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Joseph P. CreamerJanuary 18, 2024
Tomáš Halík celebrating Mass in 2009 (Nikol Kraft/Wikimedia Commons)

Pope Francis called the church a field hospital in his 2013 interview with Anthony Spadaro, S.J. (published in English in America). Francis meant that Christians should not always lead with controversial moral issues when people most need a healing encounter with Christ. Francis’ famous metaphor may have been inspired by Tomáš Halík’s 2008 book, where he calls on the church to provide “dressing stations” for the wounded. Halík’s book is now available for the first time in an English translation by Gerald Turner as Touch the Wounds: On Suffering, Trust, and Transformation.

Touch the Woundsby Tomáš Halík (Author), Gerald Turner (Translator)

University of Notre Dame Press
170p $25


Halík, a Czech priest and professor, has written a profound yet accessible meditation on faith in our secular age. Although he would agree with Francis’ point, Halík offers not simply a corrective on how to approach seekers, but also a rich spiritual reflection intended to help us lead with our wounds.

In Touch the Wounds, Tomás Halík, a Czech priest and professor, has written a profound yet accessible meditation on faith in our secular age.

Inspired by the well-known story of Halík’s namesake, “doubting Thomas” from the Gospel of John, Halík turns the typical understanding of this story on its head. For Halík, we are mistaken if we read Thomas as a secular materialist who can’t believe in the resurrection without touching Jesus’ wounds; rather, Thomas wants to know that the suffering of Jesus on the cross was not wiped away by the resurrection, that Christ’s suffering was real, in some way permanent, and it mattered. In other words, it is precisely in woundedness—our own and others—where we find God.

Halík writes, “I am incapable of uttering the words ‘My God’ unless I see the wounds.” Jesus’ resurrected body is still wounded, even though the wounds could have been healed without a trace, because it is through touching his wounds that we come to know God. And because Jesus identified himself with the poor and suffering (Mt 25), the vulnerabilities, physical and metaphorical, of all those suffering in our world are Christ’s wounds too. Christians are called to know Christ by touching and helping heal the brokenness of others.

For Halík, true faith is a wounded faith: A faith that fails to encounter darkness and doubt is no faith at all. According to Halík, Jesus is our model, whose cry on the cross was “Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus experienced the total absence of the Father so that he might fully enter our humanity, where we must believe without seeing God. Halík says that Jesus’ faith never faltered because, even at the moment of his death, Jesus responds to God’s absence by asking an “agonized question.”

For Halík, Christian faith is separated from faith in general because Christian faith is “wounded, pierced, yet constantly questioning and seeking,” a faith “that is crucified and resurrected.” Halík insists that only a faith that has experienced suffering and doubt can emerge strong yet humble. To those who have lost faith because of suffering or evil in the world, Halík says it has had the opposite effect on him: “…almost nothing has aroused in me such a thirst for meaning as the absurdities of the world, and such a thirst for God as the open wounds of life’s sorrows.”

Halík also challenges Christians by contrasting this crucified and resurrected faith with a faith that sees God as an object or something that can be understood—what Halík calls a “fundamentalist theism.” Halík says that any God that can be established by metaphysics, a supreme being, is not God enough for Christians, and may even interfere with the church’s attempt to witness a vulnerable faith.

The invulnerable certainty that Christians often show to the world turns people away from Christianity because it is so self-assured, so all-knowing. Instead, Christians must witness a wounded faith. If people do not find God in church, liturgy or even Scripture, Halík says they can still encounter Christ in their wounds and those of others.

If people do not find God in church, liturgy or even Scripture, Halík says they can still encounter Christ in their wounds and those of others.

As the pastor of the academic parish at Charles University in Prague, Halík is adept at talking to seekers about God. For example, Halík says that when people talk about searching for meaning in their lives, they are searching for God by another name. Not only is talk about meaning actually talk about God, but part of what it means to be wounded is to lose a sense of the meaning of one’s life. When we suffer, we naturally ask: “Why me?” Part of the healing process is to help the wounded answer that question as they reconstruct a life of meaning. Because truth and faith, as Halík says, are not properties you can own, but are instead commitments that are lived out in our lives, the healing process can begin with finding meaning again.

In this brief but wide-ranging book, Halík models faith in our secular age—from how to properly practice intercessory prayer to how we should think about resurrection. Written during a five-week solitary retreat, the book weaves together a lifetime of contemplation of Scripture, mysticism, contemporary theology and the philosophy of religion. The work is very personal, not because he shares his private life (he doesn’t), but because he shares with us the fruit of his contemplation.

At times, those of us who have not yet shared his vast reading may find themselves wishing for more background or explanation. For example, like Kierkegaard, Halík appreciates the paradoxes of faith. Sometimes, however, I was left unsure of Halík’s practical meaning. In his discussion about finding Easter joy by participating in the dance of the Holy Trinity, Halík explains that it was necessary that the resurrected Jesus ascend to heaven because to stay physically with us would leave no role for faith or freedom.

Halík argues that “We must do without God as external support” so that we can embrace our freedom and our responsibility. Halík warns us that preachers often offer us an “external Christ” when they should invite us to know him in Spirit and inwardness. But I wondered: If Christ left us and sent the Spirit, how would it be possible for preachers to offer us an external Christ? And how will I know when they are offering me phony reassurance instead of real faith?

Despite these occasional difficulties, Halík’s book is a provocation in the best sense of the term, one that pushes his reader to leave behind a pristine faith that prefers to rest in certainty in exchange for one that asks the “agonized question” and, like St. Thomas, does not shy from the wounded world.

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