Tag Archives: balthasar

Humility

For one of my classes, we were asked to read selections from “Glory of the Lord Volume 1: Seeing the Form” by the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Being a major fan of the great theology of this man, I quickly embraced the opportunity to not only read what was asked, but to re-read some areas I read in the past and wanted to read again.  I had taken the concept of humility and receptivity to be at the center of his theology (summarized under the concept of obedience), and this was affirmed in my class on Thursday.

Why do I bring up this great theologian?  Because what he promotes is a fundamental humility and receptivity towards the whole created order. For Balthasar, to be humble, to be open, to receive is the fundamental condition of humanity.  Only sin has distorted this into a mastering-over which expresses itself in technique and technology – signs that man depends on his own power but not on the freely given grace of God.

If this is man’s fundamental condition, then it must be how he approaches both reality and God.  For, by approaching reality and letting reality be-itself-to-you, you are able to sing the glories of what there is.  By letting reality “be itself” and to accept it as it is to you, you have the openness necessary to grow in knowledge.

For Balthasar, then, skepticism has no place in the search for knowledge, nor can one have a “certainty” that they know all they need to know.  Knowledge grows from letting all that is be itself to you, and, thereby, passing judgment upon reality.  It involves questioning, but not in the realm of “is this true” but rather “what is the mystery contained here?”.  Knowledge, fundamentally, must be based in complete and total awe towards all that is.

By doing so, we not only have the openness to reality, but to the God Who involves Himself in this reality in the Incarnation.  In short: if we want to know the Person of Jesus, we need to have an openness and obedience towards all that is in the world and, by doing so, we have a searching heart and can have the openness to encountering the Gospel.  Openness, obedience, receptivity, humility: these are man’s fundamental dispositions that help him grow to know all that is in all its mystery, splendor, and grandeur.

Where do we get a concrete example of this?  Who else but the Mother of Jesus who was so open to the Word that He took flesh in her womb?  Who else but she who said with conviction and boldness: fiat!  Who else but she who pondered all that God was doing in her heart?  Who else but she who trusted wholeheartedly in the God Who was the center of her life?

In our day to day lives, furthermore, this Marian character is revealed to us in women.  Those who think the Church is against women, or hates women, has never encountered the true beauty the Church sees in women.  Women, really, reveal to us what it means to be human!  That receptivity, that openness, is the true humility everyone – male and female – is called to.  Women carry that receptivity ever more clearly as stamped in their bodies and reveal to us the glory of humanity: to have an openness and receptivity to the God Who loves us and also wants to take flesh in our humanity so that He may bring His saving love to others.

I have realized, myself, that this is not only true in my life, but it has to become an ever increasing character of my life.  I know that with my conversion – and I know not why – there was a moment of openness and it was in that openness that God broke into my life.  I know, too, that I need to continue to re-live and re-discover that fundamental openness I had 8 years ago now.

What, though, if we are not open?  We cannot judge the person who is not open.  However, we must pray, fast, and do penance for those who are not open.  Not only for the sake of them hearing the gentle love of Christ for their lives, but also so that they can, in a more fundamental way, see the beauty of reality!  Openness is so fundamental: not cold skepticism.  To put ourselves above all that is is contrary to our dignity as human persons and puts us at war with the world we live in.  Until we can realize that we are not greater than the totality of things, until we acknowledge that we are of dust and it is to dust that we shall return, we will continue to be at war with our own humanity.  Let us look to Mary, let us look to women and see the true attitude towards reality: humble acceptance of all there is in its splendor.  Let us have wonder and awe at all there is!

in Christ

-Harrison

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The Splendor of Jesus Christ is the Message of All Saints

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.

In Christ

-Harrison

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Vocation to the Single Life?

I just got back from the dentist with the left side of my face totally frozen.  So I figured I would use the opportunity to do a quick post.  Yesterday, I spoke about St Ignatius’ concept of discernment between religious life/priesthood and marriage.  You can check it out here.

A friend of mine read the post and asstutely pointed out how I seemed to leave out the vocation to the single life.  He said (and I am paraphrasing) that “we pray for vocations to the single life all the time.  So why aren’t you mentioning single life?”  I responded by stating that I don’t believe there is a vocation to the single life.  He responded by noting that we pray for them and that we are advised that it may very well be advised by Church leadership as a possible vocation.

