Q&A: Where faith and politics intersect, Kimberly Hahn

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Faith and politics often lead the list of topics people would rather avoid at social or family gatherings. And yet, it is precisely in the crossroads of these two realities that the Church asks Catholics to give active and faithful witness to Christ. For citizens, one of the opportunities to do so presents itself in the electoral process. But, what does this look like for a Catholic running for office?

Kimberly Hahn, renowned Catholic convert, author, wife, mother and now politician, shared with the Denver Catholic her approach and experience of meddling in politics as a Catholic — ahead of her presentation at the John Paul II Lecture Series in Denver on the intersection between faith and politics Feb. 13.

After retiring from 26 years of homeschooling her children, she was wondering what she would do next. Her husband, Scott, suggested, “Maybe it’s time for politics?” She launched her campaign and has served as Councilwoman-at-Large of Steubenville, Ohio, for nearly four years.

The interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

Denver Catholic: How do you approach politics as a Catholic in the political world? 

Kimberly Hahn:  Some people approach politics as saying, “Everything is political.” I would approach politics saying, “Everything is spiritual.” That because I belong to Christ, every element of my life needs to be brought into relationship with him, and because I love him and I want to serve him, I was open to serving the public, as a public servant in politics.

I don’t believe that politicians are saviors, and that’s a problem, when either people who are in politics or the public, believe that. Lots of fair criticism comes at politicians, but one unfair criticism is, “You haven’t solved all the problems.”

DC: What principles guide your approach to political solutions?

KH: First and foremost is the dignity of the human person. I brought this into campaigning by knocking on almost 8,000 doors and we only have about 8,500 in Steubenville. People said, “Don’t waste your time, most of them aren’t registered; and the ones that are would never vote for you.” And I said, “Whether or not they vote for me, I would still represent them, so of course I still care about their circumstances and their concerns.” Bringing the question of whether this is going to further how I communicate the dignity of each person as I approach legislation is important.

The second of the principles is subsidiarity. What families can and should do, they ought to do. The city should only do those things that the family cannot do; the state should only do those things that the city is incapable of doing; and the federal government should only do those things that the state, local government and family are incapable of doing. I think that if we really understood that principle of subsidiarity, we would strengthen families, municipalities, counties, the state and the federal government.

Then, the principle of solidarity — that we’re in this together. It’s not enough for me to simply focus on my marriage and my family. Maybe as a young mother the only thing that I could do politically was to pray, and that is very important. That may be all some people can do in their state of life. But as that state of life changes, there can be new ways in which you are involved in bringing the Lordship of Jesus Christ to bear in your society.

The fourth principle is the common good: What is good for the whole should be good for the parts. So, am I going to be a good steward of the people’s money? Do I take clearly the accountability that I need to give to the people of this city that when I take your money through the legal means of taxation, I’m accountable to you for how we are using that to solve the problems we can solve, that individual families cannot solve?

DC: What difference does faith make when you are involved in politics?

KH: I believe that God wants to give us assistance in solving very practical problems. So, if the gifts of the Holy Spirit include things like wisdom and understanding, counsel and fortitude, I can ask the Holy Spirit to give me those gifts applied to water and sewer. I think that politics is one of those intersections between faith and life, and we want to understand that God is concerned about all the details. We can honor him in the smallest ways.

DC: Some Catholics prefer to treat religion and politics as separate spheres that should never intersect. What would you say in that regard? 

KH: I would challenge whether they take the Lordship of Jesus Christ very seriously, because to be a Catholic is not simply to be baptized, it is to develop as a disciple, and that means that we bring everything under the Lordship of Jesus Christ: our heart, our mind, our soul, our strength, our resources… So, how I vote, how I’m involved in politics, what my views on issues are, needs to reflect the Lordship of Christ.

There are issues on which there is still a lot of conversation and there isn’t “the Catholic way” of approaching them, but the Church has been clear that life is to be protected from conception to natural death, and to support politicians who fundamentally reject life in the womb is not a tenable position for a Catholic.

