CONSOLATION AND THE CONSOLER
THE NAME WE BEAR
At one hundred years from our founding the Tenth General Chapter in Kenya was the first milestone on the Institute’s journey ad gentes. The Chapter called on us to reflect in depth on the spirituality of consolation. The following text is an overview of Scripture, history and the challenges of our time.
a. The time of the Messiah: the two comings. In the first covenant the prophet Isaiah calls the messianic era a time of consolation. The New Testament proclaims Jesus as the Messiah who initiates and fulfills the time of consolation: “Behold in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He awaited the consolation of Israel; the Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2,25).
The sun of justice appears on the horizon: a light for the nations and the glory of Israel.
Through the imagery of a sword, Mary is incorporated into the messianic plan. One day Peter, full of the Spirit of Pentecost cured a paralytic, entered the temple where Simeon had prophesied and completed his prediction: “You must repent and turn to God … so the Lord may send the time of consolation. Then he will send you the Messiah he has predestined, that is Jesus, who will remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration …” (Acts 3, 19-21).
b. The public life of Jesus: The evangelist Luke interprets the prophet Isaiah’s mission (61) in a new light that is pregnant with Christological implications. The passage is dense with significance; its intertwined elements constitute a compendium of mission-consolation theology with a subtle but undeniable reference to Mary. The proclamation of the Good News takes place in Nazareth, Mary’s village. We read that: “Jesus came to Nazareth where he had grown up …” (4,16). The parallel passages of Matthew (13,55) and Mark (6,3) speak clearly of Mary. The text links the Holy Spirit with liberation of the oppressed, a year of Jubilee and the consolation of all those who weep: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has consecrated me to proclaim the good news to the poor, he has sent me to proclaim liberation for those in prison, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, to proclaim a year of grace from the Lord … and to console all those who weep.” (Is 61,1-2).
The missionary dimension of this Lucan text is obvious from Jesus’ reference to the prophets Elijah and Elisha – both of whom went out to the pagans: the widow of Sarepta and Naaman, the Syrian. This mosaic in Luke is a “micro-epiphany” of the charisma of Consolata Missionaries: messianic proclamation of Jesus; the Holy Spirit as Consoler; good news for the poor and oppressed is the hallmark of consolation; a missio ad gentes that goes beyond the borders of Israel to Syria; the “discreet” presence of Mary.
The time of consolation reaches its apogee at the time of the Cross and Easter - the breathing of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ gift of his Mother to us.
c. Time of the Holy Spirit: Jesus returns to his place at the right hand of the Father and as a sign of his “Paschal Victory” he sends his Spirit. This is the time of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the new Consoler. Jesus foretold this: “… I will ask the Father and he will give you another consoler.” (Jn 14,16). The Holy Spirit initiates his mission on Pentecost day (Acts 2, 1-16); he empowers Peter speaking before the Sanhedrin 4,8-22); he supports Stephen in his martyrdom (6-7); he anticipates the baptism of Cornelius and his family (10). He chooses Barnabas: the son of consolation, and Saul for the mission (13,1-3). The Holy Spirit enlightens and inspires the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15); he prompts the missionary journeys of Paul and his companion and determines their itinerary (16,6-15); at Ephesus he brings the baptism of John the Baptist’s disciples to fulfillment (19,1-7); he foretells Paul’s sufferings and captivity (20,23); he accompanies Paul in prison and on the journey to Rome (27,23); in Rome he inspires Paul’s definitive choice of the missio ad gentes (28,25-29). We are pilgrims in the messianic era – a time marked by the presence of two missionary/ agents of consolation sent by the “Father of mercy and the God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1,3).
