Do what you will, you remain the captive of love. I raised you up, wild one, when you were struggling and weltering in your own blood. I have washed you in the bath of my blood, in the water-bath of baptism and in the Word of Life, and I have fashioned for myself a glorious Church, without blemish or wrinkle, holy and unspotted.
You may behave like a wanton courtesan and daily betray me with another: still, you will never be what you in this way pretend to be. For all eternity you are my pure Body and my chaste Spouse. I am going to clothe your disgrace with such holiness that the aroma of your garments will fill the whole earth, and no one will be able to deny that he has really and bodily sensed your fragrance. I will deposit such love into your hands—love for you to distribute—that you name among the peoples will be called ‘The Loveable” and “Love’s Watchtower.”
And I will put in your heart such concern for the world and for my lost sheep that the dull herd will smell their shepherd and run to you almost against their will. The insults which you are preparing for me will not be as great as the disgrace that I will bestow upon you from the treasury of my Cross. The mockery they will pile upon you will be nothing compared with the mockery I will entrust to you as my precious gift and my priceless wedding present, taken from the storehouse of my divine sufferings.
The inglorious weakness with which, in this century of collapse, you stand before the world unable to transform it: this weakness is already part of the mystery of my own inglorious weakness, for when was I ever strong enough to renew the face of the exterior world? Thus, it is my will to give you a worth which does not properly belong to you, and to fashion you solely form the might of my heart, as Eve was fashioned from Adam’s rib.
The source of your life, O Church, is both a demand and a promise. Live not from yourself; live solely in me and from me.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Heart of the World, 197-8
Reflection – Von Balthasar calls us very deep here, in this passage about the Church as Christ sees it, a truly mystical passage, a truly mystical vision.
Mystical, because of course this is not what our human eyes show us, what our human minds judge to be the case. We see the ‘wanton courtesan, daily betraying Christ with another.’ We see the corruption and folly, the compromise and politics, the mediocrity and pettiness. If we are very wise indeed, we see these realities in our own hearts and not just in ‘those bishops’ or ‘those priests’.
Above all we see the inglorious weakness of the Church in our day. I probably needn’t go into all the gory details of this weakness—the declining numbers, the abject failure of catechesis and religious education, the general lack of evangelical zeal, the internal divisions and rancor. We all see ‘all that’, even if we may not all see it exactly the same way or prescribe exactly the same remedies.
But what does Christ see? All that, yes. But, von Balthasar meditates, so much, much, much more. The reference to Christ finding us struggling and weltering in our own blood is from Ezekiel 16, as is the subsequent references to our infidelity and God’s utter fidelity. We are so much better, so much more, so much grander and more glorious, than our actions show. The Church is so much holier and deeper, wiser and more loving, than the sins of her members.
Part of the problem of the Church in our day is that we her children stay on the human level of our eyes, ears, and minds and what they show us. The Holy Spirit wants to show us something that ‘eye has not seen, ear has not heard’ about the Bride and Body of Christ. And no small part of the urgent task of the renewal and reform of the Church is to enter into and make our own this deep spiritual sense of the Church, which is the deepest truth of the Church.
Deeper than the sins of the Curia and the chancery, the rectory and the convent. Deeper than your sins and my sins. Deeper than all our communal and individual failures. This is what the Church is in its essence, and we must get to this essence and live there, even though getting there and staying there will hurt us, will make the failures and corruption in the Church that much more painful to bear. But it is only when we share Christ’s love for His Church and His vision of what the Church in fact is that we will have the zeal, the passion, the flaming courage and strength to preach the Gospel with our lives and pour ourselves out in the Church in an oblation of love and sacrifice for God and for neighbor. Like Christ did.