Recently, for my class on the Theology of Revelation, I have been reading “Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theological Aesthetics: A Model for Post-Critical Biblical Interpretation” by W.T. Dickens. Don’t let the title scare you, the book is not what this post is eventually about. I do, however, wish to use it to talk about the point of this post: the attractive splendor of Jesus Christ. The book is an attempt to see what sort of impact Balthasar’s theological aesthetics (a fancy way of speaking about a theology of beauty) has on scriptural interpretation. There is much that has been said so far in the book, and much I could speak about. However, I just want to speak about one element that Balthasar speaks of that is important for Christianity: that there is a splendor to Jesus Christ.
What do I mean by splendor? Splendor, for Balthasar, is a radiating light that presents itself to someone and attracts them to its ground in God. There is an inner integrity to the Person of Jesus that sends us who experience Him into a sort of ecstasy: we are drawn out of ourselves into the beautiful radiance of Jesus. We see in Him that He points to His Father, and there is an attractiveness about His Person that radiates to the whole world.
Yet, to appreciate the sheer radiant beauty of the Person of Jesus, the subject (that is, us) must be open to receiving Jesus and allowing Him to be Himself to us. Behind this is St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises: a spiritual work that is at the heart of all Balthasar’s work. St Ignatius speaks about the importance of indifference: we must abandon our own desires, our own willing of things, save for willing what God wills of us. In short, our wills must be disciplined in order to be truly free and receptive to the beauty, radiance, and splendor of Jesus Christ. It is not a stoic indifference, of allowing whatever happens to happen to us. Rather, it is a desiring the will of God alone because it is this will of God that brings us true peace and happiness. Balthasar speaks of this beautifully when he says that we must allow the beauty and splendor of Jesus Christ to master us so that we can accept Him as He is. This is not a fatalism, nor a pure passivity, but rather a dynamic engagement with the ever present Word of the Father.
When we allow that splendor of Jesus to radiate towards us, we allow Him to in-form us: to become a likeness to Him and then His splendor radiates into the world. And that is the ultimate point of this post. Today is the Solemnity of All Saints, where we celebrate the victory of Christ’s redemption for those who are reigning with Him in the bosom of the Father. They are there because they have allowed Jesus to in-form them: they allowed Him to be Himself to them and that formed them into His image and likeness. They too carried – and still carry in Heaven – the splendor of Jesus Christ. If you have ever met a saint, you know what I am speaking about. Holiness radiates from them and we want to be like them. We want to experience the radiant love of Christ as they have experienced it. Ultimately, we celebrate All Saints day because it is really a celebration of Christ and His victory over sin and death in the lives of the faithful reigning with Him. We celebrate them because Christ is in them: they are Christ to us and bring His radiant love to the world.
And that is their example for us. We also celebrate All Saints day because it is a reminder of our call to holiness. Yet, we can only become holy in so far as we allow Christ to be Himself to us. We must put our selfishness and self-will out of the way so that we may simple, lovingly, and actively receive Christ as He is in our hearts. Then we see His splendor, then we desire to be formed by Him, then we become saints because we become more like Him.
This is very important because it is an element that is missing in most preaching today, and it is difficult to preach to a world that is increasingly active and less receptive. We don’t have “time” to see Jesus and to be with Him. Balthasar argues that the only means of holiness is contemplation, which is indifferent, actively receptive, and desirous to become what the person contemplates. In short, to contemplate, we need to put ourselves to the side and let God do the work (for true contemplation is not our own work), we need to allow the form of God to change us and to act on His promptings to change. God calls us all to be saints and to be saints in a particular way. St Ignatius was not called to be Mother Teresa, nor was JP II called to be St Francis. Each saint has a particular charism, and some are more hidden than others: most of the saints in Heaven are “hidden” from us in that we do not know who all of them are! But there are some there who are greater than Mother Teresa, but they lived their holiness in hiddenness, just as our Lord hid for 30 years before His public ministry.
Again, though, it is difficult to preach this to a world that does not appreciate silence, stillness, and receptivity. How we preach the ever-new and ever-ancient splendor of Jesus Christ is difficult in an age of self-assertion. Yet the best mode of preaching is to allow Jesus to impart His splendor and beauty in us so that we can be the manifestation if His Presence to the world. Yet we can only do that when we give ourselves to Him in prayer, when we constantly participate in the sacraments, when we simply love others with the heart of Christ and seek Him in them. It requires, in the end, immediate obedience to His Person, a willing to lay down all for Him, and to not condition His message to suit our own needs and selfish desires. We must have only one desire: Jesus Christ. When that becomes our true desire, then all we do and say finds an ever-fresh and ever-new source in Him Who brings all we say and do into the unitive power of His love present in His death and resurrection (hence why Mass is so important).
So, on the feast of All Saints, let us begin today to live the splendor of Jesus Christ in our lives and let the radiant beauty of His love shine through our hearts to the whole world.