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Night of the Confessor: Christian Faith in an Age of Uncertainty [Kindle Edition]

Tomas Halik
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Tomáš Halík is a wise guide for the post-Christian era, and never more so than in his latest work, a thought-provoking and powerful reflection on the relationship between faith, paradox, change, and resurrection.
As the challenges of cultural secularization and dwindling congregation size confront religious communities across North America and Europe, and the Catholic Church in particular, Tomáš Halík is a prophetic voice of hope. He has lived through the political oppression and intolerance of religion that defined Communist Czechoslovakia, and he draws from this experience to remind readers that not only does crisis lead to deeper understanding but also that any living religion is a changing religion. The central messages of Christianity have always seemed impossible, from peace and forgiveness in the face of a harsh world to love and self-sacrifice despite human selfishness to the victory of resurrection through the defeat of the cross. Acceptance of paradox therefore is the way forward, Halík explains. It is a difficult way that offers an unclear immediate future, but it is ultimately the only honest way.

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

TOMÁŠ HALÍK worked as a psychotherapist during the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia and at the same time was secretly ordained as a Catholic priest and active in the underground church. Since the fall of the regime, he has served as general secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops and was an adviser to Václav Havel. He has lectured at many universities throughout the world and is currently a professor of philosophy and sociology at Charles University. His books, which are bestsellers in his own country, have been translated into many languages and have received several literary prizes.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

. 1 .

The Confessor’s Night

The faith spoken of throughout this book (and which gave rise to it) is paradoxical in nature. One must therefore use paradoxes in order to write about it honestly and not superficially, and one can only live ­it—­honestly and not ­superficially—­as a paradox.

It’s conceivable that some poetical “religion of nature” of the romantics or some pedagogical “religion of morality” of the Enlightenment might manage without paradoxes, but not a Christianity worthy of the name. At the core of Christianity is the enigmatic Easter ­story—­that great paradox of victory through defeat.

I want to meditate on these mysteries of ­faith—­as well as on many problems of our world, which these mysteries ­illuminate—­with the help of two ­clues—­two paradoxical statements from the New Testament. The first is Jesus’ “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible”;1 the second is Saint Paul’s “for when I am weak, then I am strong.”2

The books that I have written here in the summertime solitude of a forest hermitage in the Rhineland are each of a different genre but they all have something in common: it has always been my intention to share experience from different areas of my activity and thereby also, from another viewpoint, to help diagnose the present-­day ­climate—­“to read the signs of the times.”

On this occasion, as the title of the book implies, I wish to share my experience as a confessor. In order to forestall any misapprehensions or possible disappointment on the part of readers: this book will contain advice to neither confessors nor those who confess, and in no way will it lift the veil on what is said in confession, which is safeguarded, as is well known, by a pledge of absolute discretion. What I would like to share is how the present ­period—­this world and its extrinsic and intrinsic ­aspects—­is viewed by someone who is accustomed to listening to others as they acknowledge their faults and shortcomings, as they confide their conflicts, weaknesses, and doubts, but also their longing for forgiveness, reconciliation, and inner ­healing—­for a fresh start.

For many years of my service as a priest, more than a quarter of a century, I have been regularly available for several hours, at least once a week, to people who come to the sacrament of reconciliation, or, because many of them are anabaptized or nonpracticing Catholics, for a “spiritual chat.” I have thus lent an ear to several thousand people. It is likely that some of them confided to me things they had never spoken about even with their nearest and dearest. I realize that this experience has shaped my perception of the world maybe more than my years of study, my professional activity, or my travels around the seven continents of our planet. It has been my lot to have worked in a number of occupations. Every profession involves seeing the world from a different viewpoint. Surgeons, painters, judges, journalists, businesspeople, or contemplative monks, all view the world with a different focus and from a particular perspective. Confessors, too, have their own way of viewing the world and perceiving reality.

I believe that nowadays, after hours of confession, every priest who is no longer naïve and yet not cynical must be tired by the often difficult task of helping people seek the narrow, conscientious path between the Scylla of the harsh and uncompromising “thou must and thou shalt not” that cuts heartlessly like cold steel into the flesh of painful, complex, and unique life stories, and the Charybdis of the wishy-­washy, speciously soft-­hearted “everything’s OK so long as you love God.” Saint Augustine’s dictum “Love and do what you will” is truly the royal road to Christian freedom, but it is feasible only for those who know the difficulties, risks, and responsibility involved in truly loving.

