March 7, 2011
WTC: First, off Bishop Zurek, congratulations on your third anniversary as Bishop of Amarillo…
Bishop Zurek: Thank you very much. In many ways I cannot believe that three years have gone by in such a seemingly short span at times. Much has happened. I think we are in a very good spot right now for growth in the Faith and perhaps for reflecting upon the necessity of being missionaries and evangelizing more.
WTC: Right around the corner is the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, on March 9. What should be our focus this Lenten Season?
Bishop Zurek: As every Lenten Season the focus is Baptism. We look forward to the Easter Vigil. This is the time of preparation for all those who will come into the Church through the RCIA Program—those who have never been baptized will be baptized and those Christians who have already been baptized in another denomination will make their Profession of Faith in the Catholic Church and renew their baptismal commitment that evening. All the faithful who attend the Easter Masses will also renew their baptismal commitment.
The focus really is Baptism. Baptism gives us the Grace which incorporates us into the Body of Christ, the Church, and the cleansing from Original Sin. Lent is the final period of preparation for those to be baptized; it is also a time for the whole church to reflect upon how faithful we have been to Jesus Christ and how we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, in the words of Paul “to truly put on the mind and the heart of Jesus Christ”.
I find it very interesting that Mark’s Gospel, which we believe to be the oldest of the four Gospels, records the first words out of Jesus’ mouth in his public ministry are: “This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand. (This is the key part.) Reform your lives and believe in the Gospel”. The Greek word metanoia, reform, is basically a turning around, a 180 degree turn about. It is a time to look at our faith life and determine if we are just walking haphazardly through the machinations of faith and practice, or are really committed to Jesus. It is a time to look at our moral life to determine if we are faithful to all that Christ demands of us. “Love one another as I have loved you!”
These last few weeks at Mass we have been reflecting on Matthew’s Gospel and the fuller meaning of the Ten Commandments, not just the ten words or demands. We reflect on the greater implication of “Don’t kill”, for example of destroying someone’s reputation without ever harming them physically. Sometimes we can harm someone dramatically without touching them. Lent is that wonderful time when we focus on Baptism and ask ourselves how faithful we are to the Person of Jesus Christ and to His Gospel. Or, have we fallen into the life of what Benedict talks about as “relativizing” the demands that Jesus places on us if we want to be perfect and to follow Him. We might even be “domesticating” the Church.
There is one other thing that comes to mind. I am referring to many events that are taking place in our country in regard to the loss of a moral direction, a moral compass; there is a loss amongst believers, the federal government is making it more and more difficult for us to live the moral law publically. The government is content if we practice our faith in our own homes and Churches, but not beyond…not in the market place! There is much taking place in the Middle East that relates to this concern. In the Middle East the people are concerned with the lack of freedoms and of human rights. They are trying to attain the freedoms and rights. They want to be able to gather and to worship freely. Many would like the freedom to allow other religions to come in, and the freedom that would allow them to direct their own lives. They want to rid themselves of the tyranny of leaders who have made themselves dictators and despots with seemingly unlimited power.
It seems to me that we are experiencing a tyranny of a different sort. It is a tyranny against the Natural Law that the Lord has written in the hearts of all whom He has created. It seems as our government is slowly voiding our culture and society of any reference to a moral order. It seems that there is no longer an accepted objective evil or an objective good. As a focus for Lent, I would ask all people of Faith to pray for God’s blessings upon our country and its leadership. Our society needs a re-direction of our efforts to focus more on the Natural Law that God has written in our hearts. A law that until recently has been quite acceptable to all and that provides a moral compass for actions.
This Lent is an incredible opportunity to give more powerful public witness of our Christian Faith and values. It is an opportunity to help our fellow citizens to recognize the need for such basic values as our Faith can provide.
WTC: Very well put, Bishop Zurek. About a year ago, we were in this room talking about the Hyde and the Hyde-Weldon Amendments and were getting ready to witness the signing of the health care law by President Obama. What is the latest on these two amendments as we speak in regard to Obamacare?
Bishop Zurek: In a very real way these amendments are still on the books but have been eviscerated of all their content and meaning. The Hyde Amendment in several places within the new health care bill has been prevented by the way in which it was written from having any effect whatsoever.
WTC: That is sad to hear. A year later we are still fighting the fight to get a lot of verbiage of the Hyde and the Hyde-Weldon Amendments back on board. Much has been made about the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. Where are we now in trying to get back the language that has been eviscerated, to put it back into the health care reforms we need in this country?
Bishop Zurek: The only provision in the present health care bill that does offer some help to the right of conscience applies solely to health care plans. It is not really a conscience bill or law because it only affects “a plan document” and does not give the people any freedom to act according to their conscience. The ironic difficulty is that plans cannot be enacted and effected without people! What is in the bill as it stands right now is that the federal or state government can trump all conscience protections by calling an abortion an “emergency”. There is no way around it for anyone. That is a direct attack on the conscience, not just on Catholics, but on all believers and all “people of good will” who hold that life is very sacred and one cannot take it.
There is an incredible loophole built into the law; there are many landmines in that huge bill that offer no protection for the conscience or for saving lives, to prevent abortion, or the use of tax dollars to provide abortion even though we hold that it is wrong. In one Section, 1303, nothing in this act can be construed to: “keep any health care provider from providing emergency services as required by state or federal law.” That includes “women’s reproductive services” which always include abortion and contraception. Whenever anything is dictated as an essential health benefit which has to be given, it includes all clinics, which usually affect the poor and disenfranchised.
We want to further the support of reinstating the Hyde-Weldon Amendment under a different title; the Stupak-Pitts Amendment would go beyond what Hyde-Weldon did in the past. It now has to concretely attack and change all the little stipulations throughout this huge bill that prevent any other bill from protecting the unborn or protecting a Catholic institution and its employees for not providing attacks on the unborn through abortion.
WTC: All of us in the Diocese of Amarillo need to be contacting our senators and congressmen to tell them that there are amendments missing in the legislation that are affecting the Pro-Life Movement: the Hyde, Hyde-Weldon and Stupak-Pitts Amendments...
Bishop Zurek: We need prayers first of all. In the era of communism, the Church set aside the prayers at the foot of the altar at the end of Mass specifically for the fall of communism. We know the power of that prayer: the wall has come down. We need prayer for our country, for our leadership, that they get a moral compass back into their consciousness. We also need to be involved at two levels, not just the federal, but also the state level.
If you go to the Texas Catholic Conference website (www.txcatholic.org),you will find the bills with which we are concerned on the state level and the people with whom you need to communicate.
Send telegrams, write letters, call, visit, so that the laws we need to can be changed on the federal level and we can protect the unborn and all the good people who in good conscience do not want anything to do with providing abortion, contraception or sterilization.