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An Excerpt from “The Afternoon of Christianity” by Tomáš Halík

In a world transformed by secularization and globalization, torn by stark political and social distrust, and ravaged by war and pandemic, Christians are facing a crisis of faith. In The Afternoon of Christianity, Tomáš Halík reflects on past and present challenges confronting Christian faith, drawing together strands from the Bible, historic Christian theology, philosophy, psychology, and classic literature.

In the Bible, the first words the Lord says to those he addresses are: Be not afraid! Fear distorts our vision of the world. Many “religious professionals” have been, and often are, fear merchants; they think that if they properly scare people first, they can better sell them their religious wares. On the threshold of a new chapter in Christian history, let us put aside the religion of fear. Let us no longer buy from the peddlers of cheap certitudes. On the threshold of the future, let us not even be afraid to say “we don’t know” with honesty and humility – something that not even faith can deliver us from; faith is the courage to venture with confidence and hope into the cloud of mystery.

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In my reflections in this book, I have been thinking about a new reformation that is being increasingly seen as a necessary response to the current state of the church – and the extent to which the family of believers is woven into the entire fabric of human society is related to the transformation of the human family as a whole. I ask myself how we can prevent a new reformation from becoming a painful schism and, above all, from failing to go far enough and disappointing the hopes it raises. The Catholic reformation of the 16th century, which was brought about by mystics such as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Ignatius of Loyola, as well as by reforming bishops such as Charles Borromeo, may provide some inspiration.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius indicated four stages of metanoia. First, deformata reformare, to reform what is deformed. Second, reformata conformare, one must embark on the path of following Christ, being inspired by the example of Jesus’ activity. Third, conformata confirmare, to draw strength from the cross of Jesus, to walk through the dark night of suffering. And fourth, confirmata transformare: to allow what is consolidated to be transformed, to be illuminated by the light of Jesus’ resurrection, by the presence of the Risen One – to find God in all things. Let us not allow our efforts to reform the Church and society to get bogged down in the first stage, just changing deformed and distorting structures. Real reform must take the form of following Christ: this implies seeking the Risen One afresh over and over again.

This task will not be fulfilled by the traditional forms of pastoral mission to believers, nor by the traditional forms of mission aimed at “converting non-believers.” A truly new evangelization, worthy of the name, has a difficult task today: to seek the universal Christ, whose greatness is often hidden by the limitations of our vision, our too narrow perspectives and intellectual categories.

Seeking the universal Christ is both the task and the sign of our times. Teilhard’s vision of the universal Christ, present in cosmic evolution, must be complemented by finding the Risen One, present (often anonymously) in the evolution of society. Let us search for him “by his voice” like Mary Magdalene; let us search for him in strangers on the road like the disciples on the road to Emmaus; let us search for him in the wounds of the world like the Apostle Thomas; let us search for him wherever he passes through the closed doors of fear; let us search for him where he brings the gift of forgiveness and new beginnings.

We must complete the reformation of the deformed by transforming everything that is consolidated; much in which we have consolidated and fortified ourselves is being shaken. This opens up space for finding the “greater Christ”. The ever greater Christ (semper maior) is God, present in all things – in all the events of our lives and our world.

I called this book The Afternoon of Christianity. Doesn’t the concept of afternoon suggest the proximity of evening, of extinction and death? My answer is: In the biblical concept of time, a new day begins at evening. Let’s not miss the moment when the first star appears in the evening sky.

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