IN FINEM DILEXIT: He loved to the end.
I have sometimes tried to find a
single unifying factor in the characters or personalities of people who are
converts to the Faith and / or who enter religious Orders. I have tried in vain; our characters are too
diverse. However, it could be said that
we all share a certain capacity for going to extremes. Now this is a rather dangerous thing, as
fanatics and fundamentalists are all extremists, too, and we don’t want to be
of their party. Prudence, after all, is
one of the cardinal virtues.
help us in perceiving the nature of Christian extremism, consider
Chapter 13 of St John’s Gospel.
Verse 1 reads: “Now before the Passover, when Jesus knew that his
hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own
who were in the world, he loved them to
the end.” ‘To the end’ is an
expression with two principal meanings: 1) to indicate both the time when this
love will be shown and 2) the quality of his loving (F Moloney). “Jesus loved them until the end of his life
and he loved them in a way that surpasses all imaginable loving” (Ibid.).
to the end in love implies service, obedience to the other, as we see in the
episode of the foot-washing in John 13.
It provides us with an insight into Christ’s obedience, which serves not
so much as a model in the ethical sphere, as a pointer to the inner meaning of
love. Jesus is setting the scene for his
final hour. His knowledge even of his
betrayer and his love for his own are expressed through an action that normally
belonged to a servant. It is an action
which expresses the gift of self, and a total gift, one without partiality,
since it is offered to the good but limited and to the treacherous alike. Says Francis Moloney: “In the midst of
ignorance, misunderstanding and the threat of betrayal, Jesus indicates the
depth of his love for his own by washing their feet… The recipients of this foot-washing, a
symbolic action that reveals Jesus’ limitless love, … are ignorant disciples,
one of whom he know will betray him.”
His instruction, after the washing of the feet, is a call to repeat his
example of the loving gift of self, externalised above all in obedience. For the disciples it meant a commitment to
love even if it led to death, as it will lead their Master. Jesus’ love for the Father expresses itself
in obedience to the uttermost, an ‘uttermost’ that could be brought about only
by a divine Person. Balthasar, following
Nicholas of Cusa, reminds us that “this is an obedience that lies beyond the
limits of what is possible to man on earth, as the most absolute proclamation
to the world of God’s disposition of love.”
In going to the end, Jesus does not merely finish his work but obeys the
Father’s will. “The end is attained in
the self-offering on the Cross, in the opening of the Heart and in the
breathing forth of the Spirit,” all in a voluntary obedience.
own efforts at going to the end of love for God and for neighbour, expressed in
voluntary obedience, seem puny against this background. Jesus’ ‘case’ is always qualitatively
different from ours, his obedience likewise.
Nevertheless, our efforts draw their authenticity from Jesus’ obedience,
as from their source. He, himself,
implied, when he washed the disciples’ feet, that all would have a share in his
self-giving, a ‘part’ in Him. It is a
foreshadowing of our baptism; and by our religious profession, which has been
seen traditionally as a second baptism, understood correctly, our total gift of
self is renewed and accepted through the Church.
our vow of stability, we attempt to fulfil the first meaning of the phrase ‘to
the end’ by remaining all our days in one place, abiding in the Father’s House.
To do so aspires to reflect the constancy
of Christ and his unswerving fidelity to
the Father and to His Mission. St Benedict, at the end of the Prologue,
makes this the mark of the consummate monk: “Never abandoning his rule but
persevering in [Christ’s] teaching in the monastery until death”. Usque ad mortem in monasterio
perseverantes. The literal end of a
person’s life is meant here, but it is linked inevitably with a generosity of
will, sustained beyond the initial enthusiasm.
It is thus linked as well with love which is understood as being at the
heart of stability: love of God’s commandments, therefore love of neighbour,
the other face of the love of God. Our
love is expressed in the act or remaining, abiding, rooted in God’s love.
refers also to the quality of our loving. For it is no abstract love. We choose to live with and , in a manner of
speaking, obey a few other people with all their nobility and awkward
points. We do not try to escape them, or
simply live alongside them in mutual resignation, but to love them. We know that this programme is attended by
glories and minor catastrophes, more often by an unsung and costly
fidelity. Stability is all
inclusive. No one must be left on the
margins, but everyone must be drawn into the game. We show the same love for all so that we all
go together to the end. Antipathies must
be transcended; sympathies and empathies integrated. After the example of our Lord who loved his
disciples even in their failure, our forgiveness of each other gives the
forward movement its momentum. Whenever
we forgive a wrong, we are making a statement that what is beautiful has not
been wrecked, that there is something more important than ego pain and
that our feelings are not an absolute.
