I cannot read this passage without being reminded of Charles Péguy, who by remembering and praying a prayer he learned at the parish school suddenly became Christian — despite having lived as a socialist and having married a woman with no sympathy for Christianity. Faithful both to his wife and family and to the Church, he lived and died just within the portal of the Church.«The theoretical quality that distinguishes the humanism of the Christian from every other, in actual fact, enters the sphere of dialogue only as a borderline phenomenon, a readiness for the Ernstfall [crisis, the moment of witness].
And now a strange thing happens: it is precisely the readiness, beyond the dialogue, to go much further with one's brother than one can go even in the dialogue that opens the Christian heart to the best possible and longest dialogue. The Christian allows himself to be involved more than anyone else because his partner, perhaps his opponent, is, like himself, someone who is also borne in the crucified Heart. For reasons of prudence he can adjourn a dialogue [i.e. in dying], but he cannot finally break it off. For in the Cross the dividing wall that separates the speakers at the moment has already been torn down (Eph. 2:14) — not by talking, but through the most lonely suffering.»The Moment of Christian Witness, 124.
I added a line break after the first sentence quoted
The Ernstfall, the crisis, becomes a vanishing point that gives depth to dialogue, imparts to it a certainty that death is not the end of the discussion. At some point dialogue comes to an end, but the desire for dialogue, the love that impels us to dialogue — remains.
It's hard to read this book without thinking over and over of Flannery O'Connor (in his afterward, Balthasar notes that some complained of its sarcasm). As the Misfit said: "She would have been a good woman... if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."