In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 

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.

            To 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.).

            Going 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.

 

            Our 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.

 

            By 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.

            It 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.

            Our 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.

 

            The 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 ascesis

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 observances.

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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