A Church always in reform but at different speeds

“One of the great sayings of the Risen Jesus was ‘Be not afraid’. And that probably
should be the motto of the Synod rather than Isaiah’s ‘Enlarge your tent’ as poetic as it is to western ears,” writes Garry O’Sullivan.

Speaking in Prague at the European Continental Assembly, Czech philosopher and theologian Thomas Halík recalled the Easter experience of the nascent Church. He said there is the “surprise that the Resurrection is not a resuscitation of the past but a radical transformation”.

Jesus is not just raised from the dead, he is a transformed being and even those closest to him in life continually fail to recognise him after the Resurrection. “Mary Magdalene knew him by his voice, Thomas by his wounds, the pilgrims to Emmaus at the breaking of the bread. Even today, an important part of Christian existence is the adventure of seeking the Living Christ, who comes to us in many surprising – sometimes anonymous – forms.”


One of the great sayings of the Risen Jesus was ‘Be not afraid’. And that probably should be the motto of the Synod rather than Isaiah’s ‘Enlarge your tent’ as poetic as it is to western ears. Fear is paralysing and it is as evident today as it was in the early Church. But each of us sees different aspects of the Risen Jesus and we should respect that in each other and listen, because no one has the full picture.

The Continental Assemblies will show different emphasises from the different parts of the world. As a world Church, each Continent will have to find its own way and South America has very much taken the lead on synodality.

Asia is moving also. Europe is struggling with wanting to move forward but being constantly dragged back with ongoing revelations about abuse, Portugal being the most recent (at time of going to press!).

We need to understand our Catholic diversity and the richness of complimentarity. We need to learn to live with the diversity of opinion within the Church; if we can live with a diversity of opinion on the death penalty (American Catholics can vote for politicians who promote the death penalty and still consider themselves good Catholics) then why can’t we live with a diversity of opinion on homosexuality?

Local Churches are moving at different speeds, that can mean different approaches and solutions In his spiritual introduction to the assembly in Prague, Tomas Halík told the assembly that the Catholic Church has no right to judge others.

He said: “Jesus declared ‘He who is not against us is with us’ (Mk 9, 40); he warned his disciples against the zealousness of revolutionaries and inquisitors, against their attempts to play the angels of the Last Judgment and to separate the wheat from the chaff too early. Even St. Augustine argued that many of those who think they are outside are in fact inside, and many who think they are inside are in fact outside”.

Halík recalled Pope Benedict’s call to “open the ‘courtyard of the Gentiles’ within the temple of the Church, [and that] to integrate the seekers, was a positive step on the path of synodality in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.”

He added: “Today, however, we need to go further. Something has happened to the whole temple form of the Church and we must not ignore it. Before his election to the See of Peter, Cardinal Bergoglio recalled the words of Scripture: Jesus stands at the door and knocks. But today, he added, Jesus knocks from within. He wants to go out and we must follow him. We need to go beyond our current mental and institutional boundaries, to go especially to the poor, the marginalized, the suffering. The Church is to be a field hospital -this idea of Pope Francis needs to be developed further. A field hospital must have the backing of a Church that is able to offer competent diagnosis (reading the signs of the times); prevention (strengthening the system of immunity against infectious ideologies such as populism, nationalism and fundamentalism); and therapy and long-term recovery (including the process of reconciliation and healing of wounds after times of violence and injustice).


 “For this very serious task, the Church urgently needs allies – its journey must be shared, a common journey (sydhodos). We must not approach others with the pride and arrogance of the owners of truth. Truth is a book that none of us has yet read to the end. We are not owners of truth, but lovers of truth and lovers of the only one who is allowed to say: I am the Truth”. And the truth shall set us free.

Halík asks: “Does European Christianity today have the courage and spiritual energy to avert the threat of a ‘clash of civilisations’ by converting the process of globalisation into a process of communication, sharing and mutual enrichment, into a “civitas ecumenica”, a school of love and “universal brotherhood?” When the coronavirus pandemic emptied and closed churches, I wondered whether this “lock-down” was not a prophetic warning.

This is what Europe may soon look like if our Christianity is not revitalised, if we do not understand what “the Spirit is saying to the churches” today. If the Church is to contribute to the transformation of the world, it must itself be permanently transformed: it must be “ecclesia semper reformanda”.

If reform, a change of form, for example of certain institutional structures, is to bear good fruit, it must be preceded and accompanied by a revitalisation of the “circulatory system” of the body of the Church – and that is spirituality. It is not possible to focus only on the individual organs and neglect to take care of what unites them and what infuses them with the Spirit and life.


Many “fishers of men” today have similar feelings to the Galilean fishermen on the shores of Lake Gennesaret when they first encountered Jesus: “We have empty hands and empty nets, we have worked all night and caught nothing”.

In many countries of Europe, churches, monasteries and seminaries are empty or half-empty. Jesus tells us the same thing he told the exhausted fishermen: Try again, go to the deep. To try again is not to repeat old mistakes.

It takes perseverance and courage to leave the shallows and go to the deep. “Why are you afraid – don’t you have faith?”, Jesus says in all storms and crises. Be not afraid.

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