Amen to That!

I recently was introduced to Brian Holdsworth and his YouTube series on the Catholic faith. I was extremely impressed by this video, especially since it is a layman who has been saying the same thing I have been arguing for years about why the faith is in decline. It is well worth the 6-minute view.

That my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete

This was today’s homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle B. It was delivered at Maria Regina High School during their Mother’s Day Communion breakfast, which I was invited to celebrate with them.

Click here for the homily

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Are You the Center of Your Own Solar System?

I frequently come across people who complain about how selfish the people around them are, as I’m sure you do too. In most cases, they are absolutely right. We can all be self-centered at times and fail to be concerned about one another’s needs. But every once in a while, I come across someone who seems to be pushing the limit to which others are responding to their needs beyond the limit of realistic expectations. They act as if everyone is supposed to be at their beck and call and jump whenever they cry out for

Attention

anything. What we end up doing is making ourselves the center of our own solar system.We make ourselves the sun and expect everyone else to live as planets revolving around us. This is not very realistic, is it? How many people are willing to allow their entire life to revolve around me and my needs? Not too many. I am certain that no one woke up this morning and prayed, “Heavenly Father, help me know what I need to do today to meet Fr. Carrozza’s needs!” It didn’t happen. Neither did anyone pray that prayer about you, and if we are expecting other people to do so, we’re going to be terribly disappointed. Furthermore, if everyone felt that way, we’d all be a bunch of suns expecting other people to be planets revolving around us.

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You can visualize the tension there: everyone is demanding attention and no one is getting it. That for me is a definition of living Hell! But if we place Christ at the center of our solar system, if we let Him be the sun around which we revolve, then we’re all revolving around the same “Son”. We’re all in harmony with each other, everyone going in the same direction, and with Jesus at the center of our lives, we realize that serving Him means serving one another.

 

Christ is the Center

We then will all naturally respond automatically to each other’s needs, everyone will be satisfied, and everyone will be at peace. That to me is Heaven on Earth! During Lent, let’s see if we can figure out whether we revolve around Christ or whether we revolve around ourselves and are expecting others to do the same. Ask Christ to be the center of your life. Ask Him to help you change and make Him the center, and to help you encourage others to do the same. When we do that, we will have harmony, we will have joy, we will have peace!

A blessed Lent to you all!

Is Jesus offensive?

A family in Pennsylvania was ordered to take down a religious display on their property because a neighbor complained it was offensive. See the story here

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Excuse me, but doesn’t the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantee Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion? It never guarantees freedom from anything you don’t like.

If we are going to have freedom, then we must be willing to accept that from time to time we are going to see or hear a belief or an opinion with which we don’t agree. Can you imagine what kind of world we’d have where the only religions or opinions that are allowed to be publicly mentioned or discussed are those first approved by the government? – oh wait, there is such a system – it’s called Communism.

I don’t get offended when I see a menorah in the window of a Jewish family, nor Arabic writing on the car of a Muslim. Why are these people “offended” by seeing the name “Jesus”?

If someone doesn’t believe in Jesus, no one must force them to believe, but asking us not to mention him is bigoted and intolerant.

What follows is the text of a letter to the editor I sent to our local newspaper, “The Journal News” some years back. The newspaper was pleased to publish it and I got tremendous support from many people when it appeared. Its message applies perfectly to this situation:

To the editor:

In a recent letter to the editor, Mike Stempel criticized the various organizations that are distributing buttons that read, “It’s okay to wish me a Merry Christmas,” accusing them of hypocrisy and eager to bring on religious polarization. He asks, “Do you honestly believe people are ‘afraid’ to wish someone a Merry Christmas?” The answer to that question is, “absolutely!”

Every Christmastime, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union unleash a new round of lawsuits aimed at those who dare to mention in public anything to do with Christmas. Their intimidation is so effective that people are literally frightened into compliance for fear of being sued. In some absurd cases, jingle bells, candy canes, even wearing red or green clothing has been banned in schools and workplaces for fear that these items would be deemed offensive to others. Whatever happened to toleration? We live in a country that was founded on Freedom of Religion, yet that right has been consistently trampled by people who have nothing but contempt for any difference of belief.

