Who are these young residents and what do they do here, in the Casa Balthasar?
The Casa Balthasar is a center where young-adult Christian laity from all over the world can come to deepen their commitment to the Lord by living, working, and studying together within a programme of Christian cultural and spiritual formation. These young adults are primarily between the ages of twenty and thirty. They desire to know and love the Lord and to offer themselves and their whole lives to him, but often don’t know precisely how. Some have already finished professional studies while others have yet to choose a profession. During their time in the house, the students learn how the Lord speaks to them in and through their lives. They learn above all to open themselves to the action of the Lord in their lives, thus offering the Lord the chance to speak to each one personally, if he so desires.
How does a young man “listen” to what the Lord has to tell him?
This is done in a myriad of little ways by each student throughout the programme: it consists above all in learning how to live a coherently and uncompromisingly Christian life. St. Ignatius of Loyola only repeated an intuition of the Church fathers when he observed that the main culprit of erroneous doctrine is a decadent life. The formation is not just intellectual, but also spiritual, cultural, physical… the students learn to live in the grace God freely offers them in every part of their lives. In a special retreat each student decides–before God– how he wishes to live his life: whether as a layman, a religious, or a priest, whether with the bond of matrimony, or with the bond of the evangelical counsels.
So the Casa Balthasar isn’t a religious community or a seminary?
No. The students residing in the house live according to the evangelical counsels during their stay, but not in view of remaining there. Casa alumni have gone on to become priests, husbands and fathers, religious (Franciscans, Benedictines, Jesuits,…) or laypersons living lives consecrated to the Lord in the midst of the world through their professions. You might say that the house isn’t an end in itself, but a means by which one becomes better equipped to discern what the Lord is trying to tell him. One enters the house knowing that after some time he will go away.
Who is Hans Urs von Balthasar, and how is the Casa Balthasar connected with him?
Father von Balthasar is a Swiss Catholic priest and theologian, a prolific writer and in many ways a visionary. His work cannot at all be separated from that of Adrienne von Speyr, a Swiss doctor and convert to Catholicism whose intense spiritual life led to the publication of over sixty volumes of meditations, commentaries, and other works. Together, Fr. Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr founded the Community of St. John, a secular institute for lay men and women practicing a profession in the world and for diocesan priests. Balthasar was himself an immensely cultured man of letters, a talented musician, a gifted and prolific writer: but it is above all as a theologian that Balthasar is remembered today. His most emminent work is the 14 volume trilogy that reflects on the beautiful, the good, and the true. Balthasar’s renown as a theologian continues to grow, not only within Catholicism, but also in Orthodox and protestant circles (Balthasar’s volume on the theology of the Protestant Karl Barth was recognised as one of the best overviews of Barth’s theology by Barth himself).
Shortly after Balthasar’s death in 1990, a group of friends and associates founded the centre as the concrete expression of a reality that had already begun to emerge as a fruit of Balthasar’s work. They had come to the realization that Balthasar’s works–beyond an academic presentation of the mysteries of the Faith–in some way made these very mysteries present and, by introducing the reader to a Christ very much alive, challenged the reader to acknowledge the reality with which he had come into contact in all its radicality. Already Adrienne von Speyr reading groups had formed, groups of young adults looking for ways to make concrete the desire for consecration they had found, and certain hints made by Pope John Paul II only confirmed the intuition that Balthasar’s works are a genuine spiritual guide. Many excerpts of Balthasar’s writings are equally suitable for academic study, spiritual reading, and for providing points upon which one can meditate in prayer. His work always points to Christ, always passing through the Church he established through Mary and John. The ecclesial figure of the centre is completed by Henri de Lubac, whose works provide a basis for a formation that aims at nothing less than the ever new vitality of the Christian tradition that remains as fresh in today’s world as it was in that of the Church fathers.
So Fr. von Balthasar, together with Adrienne von Speyr and Henri de Lubac, provide a single, unified figure that inspires the entire formation here in the Casa. The works of Cardinal Ratzinger, who has served as protector of the house since its founding, played a role in forming the character of the house, as has the involvement of each of the six other founders.