CONSOLATION: A MINISTRY OF ENCOUNTER AND LISTENING
Our times are hurried times ... / efficiency overwhelms the individual / the gratuitousness that infects life in a world too concerned with money and personal profit / a person’s worth is seen solely in financial terms ... / how can we evangelize in this context?
Evangelize not masses but individuals. Evangelize “this individual.” “Love of the people” is an alienating fiction if it does not translate into love of this specific individual. Encounter and listening – these are authentic sacraments/rites of initiation. Consolation: a place of acceptance, a silent yet eloquent sanctuary. Listening: a therapy that heals souls ... and bodies.
These are random thoughts that don’t necessarily follow any logic – they are being thrown out to make us think about something that concerns us intimately: consolation. We, like Barnabas, are the sons of consolation – this is the charism that identifies and links us to Our Lady, the Consolata, she who consoles. I would like to say more about these random thoughts and I will begin with the last one by telling you of something I experienced personally.
Listening: a healing therapy.
Since man has walked the earth he has been concerned with getting enough to eat, to live well, to heal himself and fend off sickness. Sickness is a human mystery. So often it seems an unavoidable trap that undermines the health of our body, psyche, feelings ... And this is where the healing balm of listening comes into play: listening can make it possible to bear up under suffering.
I was in Buenos Aires at the Regional House. So many years have gone by ... They called me during dinner and told me “someone wanted to talk to me.” I went to see the woman – an ex-president. I remained standing – I understood that it had something to do with me. The woman was misinformed, she had confused me with Father Matteo Pozzo. Everyone knew that he had a gift: by laying hands he could bring relief to soul and body.
I was afraid of losing patience as I tried to convince the woman that I wasn’t Father Matteo. She was obstinate, she kept repeating, “Yes, you are Father Matteo, and you don’t want to heal me.” I was moved to silence. I did not know what to do – show her the door? Perform some sort of charade and pretend to heal her?
I broke the silence and said, “Madam, I really don’t know what to tell you. All I can say is the truth – if you don’t believe me there is really nothing else I can say.”
The woman seemed to come back from her long journey of alienation. She listened and said slowly, “If you don’t want to heal me can you at least listen to me?” “Certainly,” I said, “that I can do.” And I sat down. There is not much more I can say – I’ve forgotten the rest of the story. I do remember how it ended, though. When she had finished talking a sort of peace pervaded the woman’s soul and body.
Our are hurried times.
The last century has been called “the short century.” The time we devote to listening could just as well be called “the short time.” Desolation has pervaded deeper relations in this post-modern era: fads sweep across the world; everything seems fragmented; appearances trump deeper values. The vulnerable and the outcast become victims of this phenomenon. Our concern is limited to fitting them into categories, solving problems, providing rest homes, planning outings, enabling socialization, etc. ...
The “other” (the object of our concern) becomes bitterly aware that we are working on his behalf but not paying much attention to him – he doesn’t count much. His money counts, his vote in elections counts – these are things that count! If he is young he counts for one reason and if he is old he counts for another. But he does not count as an individual, someone made in the image of God.
At some “listening/advice centers” the opening question can be like a punch in the stomach: “Please sit down, what is your problem ...?!” Even priests can be impatient and eager to get to the point. It seems like people are peeling the layers of an onion before they get to what is really bothering them. “Excuse me, Father, would it be too much to ask you to hear my confession? ... do you have a few minutes for me?”
“I Care”: the gratuitous nature of the encounter humanizes existence.
There are so many beautiful examples of volunteer work in our time. Volunteer work constitutes the healthy lungs of every-day life. Volunteer work inspires and moves us to imitation for the joy, for the rewards it provides. But even volunteer work can aim higher. It must move from “doing this or that service” to “serving, encountering this or that individual.” It must move from being a beautiful welfare organization to a place of humanizing, mutual encounter.
Once lady charity workers approached the Consolata Missionary who was the Pastor of Pompeya (Argentina) – they were very upset. “Father, there are no more poor people in that slum – what are we going to do?” It is sad to admit but the poor people we serve could become pawns that “serve our purpose, “ that provide us with “personal gratification.” Too many people appropriate Don Milani’s catchphrase “I Care” but there is an enormous difference – a difference of light years. For Don Milani this was not just a slogan but a fact.
Evangelize – not masses but individuals.
Evangelization continues the eternal dialogue of love that God has shared with mankind since the beginning of time: in Christ it is revealed and recapitulated. Mankind cannot engage in the dialogue of salvation as anonymous mass-spectators. We must be able to say, “salvation is for you! It is for you, here and now!”
The Fathers of the Church personalized the plan of salvation: “for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” John Paul II echoes Gaudium et Spes 22, when he writes "by his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, in a certain way united himself with each man." He emphasizes the historicity of “this man” as the specific object of God’s love and the “primary and fundamental way of the Church, a way traced by Christ himself... “(Cf. Redemptor Hominis, 13-14).
“Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 14). We exist in order to evangelize. But let us not deceive ourselves; unless we touch the heart of “this specific individual, “and “this specific tribe” we reach no one’s hearts – we are dilettantes and our evangelization has no lasting effect.
Convictions that must become attitudes:
Listening to others is a priority; it is a constitutive part of evangelization/ consolation; if what the Tenth General Chapter says is true, missionary work begins with compassion.
Sincere, human, respectful listening to another person and seeing him as genuinely other is not something that can be learned by rote. Sensitive individuals will recognize the validity of my response: it is not something you can fake … If an individual finds us genuinely open and welcoming he will provoke in us what St. Paul felt about the Galatians, “If you could you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.” (Gal 4,15).
A test to verify the authenticity of our encounter and listening is this: does the other person come back? Do we ever see him again?
If he vanishes without a trace it was not an in-depth encounter. If he stays involved it is a celebration of life.
Many of those who met Giuseppe Allamano long remembered the fascination of his eyes and of his comforting presence. What part of this “fatherly heritage” have you inherited?
Being close to people is part of the genetic code of Consolata Missionaries. We must be passionately “close to this people.” Can that be said about our specific missionary community? Is our service like that of the Good Samaritan? Do we see the “other” lying wounded in body and spiritual dignity? Do we take total responsibility? Some few years ago bishops writing about the liturgy said:
”We must celebrate the liturgy within the folds of history!”
We cannot improvise attitudes – nor can we borrow them. Our attention to others will be forced and artificial if it does not have roots in attention to our confrères in the community. We must look at ourselves as if in a mirror and examine ourselves in the light of God’s Word in the Epistle to the Romans (12, 9-18).
Any revision of our apostolic method will work to the extent that the Kingdom reaches “specific individuals.” Encounter and listening involve silence, admiration, empathy, a spirit of solidarity and a surge of compassion for the other person. The holy space that sacralizes divine worship is the heart of man.
In this world there is an agonizing lack of hope. From all sides one looks to the Pope and his ability to provide spiritual sustenance to this world. But aren’t we Missionaries of Consolation? “Should we not console with the consolation with which God consoles us?” (2 C