one is God’s equal and that he cannot survive without God.

After Lucifer fell and became Satan, or the Devil (the slanderer), he could have apologized to God and been forgiven. But he didn’t. Instead, he saw his agony by being separated from God, but rather than apologize, he blamed God for his pain and vowed revenge. Since his own rebellion against God failed, he figured that the best way to get back at God was to get God’s most beloved creature to turn away from him as well – mankind.

Satan found it very easy to trick Adam and Eve. He tempted them to eat of the forbidden tree, the tree which God said that if they ate of its fruit or even touched it, they would die.  It’s important to notice the name of the tree is not merely the Tree of Knowledge but the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Forbidding them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is a beautiful metaphor for God telling Adam and Eve, “I am God and you are not! Don’t try to decide for yourself what’s right and wrong. You don’t have the knowledge to make those decisions on your own. If you try to follow your own heart and your own mind you can be mistaken; I cannot! Listen to me and do as I tell you and everything will be fine.” Satan starts by lying to them, saying, “No you will not die! God knows the minute you eat of the fruit you will be like God yourself knowing right from wrong.” In effect what he was saying is that God was lying to them. “He is tricking you into thinking that you can’t decide for yourself what’s right and wrong because this is the way he keeps you under his power. He has been lying to you to make you think that you can’t decide on your own, when in fact you can! You can decide right from wrong by what you think and believe; you don’t need to listen to God!” Eve believed him and ate the fruit of the tree. With that her eyes were opened, and did she know right from wrong? No. She saw that she was naked. It was a lie by the devil from the beginning. He played on their gullibility, and with that they brought evil into the world, and of course, death. We often make the same mistake. How often do people say “you don’t have to listen to God or the Church! Think for yourself what’s right and wrong and follow your heart and your mind?” Anytime we do this, we are repeating Original Sin; we are making the same mistake as Adam and Eve and are falling into the devil’s trick once again. Therefore, every time we decide to listen to our own feelings and not what God teaches us, we perpetuate the evil into the world. It is our disobedience to God that creates evil and not God himself.

Of course, we must ask the question, “Why did God allow us to be tempted in the first place? Why couldn’t he just create us so that we could not sin?” The answer is that, if God created us without free will, that is, without the ability to choose right from wrong, we’d be just like the animals. Animals can’t choose right from wrong; human beings can. That’s what it means when we say we are created in God’s image and likeness. In order to be created in the image and likeness of God, we must have the ability to love. But to be able to love requires that we have the ability to make a choice. We cannot truly love God if we cannot freely choose to love him. Of course, freedom to choose is a two-edged sword. The ability to love must bring with it the ability to hate; the ability to follow God must also include with it the ability not to follow God. And sure enough, we frequently choose to reject God. Now God knew from the beginning that we would use that free will to turn against him and that he’d have to save us, and yet he created us with free will anyway! It’s amazing to think that God knew from the moment he created us with free will that he’d have to die on the cross to save us, and he did it anyway! It’s as if he were saying that dying on the cross was less painful than not having us to love in the first place! And so God worked our salvation for us by dying on the cross, freeing us from our sins, and now he calls us through the Church’s teachings and the sacraments back to that original unity with him, which is accomplished by trusting him and following what he teaches us and not what our minds and our hearts think is right, which is the source of all evil in the world in the first place! Our salvation will come when we learn not to follow our own hearts and minds but his commands. That is the struggle we face every day, and that is precisely the problem we see over and over again with moral and social issues, where people keep trying to tell the Church to change her teachings to give people what they want. They are in effect telling God he is wrong and we are right! God is not wrong because people don’t like what he’s teaching, and common consensus cannot turn something sinful into something good just because people voted for it. That is Original Sin all over again! Evil, therefore, is not something God created but something we create by continuously following our own hearts and not listening to God. When we finally learn to listen to God and not the voice of mankind and our own hearts, that’s when we will find true justice and the true peace that only God can give.