A brilliant excerpt from a great book by Hans Urs von Balthasar.

“Thus we now have something like a criterion for the discernment of spirits—the spirits that, beneath the surface, inform and animate the modern trend within the Church. And when Christians finally realize that all this conspicuous activism—precisely because it is so apparently unequivocal—is in urgent need of a Christian crisis, that it cuts both ways and can be seen in two ways and can therefore be dangerous—to the very extent that it claims to possess already the “one thing necessary” and so, soothing the voice of conscience, renders unnecessary the conversion referred to earlier—then perhaps the battle will have been more than half won. For the crisis neither precedes nor follows the initiatives of Christians but lies at their very heart. It constantly challenges and questions all these initiatives and with this simple question: Do they lead us toward God or away from him? Is God before us, in our seeking gaze, or is he behind us, at our backs?

“Having God behind them would mean, in the specific case of these reforming Christians, that they already know about God, about his revelation, its content and scope, about the Church, about being Christian. And so, armed with this ready knowledge, they can go out in the encounter with the world—the world of their fellow Christians, of non-Christians, of anti-Christians. The knowledge these people take with them is sure and adequate, albeit in summary form, of course, reduced to a handful of key concepts.

“This reduction may indeed be legitimate, in light of the intended encounter with the modern world or—as our theologians like to tell us, solemnly and with a meaningful smile (just in case we should imagine they are employing a tautology)—with the temporal world of today. So, they know all about God and revelation, and the question for them is simply this: How do I tell my child? They are coming from God and reaching out to the temporal world; they have God behind them and the temporal world before them. They would not deny that in order to be sent out by Christ into the world one has first to have spent sufficient time with him. They have that behind them, they think. They are now in the phase of action, and they assume, in good faith towards themselves and others, that their time of contemplation has already been served. And just in case their conscience should occasionally remind them that they did not actually gain their high school diploma in contemplation or that they flunked their college entrance exams, then this conscience is quickly comforted with the slogan contemplativus in actione, which means, more or less: the one who acts is contemplative enough—for there is no other way to show oneself mature, to have come of age, than through action.

“This slogan is the watchword of a great many modern Christians, both clerical and lay, of whom one must fear that they have donned the name of “mission” as a form of evangelical camouflage, in order to disguise their flight away from God. Here we see the severity of the crisis in which the current trend within the Church, collectively and individually, now stands. This crisis does not mean that such a trend, as a plan, a movement, an outcome, should actually be dismissed; it means, rather, that it should be constantly reassessed from a Christian standpoint, since at all events its apparent clarity conceals an underlying ambiguity. Going out from God to the world can indeed be authentic Christian mission, the fulfillment of our Christian duty to the world; but it can also be flight from God, fear of the scandal of the Cross, betrayal of Christ. All things have their darker side; only Christ has none. (pp. 31-33) Balthasar, H. U. V. (2014). Who is a Christian. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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