Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Balthasar on being a Christian

Hans Urs Von Balthasar began Part III of his book Who Is a Christian with a chapter called "Straight to the Center." In this short section he pointed out, "Much is made clear at the outset if we remember a simple rule of logic: knowledge about something is most clearly established where it presents itself in its purest form" (57). Hence, "Anyone wanting to study the essence of a Christian by analyzing a person who cannot really make up his mind whether or not to be one... is investigating the wrong object" (57).

Balthasar went on to assert that the proper object for such an investigation is a saint because "it is precisely the 'saint' (the holy one), the one who endeavors to embrace the Christian thing wholeheartedly, who knows best and most profoundly just how much he is a sinner" (58). Other Christians, he noted "take the dividing distance [between themselves and Christ, between themselves and holiness] lightly or resign themselves to whatever it is that separates them from full commitment" (58). Still some "make up their own conscience," which I take to mean that they decide for themselves what is right and wrong, pick and choose that to which they will adhere, set a self-imposed boundary.

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

"But the saint," Balthasar insisted, "strives to see himself in the pure light of grace and of God's commandment of love and is thereby... utterly humbled and stripped of all illusions" (58). "Who is a Christian?" In order to answer this question, Balthasar insisted that "we must not waste time on the fringes ('someone who is baptized', 'someone who fulfills his Easter duties', and so on) but must go straight to the center" (58). "The minimalist," he pointed out, "is a highly complicated figure, because impenetrable and opaque, from whom no clear information can be expected" (58). "The maximalist, by contrast - if the word were appropriate here, which it is not - represents the simple, luminous figure, so simple in fact that he is the true minimalist, because all the complexities have been integrated within him" (58).
For the minimalist, as Saint Paul tells us, the endless list of prohibitions has been laid down, so that one can scarcely see the forest for the trees; for the maximalist - that is, the person who strives toward Christ - all these negative precepts are reduced to a single commandment, and whoever fulfills this has already fulfilled, as though in passing, all the other commandments. And this commandment, Christ tells us, is not difficult (58)
Today is the liturgical memorial of Padre Pio and so we ask, St Pio of Pietrelcina, holy priest, pray for us! Today is also Day 2 of the Novena to St Thérèse, the Little Flower, whose memorial the Church observes on 1 October.

In the end, Christ's Church will be His spotless Bride and so will only be comprised of saints. As Léon Bloy observed, "There is only one sorrow—-not to be a saint."

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