Again, my reasons are based first and foremost on my reading of Balthasar’s Christian State of Life.  But it is not the sole basis, I simply came to the conclusion after reading what Balthasar, after analyzing the nature of commited love and the tradition of the Church, has to say on the matter.  But my stance also comes from talking to single people themselves.  I have met many single people who admit that they have a sense of where they are to go in life vocationally (either through the natural call to marriage or the supernatural call to a life dedicated to Christ and His Church), yet for one reason or another are unable to fulfill their vocational call.  They experience a sense of a lack of fulfillment, of complete dedication.

Furthermore, if we look to Familiaris Consortio, par. 22, we find the following quote:

Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being “created in the image of God.”

As we can see, the late Bl. John Paul II states that it is a matter of revelation as to where we get our concept of the states of life.  Why is it, then, that the Church does not recognize the single state as a vocation from God?  Furthermore, why is it, at least in North America, we pray constantly for those vocations in and for the single state?  Let me address the latter question first.

I am simply speculating, but I think that the reason we pray for vocations to/in the single life is because of the reality that, in fact, there are many people who are single in life!  It is a response to a pastoral situation that, I believe, is due to a lack of theological understanding.  Theology and pastoral response are not two separate things as if to say “well, that is a nice theological idea, but pastorally…”.  No, pastoral response flows from theological truths because thelogical truths have a deep impact and meaning on our lives as Christians.  There is no basis in tradition for a vocation to single life.  Rather, we must admit the fact that some people end up single, many through no fault of their own.  While it is unfortunate they are unable to fulfill the natural or supernatural vocation God is calling them to, it does not mean they are unable to achieve Heaven, nor does it mean that God is no longer interested in giving them some specific mission for their lives.  It is the unfortunate case in a sinful world that sometimes vocations go unfulfilled.  But God is faithful always and He will guide and help those who have wound up as single persons.  I do believe the Church in North America needs to cease its promotion of a vocation to the single life, but I do think she needs to increase her response to aiding and supporting those in the single life.

On a sidenote, I do believe that another reason that there is a large contingent of single persons in North America is the result of the crisis of commitment.  They are unable to make a choice that will fundamentally change and influence the rest of their lives.  It is a cultural phenomenon that goes deeper than an ecclesial problem, and thus one the Church’s members have been sucked into.  I believe that yesterdays post, however, can give a clearer means in the realm of discernment when we distinguish between the natural and supernatural call (which, in the end, is all a call from God, though the natural is from God through His creative means, while the latter is more direct).

On the reason why the single life is not a vocation, I can simply say this (for the sake of brevity): to love is be commited, to be avowed to someone.  A vow is a binding to someone, a giving of yourself completely to an other.  It is, in a way, the greatest act of love.  Marriage involves a vow to another, as does priesthood and religious life.  Single life is not a life lived for others.  That is my simple reason for now (there is much more that can be said).

However, it does mean that there are vows those who are single can take.  They can take personal vows without attachment to a religious community, for example.  It was a common practice that has fallen out of ecclesial life as of late.  I think the concept of personal vows, however, would be very beneficial to the life of the Church if they experienced a resurgence.

In the end, we must remember that love involves the total gift of self to an other.  If we don’t have an other to give ourselves to completely (which means an exclusion of others), then our life is not yet fulfilled, and we experience that through and through.  Life demands commitment and community, and a life of one is a life that, to an extent, denies both realities.

So, instead of prayer for people in the vocation to single life, we ought to pray that they receive the vocation they are called to, whether to religious life/priesthood or to marriage.  That is the best support we can give them, and it is the best advice spiritual directors can give.

in Christ

-Harrison

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On Discernment According to St Ignatius

My friend, Fr. Brian Graebe, hugging his father just after his ordination.

One of the books I have on the go right now is the basis of the name for this blog, The Christian State of Life by Hans Urs Von Balthasar.  I have almost finished the book and currently on the section on the discernment of a call in one’s life.  The section of this book (the section which ends the book, in fact) is based on St Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.  The entire book is, in fact, a meditation on the exercises, but this section emphasizes its dependence upon the exercises even more so.