DC: We have seen Catholics in office be pressured to leave their religious beliefs behind. What room is there for religion in U.S. politics?

KH: I think there is a lack of understanding historically of why we have the Bill of Rights. It was not to say religion has no place in the marketplace of ideas, it was to say that the U.S. government was not going to sanction one religion and force it on the people. The phrase “Separation of Church and State” is not even found in the Constitution. So, I think it’s a complete misapplication and a twisting of religious freedom.

I think we’ve misunderstood what the founders intended, and we need to really rethink this, especially in recognition that atheism itself is its own religion; and so really, aren’t they actually imposing their religion on us? But regardless of whether or not we pursue this legally, individually, we will stand before our Lord and account for how we voted, who we supported, how we spent our funds.

DC: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

KH: I would put it out there and say, “Is God putting it in your heart to run for office, to serve God and to serve the public?” Because I think it is public service, and it is sacrificial. People will not always understand you and will criticize freely, so you have to know clearly who you are and why you think the way you do, what are the principles guarding you; and you need to pray for the grace to not be prideful, so that if you make wrong decisions, you humble yourself and ask for forgiveness. If you bring all of that to bear, it’s a great witness, it really is.

We need more good people to step forward, people with a compass, people understanding the principles of leadership and service. If that’s what’s on their heart, I would say, “Throw your hat in the ring.”

The intersection between faith and politics

Refectory at St. John Vianney Seminary

February 13, 7 p.m.

RSVP: archden.org/lecture

COMING UP: A holy Church begins with you

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A holy Church begins with you

Bishop Rodriguez challenges Catholics to realize their call to holiness

Roxanne King

Even as the Catholic Church deals with the disgrace and shame of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and moves forward with repentance and renewal, it is challenging as faithful not to be disheartened and discouraged.

The answer to this situation is to follow the Scriptural mandate to holiness all Catholic Christians have been given, Denver auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez told attendees of the May 17-19 Aspen Catholic conference titled, “The Encounter: New Life in Jesus Christ.”

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘be holy, because I [am] holy,’” the bishop said, quoting I Peter 1:15-16.

“Holiness,” the bishop asserted, “…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

The annual conference, an initiative of Father John Hilton, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Aspen where the event was held, drew people from the Archdiocese of Denver and from outside the state to strengthen their relationship with Jesus Christ, deepen their understanding of the Catholic faith, renew their spirit in the beauty of Colorado’s high country, and return home equipped to better share their faith.

Despite the current crisis, which is evidence the Church is comprised of sinners, every Sunday when professing the Creed, Catholics say, “I believe in the holy Catholic Church.”

“We say publicly that we believe the Catholic Church is holy. Do we mean it?” Bishop Rodriguez mused before affirming: “The Catholic Church, like it or not, will always be holy for three reasons.”

First: “Jesus Christ is the author of holiness and he is the head of the Church. … Jesus is the Church with all of us. The holiness of Jesus fills the whole Church.”

Second: “The Church is the only institution in the world that possesses all the means of sanctification left by Christ for his Church to sanctify its members and to make them holy.”

Third: “There are many, many holy people in the Church, both in heaven and here on earth.”

Holiness…is the only thing that will get our Church through this crisis. It’s a transformation that we all need.”

Slain STEM School shooting hero Kendrick Castillo is an example of a holy, young Catholic, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“He gave his life for his classmates. If this is not holiness, what is?” the bishop said about the 18-year-old who was killed May 7 when he tackled a teen shooter.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, a former slave known for her acts of charity and generosity from her own meager means to others in early Denver, and St. John Paul II, who in emphasizing the universal call to holiness of all Christians beatified and canonized more people than the combined total of his predecessors in the five centuries before him, were among others Bishop Rodriguez mentioned who comprise “the great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) of those believers who have preceded us into God’s kingdom. Additionally, there are countless “next-door saints,” he said, using a term coined by Pope Francis to describe those unknowns of heroic virtue among our family, friends and neighbors.

Rodriguez said, because the Scriptures say, Christ so loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy (Eph 5:25-26).

