Obscuring our ability to see beauty or live in Christ’s order

By Fr. Jim Steffes

“Sin obscures sight.” 

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian and Catholic priest, dedicated much of his study and writing to respond to Western Modernity in a non-traditional way. He desired Christianity to be more challenging to modern trends and sensitivities.  Balthasar was always very concerned that his writings address spiritual and practical issues of his time.

He described his theology as a “kneeling theology” deeply connected to contemplative prayer and as a “sitting theology” intensely connected to faith seeking understanding guided by the heart and mind of the Catholic Church.

He died in 1988 after being named but, before being created a Cardinal in the Church.

His simple yet, profound phrases above, has challenged me more recently.  I have been pondering it, meditating with it and praying about it within the context of our modern culture and its present reality: “Sin obscures sight.”

I love beauty; beauty in nature, art, architecture, people and human behavior. Actually we are all naturally drawn to beauty because beauty is of God.  The thought of intentionally obscuring sight is troubling to me.

Sin obscures our ability to see beauty or live in its natural order.  Back in the 1970’s, Karly Menninger a renowned American Psychiatrist wrote a book entitled “Whatever Became of Sin.” Already 40 some years ago, sin was departing from the minds and vocabulary of our modern culture.

Menninger questioned what was wrong with our ethics, values and morality and asserted that the answers lied within us.  Balthasar challenges us Christians to examine our own lives and make personal choices and changes away from sin and thus, toward God and toward what is of God. Keeping this clear vision or clarifying one’s vision makes a better person and thus, a better society.

Sin obscures our sight and insight not only for life in general, but it blurs our vision toward every day happenings, events and encounters with people.  It obscures our ability to objectively see clearly the realities of our own life.  It obscures our sense of seeing and living the Truth.

Sin reduces us to live a surface, very relativistic and luke-warm life.   Living and remaining in the beauty and love of God gives us true purpose, fulfillment and lasting joy. Put that way, why would one choose the former?

Unfortunately, sin is a reality of our existence.  The concupiscence we retain from original sin causes us to fall into it.  We can avoid temptation and the very act of sin by God’s grace but, sometimes that entails tough choices that lead to suffering and persecution.  Most people would shy from that. But that does not mean that it is impossible even if it is difficult!  Jesus never promised us an easy or comfortable life.  He promised us a life like His.

There is a proper order to all of God’s creation.  It is beautiful when we allow everything in its proper order: creation, human dignity, family life.We have a clear vision and allow things in their proper order when we live a fully committed life to Jesus day in and day out, 24/7.

We cannot insert God into our lives for an hour a week or simply whenever we choose to call upon His assistance.  That is not the Christian life. Jesus calls us to follow Him and to live His life, not insert Him in and out of our lives.  In baptism we die to self in the water and then are renewed by that same water into His life.

As Christians we are called to the order of life with Christ. We cannot give in to the disorder of society around us and accept what is not true and good. It may seem easier because we don’t want to “rock the boat” or alienate anyone or appear to be ignorant, bigoted or close-minded. But that is not a life with Christ. In this way we are closing our eyes to the Truth and turning away from Christ. We are conforming ourselves not to Christ but to relativism and modernity in its ugliest reality. Our own bad choices, sins, turn a life of grace and virtue into darkness and vice.

If we do not strive for a life of virtue, a life with God’s grace and choose to remain in His love we are relegated to a life of mediocrity and obscurity. We begin to no longer recognize true beauty. Our vision becomes blurred. We begin to live in partial blindness and miss the true and genuine beauty of living with God; having 20/20 vision. We would never choose that physically.

Why then do we settle for it spiritually?

Sin obscures our sight and removes the proper order of God within and around our lives.

Yet, God’s assistance, His love and His mercy are always available to us. We all know that the blind leading the blind is never good. And yet, we do it all the time in our world. We lead blindly, and we follow blindly. It is really a matter of choice to see clearly or not. And thus, it becomes a choice of whether or not we want to have a more fruitful, joyful and purposeful existence on this earth and a greater assurance of a much better life to come! Make the right choice for yourself and those around you. Open your eyes and see the beauty of God!

Father James Steffes is pastor at St. Edwards’s and St. Augustine Catholic churches.  Reach St.  Edward’s office at  433-1841  and St. Augustine’s  office: 437-4537. The parishes’ website is staugustinestedward.org.

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