As I was sitting with the book this morning, I came across a concept that I had never heard before and, to be frank, was like an intellectual light which broke open darkness and doubt that had been reigning in my discernment for years.

Balthasar, reflecting on some very strong words by St Ignatius, speaks about the inequality of vocations.  He says that the discernment of vocations is not an either-or (referring to either marriage or the priesthood/religious life).  He says, rather, discernment is about hearing a specific call, an election from God, which calls you to a special service in greater union with the Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words, discernment is more about whether or not there is a divine election in your heart, a way of discovery the specific call of God.

Balthasar goes on to give a humbling example.  He says that those called to married don’t hear a divine call, a special election from God.  He wondered if it is fair to say that God would give the same priority in the call to marriage life as He would to priesthood and religious life.  He also goes through many scriptural quotations to demonstrate his point.

What is meant out of all this?  Balthasar, first and foremost, is not arguing that priesthood and religious life makes you a qualitatively better person, that such a call is only for the really special people.  God does not play favourites.  Rather, the office or way of life one may be called to is of such importance that it requires a special call from God to move the heart because this call brings the one called to lose themselves in the call, to put their selves to the side for the sake of the call.

The argument in favour of this is not necessarily that those who become married are not called by God, they are called, but according to the natural means He has established in the created order.  Those called to a life of intimate union with Christ require that special call precisely because it is supernatural, it is out of the norm established in creation.  Those called are not better, nor are they higher in God’s plan.  It is simply that God needs priests and religious to aid the life of the Church, and thus it requires a special call so as to serve the rest of the Church to achieve holiness.  The ultimate measure of greatness is holiness, and that is achieved regardless of a natural or supernatural vocation.

I find this helpful in the realm of discernment because it is no longer between a bunch of possible vocations.  Discernment is about seeing if God is working a special call in our hearts.  If he is, then we have to follow that for God will bring us a great fulfillment if we do.  If he is not, then we are called to marriage, which is good and holy and part of God’s plan for holiness in our lives.

Discernment is not meant to be an overly complicated process.  I have noticed in my life that with all vocations being equal, it makes it to be a tormenting process to “figure out what God is calling you to.”  If there is a nudge in the heart that God is calling you to something special, that is probably God calling you to imitate His Son in a more intimate way.  If there is nothing, if things seem as “normal”, then there is a good chance God is allowing you to follow the natural call to marriage.

St Ignatius is a great help in the realm of discernment because he gives clarity to the soul when it is potentially in the greatest confusion.  He uses as the basis for his exercises the Gospels, which are a sure guide in aiding the soul in its path towards God.  St Ignatius is a great gift to the Church in the realm of discernment because of the clarity he gives.  Discernment is not meant to be a groping in a dark, but a walking in the light.  If we are groping, we are probably not listening accordingly.  With this way of approaching discernment, we can have a greater peace in our heart as well since it is about looking in our heart, through prayer, to see if God has a special call for us.  If we believe He is calling us in a special way, we must seek out a spiritual director to aid us in deepening our sense of the call.

in Christ

-Harrison

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There’s Something About Mary

I have many books on the go at the moment.  This is a perennial problem of mine: I always pick up new books before I finish the ones I am currently reading.  This leads to too many books on the go at the same time which ultimately leads me to giving up on many of them.

My problem right now is that all the books I am reading are all REALLY good.  Last week, for example, I read a section from Volume 1 of the Glory of the Lord by Hans Urs Von Balthasar (he is someone I just may mention once or twice over the course of this blog in the coming months and years).  The section I was reading was relating to the theological value of subjective experience: its importance, its basis in the Gospels and Scripture, its nature, etc.

I was reading away and got to his section on the subjective experience of Mary.  In this short section, he explains why Mary is the Mother of the Church.  He claims that Mary is Mother of the Church by virtue of the fact that she is Mother of the Son.  So far, so good.  By virtue of the intimate relationship she had with her Son, the Church which is His Bride becomes intimate to her as well.  By virtue of this relationship, Mary, then, in her maternal gaze upon the whole Church, expropriates from herself the experience of her Son and gives it to the Church (which is, by the way, the basis for the Church’s perfection).  As Mother, she wants the whole Church to know her Son the same way she does, and so she opens up her heart for us to experience in her the relationship she has with her Son.