“‘The Church is holy because it proceeds from God, who is holy,’” the bishop said, quoting Pope Francis’ Oct. 2, 2013, general audience address. “’It is not holy by our merits; we are not able to make her holy. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who in his love makes the Church holy.’

“The Catholic Church is and will be holy, even though some of her members still need repentance and conversion,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

Holiness is our deepest longing because we were created to be holy, the bishop said. But the only way to realize that call is to submit to God and allow him to transform us, he said, using the scriptural analogy of clay taking shape in a potter’s hands.

“We cannot deserve, produce, gain, create, or make holiness,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Only God in his gratuitousness and infinite love can make a saint of you. … Holiness is pure gift, is grace.”

Catholics believe holiness is real — that grace received through the sacraments, prayer and reading Scripture, infuses and transforms the believer into a new creation, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“Salvation is real,” the bishop said. “Pope Francis [warns] about a heresy that has been in the Church since apostolic times under different appearances — Gnosticism. It is a doctrine of salvation by knowledge, reducing Christianity to doctrine [or] text, to something intellectual.”

In doing so, Gnosticism loses the flesh of the incarnation and reduces Jesus to his message, Bishop Rodriguez said. Likewise, Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann, a major figure of 20th-century biblical studies and liberal Christianity, promoted “demythologizing” the Gospel to attract modern adherents.

As a result, “people lost faith that these things really happened,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “[Bultmann] did tremendous damage to Christianity.”

The Apostles, however, insisted on the truth of Jesus’ incarnational reality, the bishop said, noting the First Letter of St. John proclaims: What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you.

Great sinners don’t make our Church unholy, but make the Church a factory of saints, where sinners are made holy by the power of God.”

“Our Christian faith is not a body of doctrines, not a code of conduct, not an ethical idea, not an elaborated ritual,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “It is not even a community. It is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It is an event. It is a person. It is an event that happens. In the Gospel everything begins with an encounter with Jesus. Have we encountered Jesus?”

Jesus may be encountered through prayer, Scripture and the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“These are three gifts God has given to us to open us to holiness,” he said. “These are the Catholic ways to have a personal encounter with Jesus that is real.”

Regarding prayer: “The best way to start is to become aware of Jesus presence. … prayer [then] becomes a personal encounter, otherwise it’s an intellectual exercise.”

Regarding Scripture: “It’s not about information … it’s about God telling his love for me.”

Regarding sacraments: “The sacramental life is God touching me with his holiness.

“In the Catholic Church we believe that Jesus Christ didn’t want us to only have a recorded memory of him as in the Scriptures, but a living presence among us. He said: ‘I will be with you until the end of time.’”

I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you.”

Just as Jesus was present with the people of Galilee healing and forgiving them, so he is present with us today through the sacraments, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“That’s why he instituted the sacraments. Each sacrament is a merciful and sweet touch of Jesus in our lives,” the bishop said. “This is what we mean when we say he makes us holy through the sacraments.”

So why isn’t there more holiness in our lives and more saints in the Church?

“God wants to work with our clay … but to make a saint is a question of love,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “Love cannot be imposed, it cannot be mandated.”

Rather, one must cooperate with God’s grace to become the saint God desires.

“Last March, Pope Francis wrote an apostolic exhortation on our call to be holy, Rejoice and Be Glad,” Bishop Rodriguez said. “His thesis is that we have been made for happiness, and true happiness and joy only comes from a holy life.”

Holiness doesn’t mean perfection, performing miracles or that we are not tempted, Bishop Rodriguez said. Rather, it means loving God and one’s neighbor by doing the everyday tasks of life with love.

The answer for times of persecution and crisis in the Church has always been the holiness of the people of God, Bishop Rodriguez said.

“I dare you to allow God to make a great saint of you,” he challenged.

“This is our response to the Church crisis today: holy Catholic men and women,” he asserted. “We will never give up and we will fight against discouragement and loss of hope. Jesus is with us as he promised.”

Featured image by Roxanne King