Exposed To The World

From “New Elucidations”
by Hans Urs von Balthasar, 1905-1988

On every level of his being man is both an individual and a member of a community. Each of these poles is related to the other: he is a personality only if he is not closed in on himself but open to his fellow men in service and self-giving; and he is genuinely a community member only if he makes his own independent contribution to the common cause. This fruitful polarity is intensified in Christ’s Church, because on the one hand all together form the one body of Christ and are integrated by Christ the Head into a supernatural, organic unity in him; and, on the other hand, in and beyond each individual we are to recognise the Lord, who died on the Cross for him personally as well as for me. Hence the union of Christians by virtue of the mystery of Christ is an especially mysterious and intense one. This union binds all together, but in such a way that it is also in each individual in an unmistakable manner. But this ecclesial unity is not the ultimate thing, for Christ died not only for the members of the Church but for all men. This means that behind every person I am to see his Redeemer. In other words, every Christian has to be open in a missionary sense to the non-Christian world, even more intensely than the ecclesial community as such can be. The Eucharistic assembly of Christians can be a sign or at best an invitation to the world, but in itself, it is not mission; this is the duty of the individuals strengthened in the eucharistic assembly, sent forth from it and exposed to the world. Common prayer and the common celebration and reception of the Eucharist ought to have equipped all the members to go out and personally radiate what they have received, not as single individuals but as “ecclesial souls” (animae ecclesiasticae), either by an express proclamation or in the tacit preaching of their entire conduct.

The Christian's being exposed to the world belongs to the newness of Christianity in contrast to the Old Covenant. Even in those times, believers gathered in their common Temple only on solemn feasts and for services in the synagogue only on the Sabbath. Between times, they normally lived in the national faith community of which they were a part and which attracted at most a few proselytes. The Church, on the contrary, may not form a closed faith community vis-a-vis the world. The Apostles were sent “into the whole world;” each Christian is likewise sent, in his own way. The liturgical assembly, as well as any other communal event in the Church and parish, always remains, at least among other things, oriented to training every individual to give witness before a non-Christian world. And after an age of relatively closed "Christendom", this is true again today more than ever.

Hence one can say that the practice of outwardly manifest ecclesial solidarity is meaningful in itself, and is so continually in the course of Christian existence. It is, however, essentially oriented to each participant’s acquiring an inner ecclesiality; by means of the practice of external solidarity, each ought to become qualified to bear within himself a seed for creating new community.

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