I just watched a “last lecture” delivered by Fr. Michael Himes, whose work I always benefit from. This lecture at Bostton College was the first in an anticipated series named for the talk given by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch in September 2007, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The idea of the “last lecture” is that the speaker shares his or her wisdom about the most important things in life, as though this were the last chance one had to convey that which it is absolutely necessary to convey.
What Himes spoke about what his understanding of Christ’s statement in the Gospels that if one holds onto one’s life one loses it but if one gives it away, it becomes everlasting life.
Himes observed that for a long time he mistakenly understood Jesus’ words as a commandment, as saying this is what we ought to do – give up our live to save it. However, over time he came to understand that is it not a command, but a description; not an ought, but a statment of how things are: if we hold onto our live we will lose it; if we give it away, it won’t run out. What that means, he says, is that being and giving oneself are the same thing, which is precisely what John is saying in saying that God is love: that the foundation of existence is self-gift.
Love, in this context is not an emotion, but an activity – the act of giving oneself to another. To really love means to give oneself over to. We can’t, he observes really get to know or understand anyone or anything without giving ourself to it. Giving our time, our intelligence, our energy – really giving ourself to it.
I’ll want to continue mulling over what Himes says in this lecture, but his words resonate. If God is love and we are make in God’s image, than we are made for self-gift. It is not about commands and oughts, but about being who we are. We cannot be fully human, we cannot exist as we were made to exist, in God’s image, without giving ourselves over.
You can watch the lecture in its entirety here.