To Hell and Back

Moving toward Holy Week we are scrambling to prepare the house and grounds, the liturgies and music, and most of all our own souls, helping one another in homilies to remember what is really going on.

For some time I have been dipping into the writings of Hans Urs Von Balthasar and during this Lent I am reading /praying his Heart of the World, a poetic reflection that is one of his most spiritual and accessible books. A theme that he revolves around is the meaning of Jesus’s words: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Balthasar claims that Jesus actually visited and experienced hell so that he was stretched further than anyone can imagine in his distance from the Father. In this way he glorifies the Father all the more because of his willingness to go to that extreme as his expression of love.

Something about this experience draws me in more deeply than any other episode from the Passion. If this is the width of the embrace Christ is offering to me, then how can I resist the slightest discomfort? I think it is integrally connected to our icon of the Agony in the Garden. Although we are weak and human, we truly want to be faithful friends and go the distance with him this week.

The following is a paraphrase and excerpts from Chapter III, “The Broken Sun”:

He came as the light and all were blind; he came as the Word and all were deaf; He came as Love, but no one suspected Love existed. Instead mankind believed that we are this circle which bears within itself its meaning and its law with posted limits to this space. No one should call our reality into question. An emptiness gaped in their souls, sensations were dead with despair. They were so much a prey to sin that they could not see sin in themselves. How could He possibly enter? They will only see a teacher of religion. If He open a crack they cry “blasphemy”.

And so, the Stranger, the Pilgrim, gives them hints such as wind blowing – something to touch them and remind them of things long forgotten. But they shrink down his message to fit their world. No. He must make them wholly new in Spirit. He will take on their dead, dull senses. and lose his Father and the heavenly world; have his heart dissolve in hell and give it to them to drink.

From hatred He must produce a world of grace. He himself must provide not only the love, but the return of love…must also bestow the power of response. So he lets darkness enter his flames.

“He lets the world, which neither knows nor wants him become his very Body. And from the solitude of the one Body he creates his Bride.”

“It is as if the sun were rising over the chaos…And over this death the light of the World shines forth.”

“But who is this sun? Who is the light which illumines every man who comes into this world? It is a Heart like ours, a human Heart, which itself thirsts for a return of love…What can a heart do if it does not receive love in return? What will it do if we do not want to love?”

“And now that He stands there clothed in dull flesh, in his breast this Heart of flesh pounding – how strange, how different everything is from what he had expected! How greatly this garment obscures the divine ray!”

“’…He transforms his heart to offer it to men in new and different ways. To no avail…They have weighed him and found him to be too heavy…They reject him, and he wanders among them as a stranger.”

“Only hope wards off the vertigo on the air-woven hanging-bridge of time, swaying from second to second over the abyss of non-existence.”

“How can one single Heart suffice to transform hell into Paradise?”

“The flower of grace is so implausible that it grows only from the hardest stone of the impossible.”

“For God’s Wisdom had resolved to triumph by perishing, and thus it poured itself out in sheer folly. It is foolish to die for a lost cause. It is foolish to hope when everything has long been played out. Foolish did God’s love become, and wholly without dignity.”

“’Father!’, cries the Heart in its vertiginous plunge, ‘into your hands – which I do not feel, which opened to let me fall, which will catch me at the bottom of the abyss – into your hands I entrust my Spirit. Into your hands I breathe out my Spirit. My Holy Spirit.’”

“This Heart’s love loved even to annihilation, and since it had become invisible in itself, it now emerged in the hearts of the redeemed…No enemy is mightier and no night more night-filled than the radiant darkness of love.”

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