As I was nearing the first anniversary from my priestly ordination, I stopped for some days of rest and reflection. I started rereading the book Heart of the World by Hans Urs von Balthasar, which begins by describing human persons as “Prisons of finitude”! This somewhat shocking statement is not the fruit of some Platonic allegory or a Nietzschean description of man before the revelation of the death of God. It speaks of man in his crude reality of being finite and left to his whims because, through his sinful rebellion, he has uprooted himself from the infinite that gives him life and meaning.
Maybe some would consider this to be a very dull description of humanity, especially in view of the liberated humanity of the enlightenment and post-enlightenment, and also in view of the technological advancements that pretend to offer an easy recipe against finitude, enabling man to transcend time and space, to keep death at bay and to live intensely (or rather, crazily and frenetically), without realising that we have been raising higher walls around us that imprison us further. And the more we try to escape, the walls to scale become higher.
Nevertheless, as man seeks to escape madly from his finitude and even tries to get rid of his sinfulness—or negative energies, because this would be more politically correct—we see the Infinite One who takes on a finite form. And, while man descends in the Jordan of all the possible escape roots he tries to figure out, the Son of Man descends “after all the people” into the same river to take this finitude upon himself, not to overcome it from above but to redeem it from within; to open it to the Infinite so as to enable it to live peacefully, fully and freely its finitude—no longer as a shackle but as a jar of clay to be filled to the brim.
“The meaning of our life: to show our recognition that we are not God”, von Balthasar states. It is when we stop pretending to be some sort of demigods and start living as we really are and with reference to the One who really Is, that we start living in the right proportion of things and our life finds its meaning.
All this made me think of my position as a priest: where do I stand? On which side of the river? Or rather, in which place of the existential queue? I humbly think that it is somewhere in between, in Christ’s same position. Locked in this prison of finitude as all are, the priest is a beacon of the possibility to transcend this finitude, not by trying to escape but by living within it patiently and gracefully. This may make of him a caricature in the eyes of some, an oxymoron of finitude and infinity, of the sinful and the sacred—a parody of the sacred and an attempted disguise of the sinful. Or is it that, as such, he stands as a sign of what it is truly human: not running away from finitude while, at the same time, not hiding because of it?
Putting himself at the end of the queue, the priest shares in Christ’s burden of sinful humanity, not as the lamb without blemish, but as one who has opened his darkness to Him who is all-Light. He lacks experience of many things in life, yet others manage to find wisdom and consolation in his ignorance because he offers someone else’s Word, not his. He lives up to his promise of celibacy, not as a standard of loneliness and depravation, but as a sign that, no matter how many relationships one has and of whatever type they are, man is still an individual, and it is only when one opens his heart to the only One that can invade the prison walls, let him fill one’s heart with his Otherness—which is Absolute Love—and thus enabling him to approach the others—not from his lust to overcome his existential solitude but to offer love to others, to be freely there for others—that one’s life finds meaning.
With the categories and measures of society, I may be living a meaningless existence. But I think that such a meaningless existence that claims to have found meaning in a God which is not myself, turns out to be a sign that life does have a meaning and that it is not so out of reach as one may think.