The art of accompanying people on a spiritual journey is “maieutical,” that is, of the nature of the art of the midwife, as “care of the soul” was described by Socrates in honor of his mother (Kierkegaard adopted the term also). It is necessary, without any manipulation, to help specific individuals, in their unique situations, to find their way and arrive at a solution for which they are capable of accepting responsibility. “The law is clear,” but life is complex and multivalent; sometimes the right answer is to have the courage and patience to keep asking the question.

It is usually late at night by the time I get home after hearing the last of those waiting for me in the church. I have never entirely managed to do what people in the “caring professions” are advised to do, that is, not to bring their clients’ problems home with them. On occasions it can take me a long time to get to sleep.

At such moments, as one might expect from a priest, I also pray for those who have put their trust in me. Sometimes, though, in order to “retune” myself, I reach for the newspaper or the book on my bedside table, or I listen to the late-­night news broadcast. And it is at those very moments that I realize that I perceive what I am reading or listening ­to—­all those testimonies to what is happening in our ­world—­in much the same manner as when listening to those people over the previous hours in church. I perceive them from a confessor’s perspective, in a manner that I learned over many years both in my previous profession of clinical psychologist and even more so in my service as a priest hearing confessions. Namely, I endeavor to listen patiently and attentively, to discriminate and do my best to understand, so as to obviate the risk of asking seemingly prying questions that might be wounding. I try also to “read between the lines” and understand what people are unable (and slightly unwilling) to say in so many words, for reasons of shame, shyness, or embarrassment, or because the matter is so delicate and complicated, one that they are unaccustomed to speaking about, and they are therefore “lost for words.” By then I am also searching for the right words to comfort or encourage them, or, if necessary, to show it is possible to look at the matter from a different angle and appraise things differently from how they perceive them and evaluate them at that particular moment. My questions are aimed at bringing them to reflect on whether they are concealing something fundamental from themselves. Confessors are neither interrogators nor judges; nor are they ­psychotherapists—­and they have only a limited amount in common with psychologists. People come to confessors in the expectation and hope that they will provide them with more than is implicit in their human skills, their specialist education, or their practical experience, both “clinical” and ­personal—­that they have at their disposal words whose sense and healing power emanate from those depths we call the sacrament: ­mysterion—­the sacral mystery.

A confessional conversation without a “sacral dimension” would be mere psychotherapy (and often amateurish and superficial to boot). On the other hand, a mechanically performed “sacrament” and nothing more, without any context of human encounter, in the sense of conversation and keeping company in the spirit of the Gospel (as Christ did when he accompanied his sad and confused disciples on the road to Emmaus), could degenerate into something akin to mere magic.

People sometimes come to a confessor, at least to the confessor whose confession this book is, in situations in which their entire “religious system”—­their thinking, their experience, and their ­behavior—­is in a greater or lesser state of crisis. They feel themselves to be in a “blind alley” and are often unaware whether it happened as the result of some more or less conscious or self-­confessed moral failing or “sin,” or whether it is to do with some other changes in their personal life and relationships, or whether they have only now realized the outcome of some long and unperceived process during which their faith dwindled and guttered out. Sometimes they feel a void, because in spite of their sincere endeavors and often long years of spiritual search they have not found a sufficiently convincing answer in the places they have looked so far, or what had so far been their spiritual home has started to seem constricted or spurious.

Despite the uniqueness of individual human stories, after years of practice as a confessor one discovers certain recurrent themes. And that is the second aspect of the confessor’s experience to which this book seeks to provide a testimony. Through the multitude of individual confessions, which are protected, as has been said, by the seal of absolute discretion, the confessor comes into contact with something that is more general and common to all, something that lies beneath the surface of individual lives and belongs to a kind of “hidden face of the times,” to their “inner tuning.”

It is particularly when you accompany young people on their spiritual journey that you have access to a kind of seismograph enabling you to gauge to a certain extent impending tremors and changes in the world, or a Geiger counter recognizing the level of spiritual and moral contamination within the society in which we live. It sometimes strikes ­me—­even though I’m very rationally minded and have a powerful aversion to the fashionable shady world of occult premonitions and spiritualist table ­tapping—­that the events that subsequently erupt onto the surface and shake the wo...

Product Details

  • File Size: 1282 KB
  • Print Length: 242 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B009BR6HPA
  • Publisher: Image (January 10, 2012)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00540PAIS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,840 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Rich, Dense Book That Will Surprise and Enlighten You February 14, 2012
This is a dense book ... so much so, as far as I can tell, that even the back cover blurb forces the reader to slow down, absorb it, and think.

