Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Scandalous Event

  As the Christmas season draws to a close, I thought I would share a passage from Hans Urs von Balthasar's beautiful book, simply entitled "Prayer." I started reading this book several months ago during my weekly hour of adoration and am so glad I did. It's the first book I have read by von Balthazar, and I am in awe not only of his obvious ability as a scholar and theologian, but also in his ability to articulate both the struggles and the true gift of authentic contemplative prayer. I was also amazed at how pertinent my weekly readings were to the liturgical year. For example, here is an excerpt from the passage I was fortunate to read the week before Christmas: 

"Unless a person is acquainted with trembling awe, reaching down to the very ground of his  being, at the thought of God's nature (not merely the awe he feels in the face of the "mysteries of existence" and the deep things of the world), he will not be ready for the contemplation of Jesus Christ...Otherwise he will be in danger of coming to Christ like someone blind and dumb, finding nothing more in Him than an example of perfect humanity; such a person would not be contemplating God, but man, i.e., himself. Anyone contemplating the life of Jesus needs to be newly and more deeply aware every day that something impossible, something scandalous has occurred: that God, in His absolute Being, has resolved to manifest Himself in a human life (and is in a position to make this resolve effective!). He must be scandalized by this, he must feel his mind reeling, the very ground giving way beneath his feet; he must at least experience that "ecstasy" of non-comprehension which transported Jesus' contemporaries. They are amazed, beside themselves, stupefied, overwhelmed; their reason abandons them (literally). And this happens again and again. In the face of His understanding, His reason, they lose theirs, so the suggestion arises that He Himself has lost His reason, is beside Himself...In the Gospel, anyone who encounters Christ is impelled either to worship Him or to pick up stones with which to stone Him. Evidently, the Gospel does not foresee any other kind of response."

The picture I've featured in this post (and similar paintings of the Nursing Madonna, or "Maria Lactans") is often considered to be scandalous because of the Blessed Mother's exposed breast. What is truly scandalous is the Blessed Infant's state of absolute dependence on His Blessed Mother, that God Himself was sustained on human milk and that the suckling infant was Emmanuel, God With Us. This is the true scandal of the Christmas season: the radical vulnerability of the Creator Himself.

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