2. The Consoler and the Consoled (Our Lady, the “Consolata”)
The Consoler flooded Mary, the Consolata, with grace; she was a “sacrament” of the motherhood of God. “Can a woman forget to nurse the infant at her breast? As a mother consoles her children so will I console you in Jerusalem – you will be consoled: (Is 66,13).
a. Our Lady of Sorrows – Our Lady the “Consolata”: Father Luiz Balsan in his beautiful study of the charisma of Father Allamano and of our Institute did extensive research in ancient documents on devotion to the “Consolata” at Turin in past centuries. Mary was seen as the “desolata [the desolate one}” – without consolation, seeking consolation. There are hymns and liturgical texts from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in which we find: “The mother says to her son: Say a word to your mother, do not leave her alone and unconsoled.” Nicodemus consoles Mary when the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross. Jesus consoles her when he comes to take her up into heaven.
Giuseppe Allamano celebrated his first Mass at Castelnuovo on Sunday, September 21, 1873 – the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. This was a devotion he would nurture throughout his life and during the forty-six years he was Rector of the Consolata Sanctuary. He would often say “Devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows is a duty for all Christians and more especially for us, sons of the Consolata. We have an obligation to console our Mother, to make her feel “consoled.” It is not without reason that we bear this name” (VS 720).
b. Glory wounded by history: the Passion continues
The Second Vatican Council presented Mary as a pilgrim of glory: “The Mother of Jesus in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and beginning of the Church … she shines forth on earth until the day of the Lord shall come” (Lumen Gentium, 68). A mother who accompanies her people on earth – the war in Iraq, globalization, marginalization of the poor, the tragedy of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the sleep and silence of so many … is she not once again, in the midst of her children, desolate and unconsoled.
Tepeyac, Mexico, 1531: Our Lady of Guadalupe addresses the Indian, Juan Diego: “Listen to me, you, the most abandoned of my children, where are you going?” The Indian is given no heed and is thrown out of Juan de Zumarraga’s house. He answers Our Lady: “Lady, the most abandoned of my daughters, my daughter …”. If Mary’s messenger is ignored and thrown out – Mary too is ignored and excluded. If you abandon the poor you abandon their mother!
In prison shortly before dying under Hitler (1945) Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that a new theology would be born in Gethsemane where Jesus – the new presence of God in our midst – in the hour of his supreme desolation sought consolation from his disciples and friends.
How do the Passion of Christ and the sufferings of Our Lady of Sorrows – Our Lady, “the Consolata” continue throughout history?
3. The Challenges of Time
Isaías, the Archbishop of Cali.
Msgr. Isaías Duarte Cancino, the Archbishop of Cali, Columbia, repeatedly asked Consolata Missionaries to assume responsibility for pastoral work among Africans in his diocese. Three missionaries went to Cali. A few weeks later the Archbishop was assassinated for his courageous denunciation of thugs – especially those involved in the drug traffic. A week before his death he invited Father Carlo and a diocesan priest to share a cup of chocolate with him at a popular cafe some 18 km along the road to the sea. The small restaurant had been abandoned after a series of kidnappings and violent incidents. On the trip to this restaurant the Archbishop explained his reasons for this invitation – “we must reaffirm life in those very places where it is disappearing, we must reinforce it and help it to grow. No place should be “off-limits” – that is why we are here. We must create or restore life, we must uphold the dignity of our people and their land. We must defend life when it is attacked, we must console it. This is why I have asked the Consolata Missionaries to come and this is why you are here.”
To receive consolation and extend to those places where life is threatened, wounded, exposed or even extinguished – to be called upon by this bishop on the eve of his own martyrdom – this is the front-line, the very purpose of compassion. This is grace as responsibility.
- The name “Consolata Missionaries” is a synthesis of the three dimensions of our vocation: missio ad gentes, Mary, consolation. In practice how can we bring these three dimensions together so that they nurture our spirituality, foster our zeal and influence our missionary methods?
- Our Founder told us that “Holy Scripture is our book, it should be the primary object of our study.” Do we find time for Lectio Divina? Do we periodically gather in community for reflection? Do we review our lives in the light of the Gospel? Do we do this with the Consolata Sisters when they are working in the same area?
- Do we share the charisma and spirituality of Consolation with lay people?
- Do we devote time to trying to understand the world around us? Do we seek help from experts to perceive concretely what people need, what is important, what should be our priorities?
Fr. Ezio Guadalupe Roattino