Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Love Must Be Perceived (Part V)
"If God wishes to reveal the love that he harbors for the world, this love has to be something that the world can recognize... The inner reality of love can be recognized only by love."
This chapter (V) is full of hope--a much-needed dosage after the "Failures of Love" reminded us of how frigid and finite our little post-lapsarian hearts are. Our selfish beings still retain some "glimmer," says von Balthasar, of what selfless love is.
As a mother, I love his first chosen analogy: "After a mother has smiled at her child for many days and weeks, she finally receives her child's smile in response. She has awakened love in the heart of the child, and as the child awakens to love, it also awakens to knowledge: the initially empty sense-impressions gather meaningfully around the Thou." Love precedes and is the necessary condition for knowledge. Our very first relationship--which psychology teaches us is so dominant in the rest of our lives--is the premiere analogy of God's love. God, the transcendent, awakens love in us with his glance; knowledge of him follows love of him.
God takes our response to his love for granted, in the same way the mother assumes her child will, eventually, smile back at her. His movement toward us is entirely at his command; it is not a bilateral movement. Our very response to his love is his grace-filled design, his planning. This is a little offensive to our American sensibilities, because we want to claim some control over the "good that we do." von Balthasar reminds us, however, that the revelation of divine love--which alone is credible--is entirely God's. We receive our entire being, in cluding our ability to respond to him, from him:
"[T]he bride must receive herself purely from the Bridegroom; she must be 'brought forward' and 'prepared' by him and for him and therefore at his exclusive disposal, offered up to him."
Then he lists the created "conditions of perception," by which I think he means those four elements of revelation which we must have to receive the meaning of divine love. This is fascinating, because they are not what you'd probably guess at the first try.
1. The Church in her essential being (the spotless Bride)
2. Mary (the Mother and Bride, in whom "the fiat of the response and the reception is real")
3. The Bible (at once the given Word and the response of the author in one literary work)
4. The Bride and Mother (the Church and Mary together) proclaiming this Word in a living way
I think I could spend the rest of my life unpacking that, because my gut instinct is that he is right. The inclusion of Mary in such a lofty list--she's right up there with Scripture!--is not incredible, but wholly credible. She is a concrete, human being whose very existence is the perfect response to divine love. Surely we, as human beings, need such a person to have lived on earth in a physical existence. The divine economy surely demands it. I think I need to start saying my Rosary again more regularly, and perhaps more wisdom will come to my little brain.
The last really profound point I caught here was this: You must love that which you wish to communicate. Von Balthasar talks briefly about the Holy Spirit's role in revelation. The Holy Spirit is, of course, the very love between the Father and the Son, who communicates their being to the world. "The site from which love can be observed and generated cannot itself lie outside of love; it can only lie there, where the matter itself lies--namely, in the drama of love."
Of course, we might say, the Holy Spirit has to love what it communicates. After all, God is love. How obvious. But the implications of this for human communication are enormous: I think it explains why dissenters who write Church history or try explain Church teaching are so damaging to souls both in and estranged from the Church. They do not love what they are trying to communicate. While human love can blind us to faults, we must be infused with divine love in order to communicate God to others. Before we preach, we must be sure we love what we preach. And of course, that means we are trying to "be perfect as [our] Father is perfect."
What a great challenge for Holy Week.