Friday, June 7, 2013

Heart of the World

It is not ecstasy that redeems, but rather obedience. And it is not freedom that enlarges, but rather our bonds. And so it was that God’s Word came into the world bound by the compulsion of love. As the Father’s Servant and as the true Atlas, he took the world upon his shoulders. Through his own deeds he joined together the two hostile wills, and, by binding them, he undid the inextricable knot.

He dared to exact everything from his Heart; indeed, by over-exacting he wrenched his Heart up to wholly impossible tasks. It was through such overburdening that the Heart recognized its divine Lord, recognized happiness and love (which are always over-exacting) and opened itself up to obedience.

Opened itself up to the world. Took the world up into itself. Became the Heart of the World. Dispossessed itself to become this Heart. The hushed chamber became a military highway on which the caravans of grace descend and the long trains of weepers and beggars go up.
Now it is one hubbub, a hustle and bustle as at big ports of reshipment or at trade-centers. 
Everything going up receives here its papers and authorizations: one single Heart handles the quota of a hundred-thousand officials. Everything coming down is here sorted out and distributed. No one may be passed over. Everyone needs assistance and consolation, needs his mission, the precise description of the route ahead of him, his provisions for the road.

Huge number of petitioners swarm all about, and each case must be handled individually. No one destiny resembles another, and no grace is impersonal. The threads are running; the loom of the world is spinning out its infinite pattern; the sap circulates in mankind’s veins; but an enormous fly wheel brings it all into motion, an invisible pulse-beat propels it all. The circulation of love begins… This Heart lives on service.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Heart of the World, 55-6

Reflection – Happy Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, everyone. Not only is today the feast of the Sacred Heart, the month of June is traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart. And so I have decided to do a little series over the next week or so of short excerpts from this magnificent book Heart of the World. It is one of Von Balthasar’s most accessible and poetic works; those wishing to know a little more about this controversial and influential theologian, contemporary and friend of Pope Benedict, could start with no better work.

It’s a tricky book to excerpt and I had to skip large sections of it altogether. Von Balthasar has a way of developing a single image or theme over an entire chapter in such a way that defies extraction of an individual paragraph or two. But here we have the ‘heart’ of the matter in this section—that the man Jesus, with his human heart and his human love, united in this unique and unfathomable way with the Divine Heart and the Divine Love, is the center of the entire cosmos and especially of the entire human cosmos.

That which is human, finite, limited, woundable, killable, fragile, is utterly and wholly united with the divine, the eternal, the limitless, the infinite furnace of charity and compassion. The human heart of Jesus is broken open by this unity and divinity and humanity—those two hostile and opposing wills—are forged into an unbreakable union in the heart of Christ, and the path of that forging and that union is obedience and the ‘bondage’ of God to man.

Von Balthasar makes much of this  contrast between God and man, the divine charity and human sin and selfishness. This is a good book to read in Lent, as he describes at length and with almost forensic accuracy the depredations and deviance of humanity. But always, it is God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s unalterable will to save and redeem, purify and heal, that has the last word.

Always there is this Heart beating, beating, beating, at the heart of the world. Always, do they know it or not, all humanity is clustered around this Heart—the image of a bustling port or trade center is fresh and apt here—crying out their need and receiving grace. Always, in the midst of human struggle and human striving, human sinning and human tragedy, comes this piercing note of divinity, this mercy, this grace, this call to a peace and joy that transcends and transfigures every heart that heeds it.

Always, God’s love is bestowed upon the world, and the name and the Heart of that love is the man Jesus Christ, our brother and Lord. Happy feast of the Sacred Heart – may your heart find rest in it today.


  1. Absolutely wonderful post. Thank you for sharing it on the First Friday link-up, Father!

    1. You're welcome! It was actually part of a whole series of posts on the subject, so I may chime in with a few more yet. Keep me... well... posted!

    2. Father, we would love to have you continue to contribute to the First Friday link-up! The link-up for tomorrow is now live, so please do share another post! Here is the link:

  2. I'm echoing Ryan's thanks, Father!! Wonderful post! I particularly love that first paragraph from Von Balthasar - and the image of Christ as the true Atlas! :)

  3. Thank you Father for posting this wonderful "Heart of the World"! I love your site and Von Balthasar's passage, especially the ending paragraph, "The circulation of love begins...This Heart lives on service." I will return soon. Amazing writing and writers...God Bless...

    1. Thanks very much - glad you are enjoying the blog. I (mostly!) enjoy writing it.


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