When Hans Urs von Balthasar was taking graduate courses in theology during the last century, he was said to have lamented after one class, “They’ve taken all the eros out of theology!”
If you’ve read the first encyclical that our Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2006, Deus Caritas Est, you’ll recognize that von Balthasar was using the word ‘eros‘ in a way similar to how his friend Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) used it many years later.
In that encyclical, the Pope tells us that eros is implanted in human nature by God. Given the right discipline and purification in order not to lose its original dignity or degenerate into sex-for-self, eros becomes a wonderful springboard into a true love.
This true love indeed becomes “ecstasy”, the Pope says, not in a fleeting moment of intoxication but as an on-going exodus from the inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving.
This “exodus”, in turn, leads to a deeper discovery of self and of God and, in this way, eros eventually lifts the human being “in ecstasy” (that is, out of self) and towards the DIvine as eros and agape love become more of a reality in our daily lives.
Why do I bring up this lovely insight from the Holy Father’s 2006 encyclical six years ago during our series on the Year of Faith?
First, because we can’t give love until we experience love.
By attempting to tough out our lives on our own terms, a la “I did it my way!”, all we end up doing is denying ourselves and those around us of a true experience of God’s love. We even deny God an experience of our love.
Any parent who has watched a much-loved child struggle on their own, unwilling or unable to receive the love that is freely offered them, can understand a little bit of how we make God suffer by shutting Him out of our busy lives or relegating Him to an hour on Sundays.
Second, there’s a way that anyone who wants to can learn more about Benedict XVI’s thought and can easily teach it to others during this Year of Faith.
In 2005, a few local Catholic families began to gather together monthly and formed a Communio group. Communio was founded by Fr. Joseph Ratzinger and Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar in the early 1970s as a response to the sometimes misguided efforts of the time to implement the “spirit of Vatican II”.
Communio seeks to
“eschew both accommodation to the zeitgeist and sectarian bitterness in order to let the light of the Gospel shine on the questions, problems and anxieties of our age. Communio has been committed to this program of renewal through return to the sources of authentic Tradition”.
While Communio Study Circles around the world usually meet regularly to discuss articles published in Communio magazine, our group has always been more interested in simply learning more about what Pope Benedict is trying to so hard to teach us.
No one in our group is a theologian or religious educator. We are all lay people with families who knew that we needed more than we were getting in our homilies, as wonderful as they are. At the time, we couldn’t find the resources we needed from our diocese.
While we recognized we couldn’t learn everything the Pope is teaching us, we knew that we could learn something. During the intervening seven years, learn we have!
The point is: When we don’t know where to begin, “begin where you are”, as Mother Teresa never tired of pointing out.
If you don’t feel called to begin a Communio Study Circle, teach children in the religious education program. If you want to learn more about what the Church teaches, sign up for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
During this amazing Year of Faith, much grace will be available to those who will avail themselves of it. Don’t waste the opportunity!
Copyright © 2012, Glenna Bradshaw