West Texas CatholicEditor’s Note: Bishop Patrick J. Zurek was a guest Sept. 27 during the annual RadioThon at St. Valentine Catholic Radio, 1360AM, KDJW. Here are excerpts of his conversation with West Texas Catholic Editor Chris Albracht.
- Written by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek
October 17, 2012
WTC: We are fewer than 40 days away from Election Day. Some thoughts about participating in the political process…
Bishop Zurek: I have several things to say on this. Yes, elections are always important. We would not even say voting is a privilege; voting is a right and it is an obligation. The Catholic Church has always looked on it that way. You are given freedom or acknowledged freedom in a democracy to choose your leaders. Too often we kind of slough off and say, ‘oh well I don’t need to go, nothing will change.’
I remember that during one of our ecumenical prayer services for maintaining and strengthening our religious freedom, one of the ministers said that there are 30 million Christians in this country who never vote. He said ‘can you imagine if we took the Gospel to the voting booth, what a difference we could make!’
My first thing is: it is important for us to vote. It is very difficult for us to complain when things don’t go our way when we haven’t even participated in an obligation, in a certain sense a privilege, but still an obligation to vote. So that is key.
The second one has to do with issues, obviously, very significant for all communities of faith, not just the Catholic Church. We’ve been sort of targeted because of the Health and Human Services mandate, but it affects every Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical church. It affects every Jewish community, every Muslim community, the Orthodox churches—it affects beyond Christianity, to all communities of faith. In our Christian context, religious freedom stands as a pinnacle of all freedoms. It is expressed first in freedom of speech, in that we can say what we want to; the freedom to choose a religion, in that no one can force on us what we believe to be true and we want to adhere to it.
But a very significant element of that is two-fold about freedom of religion. It is not just freedom of worship in going to a particular building and doing what you want to do there for an hour or two or more. But it is the freedom that first of all is personal, which means freedom of conscience to choose a faith community, a faith belief system. But then it is also freedom in the collective sense of a communion within that faith community to live that faith. And that’s what we’re in danger [of losing] now, with the HHS mandate saying that we have to follow the federal government guidelines, regardless of whether they are absolutely, diametrically opposed to our faith.
So the issue that started with providing birth control, etc., that we have to provide it, is not really the issue. The issue is dictating what is or is not authentic Christian ministry, defining what is or is not Christian or any other community’s faith, what is their actual belief system. In our context we have our own mandates, if you will, from Christ. The first mandate would come from the great judgment scene at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 28, “Go out to all the world, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them everything I have taught you to do and to say and to believe.” That’s very clear.
Then in chapter 5 of Matthew, “You are the salt of the earth…you are the light of the world…the yeast in the dough.” Every single one of those elements has an effect in the Mass. Obviously, darkness is dispelled with light. In a certain sense Scripture uses that in regard to truth—truth and not the lack of truth brings light to the mind and the soul. Yeast in the dough—none of us would like to eat a donut if it didn’t have some leavening in it; it would be a flat, little piece of cardboard. Then salt; we all complain if we have to be limited or have salt taken away all together.
Everyone makes a difference, and that is exactly what Christ’s mission in this world is. I say “is” because he left that mission with us who are the Church. We have to make that difference. We have to go out and transform, first of all, our individual self through the power of the Spirit of God. Once we’re transformed, we try to transform or help others to let the Spirit in and open the doors of their heart to faith transformation for the whole purpose of the transformation of the family of mankind.
So the walls will be torn down. We will not have all this tension and terrorism, we won’t have wars if we really grasp hold of Christ. Religious freedom is absolutely necessary for who we are.
WTC: But the first step is to get registered to vote. The deadline to register to vote in Texas is Tuesday, Oct. 9. If you have not registered to vote, get it done now. When you get to the ballot box, that’s when you need to let conscience and your convictions guide your vote.
Bishop Zurek: Yes. Conscience is very significant, but too often our people do not understand the complexity and the profound nature of conscience. We defined it clearly in Vatican II as that inner sanctum, that intra-space within each individual where the individual meets the Creator, meets Christ.
There is that most intimate dialog where Christ calls the individual to follow Him, to listen to the Gospel. But this is such an open, profound definition that you can take apart from Christianity.
You can just take it for a person who believes in nothing or no one, and that person still can meet God, even if he doesn’t acknowledge God or know God. Perhaps there is a nagging little voice of the Spirit in his soul or her soul saying, ‘Do good, avoid evil, do good, avoid evil. Transform yourself, transform others to reflect goodness.’
I just wanted to mention too, some people think that we are being too political when we gather publicly for these Ecumenical Prayer Services and pray for strength to maintain and continue religious freedom in this country. Pope Benedict XVI in his recent Apostolic Exhortation to the Church in the Middle East commented on a lot of things because they are so pertinent in the Middle East, but they are pertinent to us too. He said a very healthy secularity—not secularism, which they totally reject, but a healthy secularity, interaction between religion and the civic culture—frees religion from the encumbrance of politics, from politics trying to tell it what to do, As in this case, they are prevented from doing things as Communism prevented in most of the last century. Healthy secularity frees religion from the encumbrance of politics, and allows politics to be enriched by the contribution of religion. Religion always brings value into society, and that’s where man can grow.
But man cannot grow when there is no freedom, because man cannot even understand or know what truth is, necessarily, when it is being removed or relativized, or just spun so much that you can never recognize truth. In our context, Christ is Truth. Thus you constantly maintain the necessary distance between religion and the civic society, a clear distinction, but an absolutely indispensable collaboration between the two. That’s a healthy society.
WTC: Let’s talk more about the development of conscience.
Bishop Zurek: It’s so easy for us to say, ‘well my conscience tells me to do this, my conscience tells me to do that.’ It’s almost like I put a shirt on and take it off without understanding—again going back to the definition in our Christian context—it is where each individual meets God in the inner sanctum of his own being, and there God dialogs; there the fullness of truth is in a sense being delivered to an individual. To form a good conscience, a conscience that is receptive to the Spirit of God, one must be a person of prayer.
It’s almost non-sequitur to think that you can have a well-built conscience without dialoguing with Christ, and dialoguing in two ways: personal prayer is indispensable and so is the communal prayer, gathering the Church together. Let’s say in our context of Mass for the celebration of the Eucharist, because every time we go listen to the word, we receive Communion, we sort-of…‘grow into full stature,’ is the term Paul used…of who Christ is. That should open up our sense of curiosity—I want to know more about Christ, I want to know more about our faith, all the doctrines—and then when we really look at the doctrines again, I’m going to go back to the essence of love.
Every doctrine says something about love. At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, what we’re celebrating is the gift of God, that He would allow His Son, actually send His Son in human flesh to be born as a weak human child to get across the love. Let’s take Easter, it’s preceded by suffering, passion. The Resurrection—that’s another sign of love for us; He loves so much, He can’t just have us like a pet, so to speak, for so many years, but he wants to transform us through death into eternal life, giving us a new body, a spiritual body; but our personhood, our spirit, our soul remain all love.
When we study the doctrine, that’s what we’re aiming at, and we somehow, slowly through the power of the Spirit, grow in our desire for truth. The truth that comes from the teachings of Christ and that the Church puts forth. We have to know that, we have to know the teachings of the Church, we have to be prayerful, we need to know the needs of civic society. What is it we need in our society to reflect Christ better? What do people who are, let’s say Jewish, need in society to reflect God’s presence? Or the Islamic peoples, the Muslims?
WTC: You can’t have one without the other.
Bishop Zurek: Kind of the yin and the yang—they go together but they must keep in mind the distance, the distinction, and the collaboration that are necessary.