Whenever we apologise or are responsive when it goes against the grain,
we are leapfrogging, as it were, over ourselves into a cleaner, purer
atmosphere. We have made a step towards
ultimate love. We might feel undressed for a while, without our muffling, but
soon we prefer the experience of lightness.
Always it implies seeing the whole and the whole in God, who himself
surpasses the whole.
life of prayer is the means and expression par excellence of this going
to the end in love, since prayer is the gift of self, the exchange of
love between Christ and the soul. We
pursue the journey of prayer beyond the boundaries of the self, sometimes in
the sense that we have to rise above the clamourous, needy self in a pure
giving without thought of return; sometimes in the sense that God himself takes
us beyond our own boundaries. In case
you think I am speaking only of ecstatic experience, this happens each time we
receive Holy Communion. In this supreme
mystery, we receive an infinite Someone who bursts open our finite boundaries
in his act of coming to us in the form of bread and wine. Of itself, this asks of us an extreme
response. To repay love, we desire to
live in love, in a state of constant prayer and communion with our God. Here we come up against the dailiness of our
life: the unromantic, unremitting work of keeping the mind in God. We cannot be content with the odd prayer
throughout the day, outside Office. We
aim to live in, be bathed in an atmosphere of prayer, so that even during our
tasks, we are aware of the Beloved ‘behind the wall, looking through the
lattice’, waiting for us to turn to him.
For this we need to create silence around us - a freeing and
welcoming silence of word and action, and a peace both material and
interior. We know what we are to do to
the end and, even more, what we are not to do.
idea of zeal is clearly associated with that of going to the end in love. We could never go far down this road without
good zeal. Thus we want to give
everything n choir, in work, in play. We make ourselves responsible, because in
his way, we are able to go out to meet
the Lord in his purposes. We engage, on
the alert, ready for what might be asked
of us. There is an obedience in this,
too; for we drop our autonomy, our own pet theories and fall in with the
others, hold ourselves ready to follow an
instruction. Here is a whole
You will have noticed that I
have not proposed any muscular kind
of asceticism in this matter of going
beyond ourselves. This is deliberate. Real
ascesis is founded solely on love and is
just as likely to be expressed in voluntary limitation of our own personal wishes than in external
Is there room for leisure
activity in this programme? Yes, for play also takes us out of ourselves. We say that children are often “in another world” when absorbed in
play. This is good.
Self-forgetfulness is thus not
necessarily unpleasant. If the Fall had
not happened, it would never be unpleasant but always natural to us. Since we
are in a fallen world, and indeed often contribute to its fallenness by our own sins and omissions,
our imitation of the Christ who always goes
beyond in loving obedience to the
Father’s will, leads us into a
willingness to suffer for the world with Him, if thereby the world may be raised up.
If we want to love to the end, we shall not want to refuse the suffering
we are offered or positively, we shall want to suffer to our own
particular limit or end. Nothing morbid about this. It is the privileged expression of love and a
relief to be able to prove to our Lord that, after all, we do love Him. It may be physical pain or some interior
suffering or loss. All may be taken up into
this love of ours that wants, needs, to go to the end. It frequently brings about progress in prayer
and should, if borne or embraced in the right spirit, increase our joy, that
infallible sign of a life lived to the
uttermost of obedient love. It is a gauge that our intercession rests not
only in fine sentiments. When we pray for the ills of the world, all its
brokenness and sin and calamities, we
shall not be letting ourselves off with words while others work at the coal face, if we offer to God the
cup of our own sacrifice and sufferings,
which is only a permitted share in His
own cup. He will use it.
Our life of praise and community
is simple. It is not always harsh or
painful. But if we are truly given, it becomes part of Christ’s love-to-the end.
Let us try to spend this year pushing back our boundaries, cultivating a
holy dissatisfaction with the stage we
have reached. We shall not arrive
overnight, but we can tell the Lord that this is what we mean to do; that we
believe with his grace, that we shall eventually do it. Then we shall not let ourselves off with
anything and shall offer him each day all the energy of mind and body at our
disposal. He will do the rest; and so we shall love to the end. By the phrase, in finem dilexit, John
anticipates the final word of the dying Jesus: “It is finished” (Jn 19;23). This remoulding of the whole bein, is what it means, remarks Pope Benedict,
to give oneself unto death.
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