Today some thoughts inspired by words from Tomas Halik professor of sociology at Charles University, Prague and university chaplain. During the Communist regime Tomas Halik was active in the “underground church,” in the former Czechoslovakia.

After this global Covid-19 experience, which may last a couple years, the world won’t be the same as it was before. We will never again return to “normal life.” At best, perhaps, there will be a new normal. As an historical theologian, I ask what kind of challenge this situation presents for Christianity, for Christian believers, and for the institutional church.

Pope Francis said the church should be a “field hospital.” Tomas Halik observed: “as a good hospital, the church must also fulfill other tasks. It has a diagnostic role to play (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 by forgiveness).”

Currently there are no services in thousands of churches on several continents. Thinking about this, while listening to the bells calling from a local church, the thought struck me: those empty churches today are truly a special sign for all who call themselves Christian.

Maybe empty church buildings symbolically expose a contemporary problem that many “Christians” are rather empty themselves. They talk of Christianity but their actions hardly reflect the Spirit and message of Christ. The daily news and social media feature these people every day. Some make a lot of noise even within the White House.

I belong to a church reform organization. For decades I have been very active in “church reform” movements. But the bells have been ringing in my head — perhaps my reform efforts and those of my reform-minded colleagues have been out of focus. Structural reforms (women in ministry, moving beyond clericalism, welcoming and affirming LGBT people, etc.) are of course very important. They mean absolutely nothing, however, unless they spring from changed hearts, changed attitudes, changed behavior…..all from renewed spirits and a clear Christian vision.

Maybe the empty churches should remind us of the empty tomb we pondered this past Easter. Recall, for example in Mark 16, the women at the empty tomb: “He is not here! See the place where they laid him. Go tell the disciples he is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him….”

Now, we live in Covid-19 estrangement, fear, uncertainty, and yes, sorry to say, dangerous angry protests and demonstrations. Symbolically, but really, this is perhaps our contemporary Galilee. The message remains clear, even if people have clouded eyes and shaky nerves. We have not been abandoned by God. Jesus raised from the dead lives here and lives with us right now.

Some are already saying, as a friend said yesterday, empty and silent churches are a temporary situation, soon to be forgotten. Frankly, I don’t think so….The pandemic may indeed last into 2021; but the emptiness can last much longer.

Like my local church bells still ringing on the hour, the call now is to renew ourselves with a new Christian identity in a world which is being radically transformed before our eyes. Yes we can live with a new spirit, a new heart, a new security that is anchored in active Christian faith, hope, and care. Genuine Christianity is not about authoritarian power over people. It is not about observing, on TV or Facebook, solitary rituals carefully executed by colorfully dressed clerics. It is about people interacting (now safely) with other people. It is about human and humane behavior: compassion, empathy, forgiveness, acceptance, mutual support.

Let’s not forget Matthew 25: “I was a stranger and you did not take me in, I was naked and you did not clothe me. I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” And they too will reply,”Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then the Lord will answer, “I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

And so with faith and hope we strive to be Christian in this time of sickness…….


7 thoughts on “Christianity in a Time of Sickness

  1. Dear Jack,
    These days of confinement and separation have had a strange effect on Jonny and me. Yes, we are fearful and cautious when we engage in necessary social contacts. We also find watching news coverage of the various decisions and struggles to solve the pandemic unsettling and upsetting. Sadness describes the necessary separation with our children and dear friends. But when we celebrate “virtual” mass from the secure comfort of our livingroom couch or walk in a park (with proper social distancing, of course) with friends, or spend multiple hours together reviewing old family pictures or completing a jigsaw puzzle, we feel uber connected to Jesus. There are many acts of goodness unleashed in this terrible crisis, too. Our next door neighbor has been making facemasks and distributing them free to any who ask. Our St. Vincent De Paul has been working feverishly to help the many needy people. There are funny videos on the internet of people making humor a part of the tragedy. You have pinpointed where we are: we have a true test of our real Christianity. There are no bells and smells and hushed group rosaries now to console us. We must now lay it out there. Who are we and what do we believe and how do we show it? Jack, bless you and Joske. Stay safe!

  2. thank you for your thoughts and words. My gardner and I planted a garden last fall in the backyard along a 2 mile walking trail in a senior retirement facility. Much to our amazement there were huge fat multi layer tulips and daffodils which made everyone smile, stop and take pictures and just wonder at the beauty. It reminds me how we just plow along and present truth and beauty from our own talents to share and the world is better. But the clue is to share. So often we are surprised how helpful our efforts are for others. Yours words are like these flowers.

  3. The lack of organized liturgies made me think of the many countries & areas that also lack them for months or years at a time… This pandemic is calling us to imake ourselves one with all our brothers & sisters around the globe, not just reading about them…

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