Tuesday, July 19, 2005

No Anxiety

Since I have to get some car repairs done today (I’m trying not to be anxious about that), I’m going to let the eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar take over for me. This sobering but profound teaching comes from his book, The Christian and Anxiety. Anxiety is a form of fear, and (outside of the “fear of the Lord”) we are called to “fear not.”

“If the Christian’s fearlessness before…every power other than that of Christ is strictly commanded in the New Covenant, it follows that all the ‘facts’ set forth by modern philosophy and psychology concerning the dominance of anxiety are struck down by this command… Modern man will say that this prohibition by no means eliminates the fact of anxiety from the world. The Christian can only counter by insisting that ‘facts’ do not eliminate the command forbidding [anxiety’s] presence. If it is true that anxiety—about being in the world, about being forlorn, about the world itself, about all its supposedly or really unfathomable dimensions, anxiety about death and anxiety about perhaps inescapable guilt—lies at the root of modern consciousness; if it is true that this anxiety is the basis of contemporary neuroses and that this anxiety is supposed to be overcome through a modern existentialist philosophy by entering into it and affirming it and enduring it with determination to the very end, then to all of this Christianity can only say a radical No… If [a Christian] nevertheless is a neurotic and an existentialist, then he suffers from a lack of Christian truth, and his faith is sick or frail…

“The sickness of secular society, in all its various shadings, grips humanity today… To heal this sickness, one does not have to suffer from it oneself; on the contrary, only the example of the healthy man can offer help to the sick man. Thus it was in early Christianity, when the new Christians strode through the existentialism of decaying antiquity without contracting it, and demonstrated to the infirm the strength of a life that draws on quite different sources and resources. Thus it will be today as well. And if the world’s ‘present hour’ makes it harder for people to keep themselves free from anxiety and neurosis than it was in other times, then it follows from this, at best, that more is required of this generation than of others, which probably means that there will be fewer genuine Christians than at other times. Fewer men and women who, with the matter-of-fact courage of faith and by its power, step out into life and lay hold of what God has to offer them: this vocation, this Christian mission, this risk without which a man gains nothing noble, this responsibility, this purity.

“Against all this today’s neurotic anxiety is opposed, and as a result so many Christian vocations—which always demand a fearless Yes to grace—are ruined in these times. As a result, today’s Christianity is criticized for its tepid, insipid mediocrity… Only a Christian who does not allow himself to be infected by modern humanity’s neurotic anxiety…has any hope of exercising a Christian influence on this age. He will not haughtily turn away from the anxiety of his fellow men and fellow Christians, but will show them how to extricate themselves from their fruitless withdrawal into themselves and will point out the paths by which they can step out into the open, into faith’s daring. But not one whit, either theoretically or in practice, will the Christian stoop to compromise. He will know that ‘anxiousness’ belongs among the things the Lord has forbidden (Mt 6:25-26), that guilt is not the fate of a Christian, and that, through Christ, death has lost its sting (1Cor 15:55).

“Christ has borne the anxiety of the world so as to give to the world instead that which is his: his joy, his peace… And this is absolutely inseparable from his earthly life, from his Cross and his descent into hell, and from his Resurrection. All grace is the grace of the Cross. All joy is joy resulting from the Cross, marked with the sign of the Cross…”

The Cross and the Resurrection are the foundation of our freedom from anxiety, and of our courage to be uncompromising Christians. Onward!