April 15, 2014
The West Texas Catholic: Some thoughts and observations as we begin the 50 day celebration of Easter leading up to Pentecost Sunday.
Bishop Zurek: I want to begin with a reflection on Palm (Passion) Sunday and Good Friday before discussing Easter Sunday. On Palm Sunday we heard the refrain: “Hosanna to the King of David, Hosanna!” As I was reading again Pope Benedict XVI’s book on Jesus of Nazareth, I found it interesting that there was such a stir of people.
The title hosanna had gone through many changes in meaning. It is very significant that it used to be a plea for “Lord, help us; Lord, give us what we need”; then it changed to praise. Finally as Jesus entered the Holy City, it was a recognition that He is the Messiah. Hosanna was reserved for the kings of Israel and it also meant, at the time of Jesus, that the Messiah entered the city in a very humble fashion. This was reminiscent of all the kings of Israel when the people put their cloaks on the ground in front of Him.
The people acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah. But maybe more importantly, in Mark’s Gospel, the earth quaked because there was such excitement—the same word we use on Holy Saturday in Matthew’s account of the Resurrection. There was a tremor, a vibration in the earth that was so strong that the people could feel it. In the Passion account of Good Friday, we see that there is darkness from twelve to three, the period of Jesus hanging on the cross; when He died there was an earthquake. In Matthew’s account for Easter Sunday, there was an earthquake. Matthew implies that the earth trembled so much that rocks fell and Jesus appeared as lightning, as strong energy.
Basically I believe that all of the Readings of Holy Week indicate that these are cosmic events. The happenings do not pertain just to humanity, but to the entire world—the physical world, the visible and the invisible. The bottom line is that there is a gigantic change in the world, new life, very different from the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Lazarus got life back when he was resuscitated but he had to die again; he did not have new life. But when Jesus rose from the dead, He had new life; it was a new world, a new cosmos. There everything was oriented toward Jesus, the Son of Man, who entered into the Godhead with his resurrected, spiritual body without taking any substance away from the Godhead. He entered into a new relationship with the Father in His God-Man status so that He brought humanity with Him into the very Breath of God (not breathing breath) —the giantness, the grandness.
What Matthew and Mark are trying to emphasize is that there is something dramatically new with resurrection. It changes the entire reality of existence. That is what we celebrate—not just Jesus rising from the dead, but humanity figuratively and spiritually rising with Him. Ultimately when we die we will rise with Him to what He has and is right now.
It is dramatic when Paul says, “Are you not aware that when you were baptized, you died with Christ in baptism so that you will also rise with Him.” We died to the old; that is Pauline theology. We will rise up to the new. Easter Sunday is an incredible celebration of new life, of the whole newness of the universe, the cosmos if you will, that newness that we already participate in through our Baptism. We do not always act like it, but it is there from our Baptism.
It is strengthened through our Confirmation, it is strengthened every time we celebrate Eucharist, every time we perform the corporal works of mercy—clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc. What Christ is in His resurrected existence is our future. We become like God. John writes that we do not know what it will be like, but we know we will see God face to face. We will be like Him. Easter is an incredibly joyous event that is hinted to us all through Sacred Scripture, all the way from Genesis—that we will have eternal life in His presence forever.
To all of you, I wish a very Wonderful and Blessed Easter as you reflect on the Easter mysteries! As you hear and read the stories, reflect upon that incredible gift that every human person deep in their soul, in their being, longs for, the newness of life, everlasting life, the very fulfillment of the deepest desires of the human heart. That is Resurrection; that is Easter!
WTC: This week, you will go to Rome for the Canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. How many canonizations have you attended in your life as a priest? What makes this one even more special than all the others?
Bishop Zurek: I can’t tell you how many I have attended, not a great number. I was there for an ad limina visit during the canonization of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, unofficially the patron saint of the Respect Life Movement. This one is special for me because of John XXIII, who in his time, conceived the idea through the inspiration of the Spirit to call the Second Vatican Council. He said, when he opened the council that he was not going to go through the Doctrine because we have the Doctrine. We have to learn how to live it, learn how to share it and more importantly, teach people so that we can understand doctrine in the modern era. The Council was very different from prior councils, but equally as valid as they were. We were to look at how to present Jesus to the modern world.
We still struggle with that 50 years later. John XXIII had the genius to listen to the Spirit and the courage to follow the guide of that Spirit to call the council. He spoke, at the opening address, and said there are so many nay-sayers in the world today. “My brother bishops, the Church has always had challenges and difficulties throughout all ages. The one constant is the brilliant, shining light that is Jesus Christ, constantly giving newness to the world and to people’s lives.” That was a boost given to the entire world, especially to the Christian world and the religious world.
I was with John Paul II many times. A few of them were just hello and good-bye. Most of them were at least a conversation of three to four minutes; some of them lasted 30 minutes. I met him as a priest only one time; I met him several times as a bishop. I had lunch with him. But he always impressed me. We had a wonderful tit-for-tat, spiritual, whimsical, service-oriented bantering back and forth as brother bishops. He spoke Polish; I spoke Czech. We got along just fine. The other Texas bishops asked what we were talking about. The Pope would say, “It is all pontifical secret.” So they never got to know. He would just smile and look at them and say “Da” – So be it, as Francis would say.
John Paul II is very special to me; he is the one who appointed me bishop. The first time he bantered with me regarding culture was during my first ad limina visit two months after being named bishop. There is a whimsical banter between Czechs and Poles. He played on that and I played on it. He would hug me and say have good priesthood, be good priest, have effective episcopate. That bantering, his kindnesses to me, his support of me are all very memorable. He actually wrote a letter to me. I attended my first three years of basic theology at St. Thomas in Rome, known typically as The Angelicum. Karol Wojtyla also studied there. One day I got an envelope with the gold embossed Papal Keys. It just said Vatican City State and nothing else. On the letterhead were the Papal Keys from the Desk of His Holiness John Paul II. It was addressed by name: My dear fellow alumnus, Most Reverent Patrick Zurek. That was John Paul.
I will go to Rome taking the needs of the diocese and pray to the Lord, through the intercession of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II, for all the needs we have for all the people of the diocese: first for the greatest need we have for rain, copious amounts without flooding, to heal the sick of the diocese and those who are down trodden and destitute in one form or another, and to continue to bless and invigorate the church in the Diocese of Amarillo.