A few years ago, I was shopping in a local department store, and the clerk happened to be one of my parishioners. He had to whisper “Merry Christmas” to me, because he said he’d be in a lot of trouble if his boss heard him. I can certainly understand a clerk telling someone to “have a nice holiday” if they do not know which holiday if any they celebrate, but when someone who knows I am a Christian cannot wish me a Merry Christmas for fear of punishment, something has gone terribly wrong. The button campaign is simply our way of informing people that it’s okay to wish me a Merry Christmas, that I won’t take offense at it.

We live in a religiously diverse community, and it is certainly proper to show respect for all religious beliefs. That, however, includes respect not only for minorities but also for the majority. Studies have shown that greater than 90% of Americans celebrate Christmas in one form or another. Of the less than 10% who don’t, many have no problem with Christmas, and do not feel traumatized or experience emotional duress watching other people celebrate their own holiday. The percentage, therefore, of people who have a problem with the word “Christmas” is very small, yet for the sake of that very small group the word has been effectively banned in public. Where is the logic in this? Those who do not celebrate Christmas for whatever their reason are perfectly free not to do so, but to expect the rest of America not to talk about Christmas because a small number of people don’t want to hear the word is selfish and intolerant. Those who find public mention of someone else’s religious beliefs offensive are the ones being bigoted. They should be given lessons in sensitivity and toleration, not appeased. The acceptance of the public expression of the beliefs of all people is tolerance, as that stems from respect. The attempt to censor another’s religious expression is intolerant, as that stems from hatred.

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Rev. Andrew P. Carrozza

 

 

I’m not perfect, so why aren’t you?

As a pastor I find I have many different types of people to shepherd. Some are proud, and some have no self-esteem. Some are weak, and some are strong. Sojesus-good-shepherdme are trying very hard to be the best they can be, and some are convinced they are already perfect. It’s not easy. I have to love all of them and shepherd each one as his or her needs require. For some that means offering encouragement and lifting them up. For others, it means awakening in them the realization that they need to change. Some need to face the consequences of their choices, and some need to move beyond them. If I am to be a faithful shepherd, I need to know each sheep individually and what they are dealing with, and the more I know about them, the better I can help them. There is no one magic approach that will heal everyone.

One of the biggest challenges I face is trying my best to see where each person is on that journey and how to help them go further. I must confess that it is not always easy. I am not always sure where someone is on the journey. I can best help my people by knowing who they truly are, warts and all. If I know what is really going on in their hearts, perhaps I can say something specific that will make a difference. Without this knowledge, I can only offer general platitudes.

Some people can be frustrating, especially those who see no need for any further growth. They think they are perfectly fine just where they are. That group includes the two extremes: those who don’t worship God because they think their life is just fine and don’t think they need him, and those who think they have arrived at perfection and have no need for any further growth. I find both of those groups difficult because they will not be guided; they don’t need any help. The people in between are where the real graces happen, with those who see the need for growth and want to be helped. Their weaknesses and needs may be as far apart as the tundra is from the tropics, but as long as they want to be better, there will be growth toward God.

Lately I have come across a trend, especially in newcomers to the faith and in people who have become painfully aware of their sinfulness: even if they have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they still tend to view those who have been there before them as better than they, and they don’t feel worthy to be counted among them. I can imagine St. Paul going through that when he first met Peter, James, and John. After all, Paul had persecuted the faith and was trying to destroy it until Jesus converted him in dramatic fashion on the way to Damascus. With all of his sinful past, how could he now be counted as equals with the Apostles? But Peter denied Jesus three times, and James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His glory. They were not without sin. Every saint has his past, and every sinner has his future. Jesus has an uncanny ability to see past our weaknesses to the good we can do when we realize He knows all too well our sins and allow Him to work through us in spite of – perhaps even because of – our sinfulness. As St. Paul says, “when I am weak, it is then that I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10) An ideal example of this is the recovering drug addict who has been sober for many years and is now running a program to help others with an addiction to overcome them. His awareness of his past and of how Jesus pulled him through gives him the desire and the ability to minister to others who are on that same journey. He might even feel that Jesus allowed him to go down that dangerous path so that he would be able to help many others to leave that road and start out on the right way. It can be the man who was once addicted to pornography who now runs a program to free others from their enslavement. He understands their pain and their weakness, and has a more burning desire for them to be freed from their burden.