Night of the Confessor is rich and deep, with somehow simple ideas. Just when the author says something that I have a knee-jerk reaction of "that's not how faith works" he goes further and deeper so that I understand the reasons behind the surface statement ... and usually agree. This is thoughtful and thought provoking writing which I am letting sink in. And it is enriching my internal life.

I'm only about halfway through so this is not a final review although I may not be able to ever adequately describe it except to say that it is amazing me every few pages. Tomas Halik's observations about "Christianity in an Age of Uncertainty" hit the mark time after time. In one sense, one must simply sit back and take in the view, letting his writing wash over you until the point is reached; at which point, I dive in and mentally wrestle with the content. Occasionally I may disagree with him, but that is fairly rare and even when I do disagree it is because we have a different perspective. I can always see his point of view and it is not a non-Catholic one but just is different from my own. Which is also valid, as I believe Halik himself would say.

I am grateful for having been introduced to Tomas Halik's writing. I will be searching for more of his books after finishing this one. It is truly ... well, astounding is an overused word ... but surprising, enlightening, and just what I needed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We read to know we are not alone... May 19, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I read a lot of books - and I like a lot of books. And there are a few that I love, and this is one of them.
C.S. Lewis said that we read to know we are not alone - but I did not expect to find that kinship and consolation in this book.It isn't easy reading, as other reviewers have said. I am tired of easy reading, and easy answers, and too-simple explanations. This is thoughtful, insightful, wise and honest. Read it and ponder it. When he writes about someone with whom you are unfamiliar - go read them too. We do not often challenge ourselves in our reading - try reading something a little more challenging than you are used to. The next book will be easier ... and before you know it, all kinds of new perspective is open to you!
Here is an except, one of the many I highlighted: "There are moments when, in common with all the rebels and notorious skeptics, as well as with the sad and vainly seeking, our view of the world, Jesus, and the Church is occluded by every possible doubt or objection. But then there are the moments when light breaks through the clouds and we are able - nay we are obliged and duty bound - to say to those rebels, skeptics and weepers within and around us that maybe, in spite of everything, there is another way of seeing, assessing, and enduring all these things."
As one who has rebels, skeptics and weepers within - I love that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and Poignant September 28, 2012
By Amy
This book is both deep and beautiful. It's not something that should be read quickly, but a treasure to be savored and reflected upon.

Halik captured me from the very first chapter, as he spoke about the paradoxes of the faith, especially the Paschal paradox: "At the core of Christianity is the enigmatic Easter story--that great paradox of victory through defeat." This thread runs through various parts of the books as a subtle theme; it's hard to call it an explicit focal point [though it is the focus of a chapter or two], because the book feels more like a series of reflections on similar topics as opposed to an exposition of just one theme. Yet it all fits together quite beautifully.

There are parts of the book that might push the reader--Halik mentions several different philosophers and sociologists and their views, and while he explains them, those passages might merit a second or third reading in order to absorb the concepts and his reflections upon them. There are other parts where Halik talks about his experiences in Czechoslovakia during and after Communism; these give a poignancy to his writing. I felt as though I was seeing the world, and my faith, from a different that I resonated with, but that gave me a taste of how persecution and oppression and suffering shapes one's faith and life.

Haliks' vision of faith is ultimately centered on the Paschal mystery and paradox; he captures this idea beautifully. He truly puts forward a vision of what faith might look like in the "age of uncertainty" as it strips off some of the false forms picked up through the Enlightenment and modernity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Night of the Confessor by Tomas Halik February 22, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is suitable for someone who wants to explore faith in a way that puts the 'mystery' we call God at the centre of our lives.
I found the chapter "God Knows Why" to be particularly illuminating - it was dense reading but well worth it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too deep for me October 1, 2012
Tomas Halik is a Czech priest, who was clandestinely ordained a priest due to Communism being rampant at the time. Blessed Pope John Paul II appointed him as an advisor to the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers and in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI granted him the title of Monsignor - Honorary Prelate of His Holiness. So it seems like this priest would know his stuff, and would be a good read.

Unfortunately, the book was near impossible for me to read. I'm not sure if it is because the book was translated from Czech to English, and there was something to be desired in the translation or if Msgr. Halik is just too smart and scholarly for writing, but this book was dense, dry, and tough to read. Perhaps, it that each chapter is its own essay, and it's hard to get the full effect of an essay reading it.

I do however agree with and like the overall message of the book, and that is that Christianity is a paradox. We must die to live, loving those who persecute you, and decreasing to let the Father increase. These paradoxes and others are the underlying themes in the book, which Msgr. Halik echoed in every chapter and which he also believes are the only way worth living in our culture. This is a tough book to get through and not for the average reader.
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