Man wants to soar up, but the Word wants to descend. Thus will the two meet half-way, in the middle, in the place of the Mediator. But they will cross like swords cross; their wills are opposed to one another. For God and man are related in a manner far more different from man and woman: in no way do they complete one another.
And we may not say that, to show his fullness, God needs the void, as man needs fullness to nourish his void. Nor that God descends so that man may ascend. If this were the mediation, then man would indeed have swallowed up God’s love into himself, but only as fodder and fuel for his addictive urge. His will to power would finally have overpowered God, and thus the Word would be strangled and the darkness would not have grasped it. And man’s final condition would be worse than his first, for he would have encircled in the narrow spell of his ego not only his fellow man, but also the Creator Himself, degrading him to the role of a lever for his egotistic yearning.
But if, rather, they are really to encounter one another, what road had to be followed? The darkness had to become brighter; blind urge had to pass over into a love that sees; and the clever will to possess and develop had to be transfigured into the foolish wisdom that pours itself out.
And then a new instruction was issued: instead of going past God’s Word in its descent and pursuing the rash ascent to the Father, we are now to run around and, along with the Word, go back down the steps we have climbed, find God on the road to the world, on no road other that that by which the Son journeys on towards the Father. For only love redeems.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Heart of the World, 39-40
Reflection – “For the glory of God, and because I desire with my whole heart to respond to the call of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel with my life, I, Denis Lemieux, promise with the help of Our Lady, to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience forever, according to the Madonna House spirit and mandate.”
It was fifteen years ago today that I stood up in the MH chapel and said those words (I wasn’t ‘Father’ yet), having made my first promises seven years previously.. Today three will make thos same first temporary promises and receive the MH cross; eight others will renew their promises for two years; we have no final promise makers this year. It is a day of great joy and awe in Madonna House, a day of feasting and great gratitude to God and to our brothers and sisters making these promises.
It seems to me to be all extremely relevant to this most provocative excerpt from von Balthasar. We all want a glorious life. We all want to ‘ascend’. We all want things to be just wonderful for ourselves and those we love. And our faith seems to support this goal. ‘God became man so that man could become God,’ St. Irenaeus tells us. ‘Christ Jesus was rich but became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty,’ we read in St. Paul. So what is von Balthasar’s problem here?
The problem is that God is not a means to an end, the end of fulfilling our own ego-project in life. God did not become man so that we could be little gods, pursuing some kind of power trip of self-centred egoistic glorification. This is the real problem of the so-called prosperity Gospel, where once you give your life to Jesus you get a big house, a big car, a big bank balance. God simply becomes that by which we prosper—and what a horrible thing it is to reduce God to our lackey (God, could you refresh my drink, please?)
God wants us to prosper, all right. But prospering means only one thing, and that is growth in love. And love means only one thing: following Christ on His path in the world, the path of service, lowliness, suffering, sacrifice. The path of the beatitudes. The Son’s path to the Father which took him into the hearts of men, and onto Golgotha, and the tomb, and hell, and only then, with love and love alone enduring, to the heights of glory.