The coronavirus crisis “calls for a new theology of contemporary history and a new understanding of the Church”, a Czech priest academic has said.

– “What kind of challenge does this situation represent for Christianity?”

Tomáš Halík, professor of sociology at Charles University in Prague, the president of the Czech Christian Academy and a university chaplain, warned on Jesuit website America April 3 that after the COVID-19 pandemic “the world will not be the same as it was before, and it probably should not be”.

“The unavoidable process of globalisation would seem to have peaked. The global vulnerability of a global world is now plain to see”, wrote Halík, a hero of the underground Church in Czechoslovakia under the Communists in the 1980s.

“What kind of challenge does this situation represent for Christianity and the Church—one of the first ‘global players’—and for theology?”, the priest asked.

– Three roles for the Church to play

Answering his own question on how the Church should respond to the virus crisis, Halík said the Church must be first and foremost be a “field hospital” that privileges the physically, mentally, socially and spiritually afflicted, as Pope Francis has emphasised time and time again.

“This is how the church can do penance for the wounds inflicted by its representatives quite recently on the most defenseless”, stressed Halík, a Templeton Prize laureate and a recepient of an honorary doctorate from Oxford University.

But thinking deeper about the “field hospital” metaphor and seeking to put it into practice, the Czech priest said that the Church, after the coronavirus, has three roles to play:

“A diagnostic role (identifying the ‘signs of the times’)”, a preventive role (creating an ‘immune system’ in a society in which the malignant viruses of fear, hatred, populism and nationalism are rife) and a convalescent role (overcoming the traumas of the past through forgiveness)”.

– “A cautionary vision of what might happen in the fairly near future”

Emphasising that, in this pandemic, he doesn’t see God “as an ill-tempered director, sitting comfortably backstage as the events of our world play out” but instead “as a source of strength… operating in those who show solidarity and self-sacrificing love”, Halík wondered nonetheless whether “the time of empty and closed churches is not some kind of cautionary vision of what might happen in the fairly near future”.

Closed churches “is what it could look like in a few years in a large part of our world”, the Czech priest and academic warned.

“We have had plenty of warning from developments in many countries, where more and more churches, monasteries and priestly seminaries have been emptying and closing.

“Why have we been ascribing this development for so long to outside influences (the ‘secularist tsunami’), instead of realising that another chapter in the history of Christianity is coming to a close, and it is time to prepare for a new one?”

– Empty churches and the Churches’ emptiness

“Maybe this time of empty church buildings symbolically exposes the Churches’ hidden emptiness and their possible future unless they make a serious attempt to show the world a completely different face of Christianity”, Halík continued reflecting.

“We have thought too much about converting the world and less about converting ourselves: not simply improvement but a radical change from a static ‘being Christians’ to a dynamic ‘becoming Christians'”.

“Did we really think that we could solve the lack of priests in much of Europe and elsewhere by importing others from Poland, Asia and Africa?”, the Czech priest wrote.

“Of course we must take seriously the proposals of the Synod on the Amazon, but we need at the same time to provide greater scope for the ministry of laypeople in the church”.

– “We must abandon our former notions about Christ… We must abandon our proselytising aims”

Halík concluded his powerful reflection by wondering whether the coronavirus “state of emergency” could be an “indicator of the new face of the Church, for which there is a historical precedent”.

“It looks as if many of our churches will be empty at Easter this year. We will read the Gospel passages about the empty tomb somewhere else.

“If the emptiness of the churches is reminiscent of the empty tomb, let us not ignore the voice from above: ‘He is not here. He has risen. He has gone ahead of you to Galilee'”.

“We must abandon many of our former notions about Christ… We must abandon our proselytising aims”, Halík wrote.

“We are not entering the world of the seekers to convert them as quickly as possible and squeeze them into the existing institutional and mental confines of our churches.

“Jesus also did not try to squeeze those “lost sheep of the house of Israel” back into the structures of the Judaism of his day. He knew that new wine must be poured into new wineskins”.

To read the full text of Halík’s compelling meditation, visit America‘s website at this link

On Novena, more theology in the time of the coronavirus:

Theologians propose ‘do-it-yourself’ sacraments to beat coronavirus, clericalism

German, Austrian bishops insist coronavirus “not God’s punishment” but “invitation to think”

Italian archdiocese warns people locked down over coronavirus against dangers of digital “drugging”

Theologian warns on coronavirus: “This pandemic demands a different relationship with nature and the Earth”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.