Understand what it means to give oneself away. To strip oneself of one’s freedom out of freedom; and out of love no longer to be free or to be lord over oneself; no longer to be able to determine where the journey will take you; to surrender oneself, to deliver oneself over to the series of consequences that carry us off in a direction we did not want—where to?
You leap down from a high cliff. The leap is freely made, and yet, the moment you leap, gravity leaps upon you, and you tumble exactly like a dead stone to the very bottom of the gorge. This is how I decided to give myself. To give myself right out of my hand. To whom? It did not matter. To sin, to the world, to all of you, to the devil, to the Church, to the Kingdom of Heaven, to the Father… I wanted to be the one given away par excellence.
The corpse over which the vultures gather. The Consumed, the Eaten, the Drunk, the Spilled, the Poured Out. The Plaything. The Worn Out. The one squeezed to the very dregs. The one trod upon to infinity. The one run over. The one thinned to air. The liquefied into an ocean. The Dissolved.
This was the plan; this was the will of the Father. By fulfilling it through obedience (the fulfillment itself was obedience), I have filled the world from heaven down to hell, and every knee must bend before me, and all tongues must confess me. Now I am all in all, and this is why the death which poured me out is my victory.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Heart of the World, 180-1
Reflection – Well, they did it! Yesterday, in a simple ceremony, three young people—a woman, a layman, and a priest—made their first promises of poverty, chastity, and obedience in Madonna House. They ‘took the plunge’, jumped off that cliff, handed themselves over to gravity, as it were.
Did, in short, what Jesus did. As von Balthasar so well and aptly describes in this passage. ‘Delivered over to a series of consequences that (perhaps) we did not want.’ Isn’t this what every married couple do when they make their vows? Or every priest on his ordination? Or every consecrated person? And for those neither married, ordained, nor consecrated, there is a serious adult choice that comes to you at some point or other, to hand oneself over to the mystery of love and of Christ in life, too, that is no less total and real.
We live in a world that is so deeply averse to all that, so self-protective, so guarded. Get married, but if it doesn’t ‘work out’ as you planned, get divorced. Or if you don’t like the idea of that, just don’t get married at all. The divorce rate is falling, but that is mostly because more and more young people just are not bothering with marriage at all.
To be given away, to be used up, to be at least a faint echo of this total love and total gift with is Jesus—this has never been easy, and perhaps really there have always been few takers of that divine offer. But today there is more and more a culture of selfishness which positively encourages people to put themselves first and avoid any kind of ‘being used up, consumed, spilled, worn out.’
But when we avoid this, we avoid Jesus. We avoid the victory of Christ in our lives. We avoid the grand adventure of love and sacrifice, heroism and nobility, fearsome risks and awesome rewards.
Someone said to me yesterday, in a completely different context, that in life you pay the fees, or you pay the fines. This seems like a pretty profound statement to me. In other words, we wear ourselves out loving as Christ loved, or we wear ourselves out taking care of ourselves and protecting ourselves from life. Either way, we end our lives worn out—it’s just that one way is an ‘entry fee’, if you will, into the glorious kingdom, and the other is a punitive fine for a life misspent.
But really, the focus is on neither fees nor fines—the focus is on Jesus. What Jesus did. How Jesus loved. His love spilled out, consumed, eaten, drunk, used but never used up, worn out yet perpetually new, dissolved yet never any weaker, never any less. This is why we marry ‘until death do we part,’ why we promise poverty, chastity, obedience forever, why we embrace priestly consecration as an indelible character, why we say yes to baptismal consecration and build our lives on it.