In a recent article in our Covid-19 newsletter, [Week 8] Sr. Brighde Vallely made reference to an article she had read, Christianity in a time of sickness, which was written by a sociologist and theologian, Fr. Tomás Halík, in America, the Jesuit Weekly. While acknowledging that Covid-19 had exposed the fissures in the social, economic, ecological and spiritual foundations of our global world, Halík went on to ask that we, Christians, members of one of the earliest global organisations, should respond to the challenge of a world that has changed. It wouldn’t be sufficient to attempt to update external structures in our church, but rather, we should reflect on how to continue Pope Francis’ call to reform: “Shift towards the heart of the Gospel, ‘a journey into the depths.’”(Halík)
We carry in our minds from this state of emergency, the images of closed and empty churches. We shouldn’t miss the symbolism. We’re all outside locked church doors. Is Jesus within? Halík says that Jesus has already, “knocked from within and come out- and it is our job to seek him and follow him.” This past Easter, one couldn’t but draw a parallel between the empty churches and the empty tomb. When the disciples reached the tomb, they heard a voice from above saying, “He is not here. He has risen. He has gone ahead of you to Galilee.”
Where is the Galilee in our world today where we can find Jesus? For a number of people, Galilee is the crowded Wards and Intensive Care Units of our hospitals. God is the front-line workers who risk their lives, so that others might have the chance to continue living. These essential workers are part of what Brighde writes about: “The huge and rare outflow of love that has encircled vulnerable planet earth.”
We know that there are believers and nonbelievers among the front line workers: people whose love is selfless. Halík shares sociological research which indicates that the number of believers, those who identify with the traditional form of religion, is falling in the world while there is an increase in the number of seekers. He observes that “the main dividing line is no longer between those who consider themselves believers and those who consider themselves non-believers. There are seekers among believers (those for whom faith is not a legacy, but a way) and among nonbelievers, who reject the religious notions put forward to them by those around them but nevertheless have a yearning for something to satisfy their thirst for meaning. I am convinced that the ‘Galilee of today,’ where we must seek God who has survived death, is the world of the seekers.” (Halík)
With a warning to abandon our proselytizing aims, we are reminded that just as Jesus refrained from pushing the lost sheep of Israel back into the structures of the Judaism of his day, we should refrain from “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.”(Halik)
Is there a special challenge in this for members of the Order of Preachers? What exactly does our motto, “Contemplare et contemplate aliis tradere” mean in our Covid-19 world? Is the seeker a person who is prepared to get to a new depth of awareness, one who might ask some transformational questions as Sr. Angela Campion hopes? One who will work with others on the answers? Maybe we have some basic questions with which we should begin? What has this time been like for women? Have they found meaning in a home church – gathered around the family table much in the way the Jews replaced the altar of the destroyed temple and the sacrificial offering with reflection and study of Scripture? Is this the time for a new chapter of Christianity – when disparate groups of men and women; lay, married, male and female members of religious orders, young and not so young, ponder the revelation of God in our time so as to bring about the kingdom of justice, peace, love and care for the earth? Can we include the marginalized who are seekers too? There are so many questions. Can we work together on the answers?
One of my students revealed God to me recently. She was passing a church just as she saw danger coming towards her in the form of three known rapists. Her heart missed a beat. Then – “I winked over at Jesus,” she told me. The three thugs turned down another path. Yeah. Jesus covered her back. “Thank you, Jesus,” she said as she finished telling me about the incident. I don’t know the last time my friend was in church.
Sr. Maeve McMahon O.P.