I am a human being with my own sins, and sometimes someone confesses something to me that I have personally dealt with in the past or even at present, and I find myself in a good position to offer them advice that I have gleaned from my own struggle with that particular sin. But no one falls prey to every sin possible, and I’ve discovered over the years that I have learned a lot about the sinfulness of the human person from what I have heard in confession, and even if I never myself fell prey to a certain sin, the lessons I have learned from those who have puts me in a better position to understand and guide another. For this reason, I always tell people never to be afraid to bring your worst sins and fears to a priest in confession. We deal with the weaknesses of human nature on a regular basis and can usually appreciate what you’re going through, even if we haven’t been there ourselves. For example, my parents are thankfully still healthy, but I have counseled enough people dealing with invalid parents to know that they can find it frustrating and that they often lose patience with them. Although I am not married, I have dealt with enough people who are tempted to be unfaithful so as to be able to say something constructive to them. I have worked with teenagers for many years, and I know the strange, dumb, and embarrassing things they sometimes do, especially when it comes to sexuality: from the one fighting compulsive masturbation, to the one who took naked selfies and accidentally emailed them to someone, to the one who was caught by their parents in the midst of a sexual act, the list goes on and on. I always tell people the same thing: if there is anyone you should NOT be embarrassed to share your worst sins with it is a priest in confession. Remember that he has the power to offer you the forgiveness of Christ.

Sometimes I discover that people have quite the reverse attitude toward what they think they should appear to be in the eyes of their pastor and what they in fact should do. Perhaps because they respect their priest so much they want Father to think they are holy, and if Father should discover they have any faults or sins they would be mortified and it would ruin his opinion of them. But that would be like so wanting the doctor to believe you’re healthy that you don’t tell him when you are sick! If anyone needs to know your illness it is the doctor. Similarly, if anyone needs to know your weakness and sins it is your priest. My job is not to pretend you are perfect, but to see you as you are, to love you as you are, and to try to help you become perfect.i'm not a perfect person

But sometimes people worry that, if they tell Father their sins and he remembers them, every time he sees them he will be recalling their sins and he’ll be ashamed of them. I can’t speak for every priest, but I can tell you what I feel. What I said above about the pastor needing to know his sheep and tend to them as they are applies here. If I pretended that my parishioners were a gathering of perfect people I’d be sorely deluded. My job is not to judge people nor is it to feel ashamed of them, as if their sin was somehow a reflection upon myself. The more in fact that I know about a person, the better position I am in to be able to respond properly to their needs. If I do in fact remember something someone told me in confession (which, by the way, I can’t even repeat to them), it only serves to help me know them better and respond in a more understanding manner to their needs. I find that the people who receive the most peace of mind are those who tell the full truth about themselves to their priest, trusting that he is there to help them and that he wants to help ease their burdenconfession-4. I will not feel like a failure if you confess your sins to me, nor will I lose respect for you because I know of all the horrible and sordid things you have done; on the contrary, I will feel like a failure if you were afraid to come to me! When I deal with a person and hear his confession on a regular basis, I end up developing a more complete understanding of him and end up loving him all the more. Everyone needs a place where they can divulge their deepest sins and failings. Who better to bring them to than your priest?

A parish is not a gathering of saints but of sinners trying to become saints. While we are all at different stages in our journey to holiness – to being the best version of ourselves that we can be – we will never be perfected until we enter into Heaven.

So don’t be afraid of your pastor or any priest with whom you have a good relationship knowing your faults and weaknesses. Don’t be embarrassed. The more he knows of you the more he can help you, and the more you know he knows of you, the more easily you will be able to share other problems with him, and the better he can help you grow in holiness and peace of mind.