The Czech priest and former Soviet dissident speaks to Vatican News about the need for reform in the Church, the role that synodality might play in it, and the dangers of the abuse of religion in politics.
Monsignor Tomáš Halík paid a visit to Rome recently to promote the Italian translation of his new book “Afternoon of Christianity: The Courage to Change.”
The Czech intellectual, who was clandestinely ordained a priest in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, and now ranks as one of Europe’s most well-known theologians, spoke to Vatican News after a panel discussion at the John Paul II Institute.
Afternoon of Christianity
Msgr. Halík began by discussing some of the themes of his new book.
“I use the metaphor which Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology, chose as a metaphor for an individual life, and I use this metaphor for the history of the church,” he said.
“The morning is the pre-modern time,” he explained, “time to build up the institutional and doctrinal structures of the church. Then came the noonday crisis, the time of modernity and secularisation. And now I think we are on the threshold of postmodernity, the post-secular age. This is the afternoon of Christianity, a time for maturity, to go deeper.”
The Monsignor drew a connection with the Gospel passage when the disciples are struggling to catch fish:
“The fishermen are very tired and told Jesus ‘We have worked all night and we caught nothing. We have empty hands.’ I think many Christians have a similar feeling today, that the churches are half empty, and the seminaries and monasteries too.”
“But,” he pointed out, “Jesus said to the fishermen: ‘Try again. Go to the depths.’ I think that is a challenge for us too, to try again, to not repeat our old mistakes, but go to the depths.”
The misuse of religion
An important aspect of this process of reform, Msgr. Halík stressed, is an awareness of the ways in which religion can be abused.
Some populist politicians, he said, “are close-minded, and use Christianity as a weapon, as a sign of collective identity.” Others, not only politicians, see Catholicism “as a contra-culture against modernity, Protestantism and so on.”
“But,” he stressed, “this is the wrong way … This closed system of Catholicism is now dying because it’s not able to communicate with the other systems of the society.”
We should, rather, he said, let ourselves be inspired by St Paul, who “had the courage” to transform Christianity from “one of many Jewish sects” to “a universal offering for the whole culture at that time.”
“I think this universalism of Christianity is the challenge even for today.”.
The role of synodality
Msgr. Halík also suggested that the synod could help with the process of reform.
“I think the way of synodality is very important, because this abuse crisis was not just a failure of many individuals. It was – and I think Pope Francis recognises this very well – a crisis of the whole system of the church.”
Thus, “we need a deep reform. I hope that synodality, the ‘common way’, might be such a reform.”
With thanks to Vatican News and Joseph Tulloch, where this article originally appeared.