What can still be called death after I have died my death? Does not every dying from now on receive the meaning and the seal of my death? Is its significance not that of a stretching out of the arms and a perfect sacrifice into the bosom of my Father?
In death the barriers fall away; in death the ever-forbidden lock snaps open; the sluice bursts, the waters pour out freely. All the terrors that hover around death are morning mists that disperse into the blue. Even the slow death of souls when they bitterly shut themselves off from God—when they entrench and wall themselves up, when the world towers up around them like the pit of a grave, and all love becomes as the smell of mold, and hope withers, and a cold defiance rears its head and shows it tongue, a viper up from the dead: have I not suffered my way through all these deaths? And what can their poison do against the deadly antidote of my love? Every horror became for my love a garment in which to conceal itself, a wall through which to walk.
Do not be afraid of death. Death is the liberating flame of the sacrifice, and sacrifice is transformation. But (Eucharistic) transformation is communion in my eternal life. I am Life. Whoever believes in me, whoever eats and drinks me, has life in himself, eternal life, already here and now, and I will raise him up on the last day.
Do you grasp this mystery? You live, work, suffer: and yet, it is not you: it is another who lives, works and suffers in you. You are the ripening fruit, but what brings the ripening about, what ripens: it is I who am that. I am the power, the fullness, that sheds itself into your emptiness, filling it up.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Heart of the World, 78-9
Reflection – Strong words these, strong meat. Are they true? Do we believe them? Because, you know, I think if they are true and if we do believe them, it should affect our attitude towards life at least a little bit.
Love is stronger than death, stronger than sin, stronger than hell. That appears to be the gist of it. Christ has penetrated to the heart of death, the heart of sin, the heart of hell, and Christ is the love of God, the Sacred Heart of love at the heart of the world. That would also appear to be the gist of it.
And so death—physical, bodily death—is in no measure to be feared. It is wholly and utterly taken up into the mystery of Christ, the mystery of love, of sacrifice, of communion. That which seems to be the ultimate defeat, the ultimate sundering, the ultimate loss, is in fact no such thing, but rather in Christ becomes the ultimate transcending of our separation, our defeat, our lack of communion.
I have noted in the past (although at this early hour of the morning when I do my blogging, I don’t remember if I have done so on this blog or in some other venue), that ‘heaven’ has lost its appeal for us to a large extent today. We rarely hear it preached about, and the mention of it quite often seems to fall flat in terms of actual consolation in the face of death.
And yet… surely it matters, doesn’t it, that after we die we may very well be translated into a different mode of existence which is both endless and utterly joyful? Surely that makes a difference to us, in the face of our own death or the death of one we love? I’m really not quite sure why we think so little of heaven or why it doesn’t seem to cheer us up much. It cheers me up!
Ah, but what about this middle section of this bit of Balthasar? This is where the heresy hunters start gathering wood for the burning with him. He does seem to suggest that even the worst of sin, the worst of defiance and rejection and hatred of God does not pose an insuperable barrier to God’s victorious love and life. This would seem to lead to a universalist stance, whereby we all just go to heaven when we die regardless of how we lived. At the very least, this is somewhat at odds with the main line of orthodox Christian tradition.
Well… that may be what von Balthasar thought. He certainly wrote an entire book about how we can at least hope that all men are saved (it is titled, prosaically enough, Dare We Hope That All Are Saved?). But here in this passage he is not necessarily asserting that. He simply is asserting that, well, that love is stronger.
Love is stronger than death, than sin, than hell. Anyone want to dispute that? And if someone steeped in sin, in hellish defiance and rebellion, somehow in some fashion is taken captive by God’s love and set free from Hell, then surely their very resistance and denial has indeed become that wall Jesus walked through, that garment Jesus wore for us and in his wearing of it, transformed.
Love is stronger than death. A good word for the month of the Sacred Heart, a good word to carry into this day, alleluia.