by Father Robert Lauder
Twelfth in a series
THOUGH I HAD read at least one book by Hans Urs von Balthasar and in recent years learned from some students of theology that he had become a favorite theologian among large groups of contemporary Catholics, I knew little about his theology until I read Father Michael Paul Gallagher’s Faith Maps: Ten Religious Explorers from Newman to Joseph Ratzinger (New York: Paulist Press, 2010, 158 pages, $16.95).
Now that I have some understanding of what Balthasar was emphasizing, I am hoping I can incorporate his view of the Christian life not only into my own view but also into my efforts at living as a follower of Christ. What is obvious to me about Balthasar and also theologian, Karl Rahner, is that these men looked upon theology not only as an important intellectual discipline but also as a vision that can influence a person’s life. Theology was not an ivory tower activity for them but rather a probing of the depth of human persons and of their Creator. For them, theology should make a difference in our lives, indeed, should make a most meaningful contribution to our lives.
Balthasar’s emphasis on God as Beauty and his emphasis on the beauty of Christian revelation greatly appeal to me. I am also excited, and even inspired, by his use of theatre as a metaphor for the Christian life. Human existence is a drama and God is at the center of the drama. In this drama each of us has an essential part. I have come to believe that we often have a weak sense of how fundamental the roles are that each of us play.
Last June I gave a retreat for priests of the Albany Diocese. I am hoping that the priests found the experience beneficial. I know I did. At one point, I wanted to help the priests deepen their appreciation of their vocation so I suggested that none of us can appreciate the power the Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us.
I said, “Not only are our lives important because of God’s involvement with us, but our lives are greater and more important than we can ever understand or appreciate.” I believe that. When I gave the retreat I knew little about Balthasar but now I think his thought would support much of what I preached during the retreat.
God’s involvement with every person is both mysterious and awesome. I cannot picture God’s providential love and involvement with the entire human race. It is not merely that God is present but is actively present, challenging the freedom of people to be more loving and to cooperate in the building of God’s Kingdom. I do not believe that God ever takes away the freedom of His creatures but I do believe that God’s loving presence can challenge, motivate and direct us. God is moving all of history toward a goal and each of us is vital in the human drama. There are no unimportant or insignificant people.
Though God’s involvement in my life is also mysterious, I find it easier to imagine than trying to imagine God’s involvement in all of history. What I said to the Albany priests is something I need to say to myself at least occasionally. My life is surrounded by a loving God and whether I think of God’s loving presence or don’t think of it, God is still present and loving me. It is relatively easy as I look back on my life to see what I take to be the influence of God. I can think of major decisions I had to make and I am confident that God helped me make those decisions.
Summing up Balthasar’s vision, Father Gallagher writes the following:
“This remains a powerful but austere vision. Perhaps it can only be grasped within a certain contemplative wonder and silence, where revelation invites us to a recognition that ‘all is grace’…All the multifaceted aspects of the mystery – the love of the Trinity, the shock of the Cross, the glory of Resurrection, the outpouring of the Spirit into our struggling history – all this richness calls for a simplicity of heart that receives and adores and is gradually transformed. Faith in the vision is indeed a Yes to a Yes. The first Yes is God’s, steady, eternal and then embodied in Christ. The second Yes is ours, unsteady, unfocused, yet learning to live with a strength that is not ours.” (p. 56)
All of us are involved in a great drama and we have one another as companions and supports. We also have God. Or rather God has us.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.