I found this to be moving and beautiful.  More importantly, though, it gave me an insight into the rosary that I had never known before.  If what Balthasar says is true, then that means that each time we pray the Rosary, each time we meditate on a mystery, we are not simply looking at it in an objective manner, attempting to come to certain facts about the mysteries through our meditation.  No.  The rosary, instead, is a MUCH more powerful and glorious prayer.  It is in the rosary where we ask Mary to take us into her heart.  It is in the rosary, in the heart of Mary, that we see each mystery in her eyes, from her perspective.  By virtue of our union with her, we come to a more perfect knowledge and experience of her Son.

I got rather excited with this because, though I love to pray the rosary, I have found it difficult at times to be able to participate and meditate on the mysteries.  This helps me now see not only the centrality of the rosary, but of Mary herself.  When we pray the Hail Mary, we are not just asking her intercession, but we are asking to be placed in her Immaculate Heart, to be lifted up into the love she has for her Son.  Mary becomes powerful for us because we learn, from her through the depths of her heart, how to love her Son.

Mary is important and, I dare say, essential for Catholics because she is the perfect example of how to love God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.  We can be lifted up into her fiat and ask her to teach us to say yes as she says yes to God.  She is the perfect model of faith!  I have heard from some that because she is perfect it is tough to immitate her.  I respond by saying that she is not unapproachable because of her sinlessness, but absolutely even more approachable because of her sinlessness.  By virtue of her Immaculate Conception, she is completely available in a selfless way for the Church.  She gives herself totally to the Church so that the Church may have the faith, hope, and love that she has.  We tend to think that to be human is to be sinful, as if humanity is identifiable with sinfulness.  It is not.  Sin is an abomination to human nature and it has no part in us.  When we have Mary, when we have Jesus, who both were sinless, we think we cannot immitate them, they were better than we can ever be.  Yet, it is because of their complete union with the Father that they both had a perfect freedom, a freedom we yearn for.  We think that we are less free the closer we grow to God.  Mary and Jesus teach us that we become more free the more intimately united to God we are.  They are examples to us because what they live we are called to live as well.  Both Mary and Jesus were tempted in every way we are.  Yet they still said yes.  Let us ask Mary, then, to teach us to say yes as she did, despite fears, despite temptations.  Yes is the only word that we can say to God, because it is the only word that fulfills our human nature, our human destiny.

in Christ

-Harrison

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A New Blog!

Well, here I go again.

I’ve given the blog thing a try a few times.

First off, I started off with a blog that had a small bit of success. However, things began to be too much and I had to let go of something. The blog was the victim of my over-commitment.

Secondly, I started a website that would be a bit more robust. That was a ambitious, but a total failure. I had high ideas for the website, but I believe that such an idea needs to develop more organically (I had intentions of it being a blog where news pieces would be posted, where academic articles could be posted, as well as ensuring those who would read it would have the opportunity to be up to date on all that is happening in the Church and the world).

So, I have decided to give it a shot. Again.

This time I hope to apply a bit more moderation. I will post on a regular basis, but not excessively. Sometimes the posts will be reflections, sometimes they will be simple links to world and Church events with a bit of commentary by me. All in all, it is my way of having a small voice in cyberspace for the beauty of the Catholic faith and its presence in a secular world.

To start off, I wish to point to the title of the blog and the reason behind said title. The title is extracted from a book that I have found to be enormously important in my life: The Christian State of Life by Hans Urs Von Balthasar, one of my favourite theologians. The book examins the roles of Christians and how to pursue and live out the Christian vocation in one’s life. He argues, for example, that the evangelical counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience are to be lived by all Christians, though not in the same manner. Balthasar argues this because, he states, this was the mode of our first parents and the mode of life of our Lord.

I chose the title because, in a sense, everything that will be discussed here is a way of pursuing those counsels, that Christian perfection. Everything we believe as Catholics has an impact on our spiritual and practical lives. The counsesl of poverty, chastity, and obedience are the major means through which we live our lives. Therefore, if the counsels are the means to live out what we believe, then everything we discuss on this blog is a means to pursuing these counsels in our lives as Christians.

I hope my small blog will be a means for discussion and conversation as we all journey on the adventure towards holiness. May the risen Lord be the inspiration of our lives and the form of our actions.

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