by Hans Urs von Balthasar
Why do I remain in the Church?
Because being the Church of the Apostles she alone knows what commission by, and service of, the Lord means, and can give to me the Bread and Wine of Life. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have not life in you.”
I do not allow myself to be put off by assurances that condensed food preparations are available as substitutes, love of the neighbor in particular, without which the other has no effect. No. It is the blood of life I want to receive, the giving of God’s own self, who antecedently to everything else gives me in His Son the outpouring of His love, and that regardless of behavior of mine, the recipient … I must remember that the words of St. John that God is love may not be separated by the recipient from the message of the Cross and Resurrection of the historical Jesus.
Between Him and love of my neighbor there can be no proportion. No synthesis can gradually be formed of the love I bear my neighbor on the one hand and, on the other, the love of God for us in the Eucharist…. Neither love of the neighbor nor the union of prayer in common gives the Body of the Lord. … Numbers are irrelevant, good will insufficient. Only what is in the Church from the beginning until now, what is greater than the sum of her members, what transcends the vagaries of subjectivism, that alone makes available the Body of the Lord. And once again, that is the ministry, Church authority….
That is something which the Eastern Church knows very well, as to a large extent does the Anglican Church. And it must be clear to anyone who gives thought to these matters that it is only in this way that the worm of sectarianism, namely of subjective, self-judging charismatics, can be kept out of the wood of the Church. This worm ravages its interior until it reaches the point when the gift of God, the peace of Christ which passes all understanding, is overcome by the quarrels and controversies of the charismatic. By their fruit ye shall know them.
3. Why do I remain in the Church?
Because she is the Church of the saints, both the hidden ones and those others who have been pushed into the limelight. It is they who refute the silly assertion that Christians are so engrossed in receiving their God that they can never forget themselves to engage in feats of courage and imagination.
The saints know well that God is never the stranger, never the other. When He calls He is nearer to me than I am to myself. Urged on by the gift of God Himself they go forth to achievements that are unknown to those who remain within themselves…. Though selfless, the saint remains his own self, he makes a reality of what others merely plan to do or deliberately forget: Peter Claver, Las Casas, Filippo Neri, Don Bosco…. They are the true realists, they make allowances for the hopelessness of man as he is, and do not shirk the present by taking flight into the future. They are the real Utopians; they set to
work and hope against hope. Clear-sighted they may be but not calculating, they live by the love of God in the Eucharist.
And the saints are humble, that is to say, the mediocrity of the Church does not deter them from expressing once and for all their solidarity with her, knowing well that without her they could never find their way to God. To bypass Christ’s Church with the idea of making their way to God on their own initiative would never occur to them. They do battle with the mediocrity of Christ’s Church not by protesting but by enkindling and encouraging the better. The Church causes them pain, but they do not become embittered and stand aside to sulk. They form no dissident groups but cast their fire into the midst.
Your genuine saint never points to himself; he is no more than the reflection. It is the Master Flame that counts. This pointing away from self is an exact criterion. “He was not himself the light, but was to bear witness to the light” (Jn.1:7). But of the same saint it is written that he was “to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk. 1:79).
When you come to think of it, is not this pointing away from self perfectly and uniquely realized in the Church herself? She is more than community, more than “a sociological phenomenon,” she is “the handmaid of the Lord” (and that includes the humiliated holder of church authority) who points away from herself and is filled with all fullness, not of herself but with “the fullness of Him who is fully fulfilled in all” (Eph. 1:23).
To conclude: Why then do I remain in the Church?
Because it is the only chance there is of freeing myself from this curse that is the deadweight of self, so that in loving my role I fall in love with myself; to be rid of that but not alienated from man, because God became man not in a vacuum but in the dimensions of community, in the Church.
I do not doubt for one moment that God’s incarnation envisages all men and that He is sufficiently God to attain to all whom He wills. But God set up in the middle of mankind’s history of horrors and abominations a bridal bed, shining and unsullied, which is described in the Song of Songs. And the endless problem of the history of the Church is not so murky that the light of love does not come shining through again and again in the lives of her saints.
There is a counter-test and this is, unfortunately, the most irrefutable experience that I have had in my life in the Church. Nobody need attach to it any greater importance than that of a report based on experience. There are vocations in which men are called into the sphere of the fire. They always demand the whole person. And such vocations are refused, though one can only speak of refusals where men consciously resist the call (for a thousand unimportant reasons). Such refusals are more numerous than one might think.
Those who have said ‘no’ remain marked. They burn but they consume themselves. They become cynical and destructive, they smell each other out and hold together. It makes no matter whether they officially leave the Church or remain within her. Anyone who has some facility for distinguishing spirits can recognize them. They are, of course, not identical with the so-called ‘enemies of the Church’, nor with what Ida F. Gorres has referred to as ‘God’s demolition-squad in the Church’. These latter can perform the rough but necessary tasks; unsentimental, straight-forward.
The work of the former is much more insidious and I do not wish to portray it here; enough to say that its negative form provides the irrefutable, because involuntary witness for the positive form of what may be called election and sanctity in the Church. In the desperate exhibition which they make of themselves, those who have rejected their call show what disappearance into pure service could have been.