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Parish Life blog: The feeling of consolation

Brendan Nicholl  |  21 June 2018

What was the happiest moment in your life?
What was the best thing about your day?
What makes you happy?

Whatever your answers are they will be examples of the Ignatian understanding of consolation. St Ignatius used this term in his teachings about spirituality and described it as an experience of being on fire with God’s love. The feeling of consolation inspires a person to praise him and to reach out and serve others. Although Ignatius used this concept in relation to spiritual things humans are inherently spiritual beings and separating the meaning in daily life is not useful to us. Consolation as a theological concept is the same as the experiences that lead us enter into the state of consolation itself.

To explore this concept and how it may inform our lives we need to be aware of how we might identify moments of consolation. Examples of consolation are often found in moments that elicit the emotions of happiness, joy, love, peace and humility. Ignatius guides us well in his teaching ‘God in All Things’ as this is an excellent framework from which to proceed. The theme helps us as we can experience God and consolation in and through created things. As all created things bare the mark of the Creator and therefore we can become aware of his presence and drawn into his company through every created thing we encounter.

We can also find God in the experiences created things afford. The object or event does not itself generate a state of consolation, however the experience of ‘it’ does. Although unique to our personal experiences, style and tastes we find moments of consolation in inanimate things or experiences like celebrations, meals, friendship, doing something well, the song of a bird, the beauty of nature, in hobbies, in helping others… The list is literally endless and distinctive to each of us.

Whatever leads us to moments of consolation we know from experience that the positivity and satisfaction we perceive lingers. After we experience consolation is stays with us. Sometimes its traces remain for days or weeks. Often when we recall a moment of consolation, or the reason for it, we can relive the juncture or experience vividly years or decades later. Ignatius knew this well and used this awareness as the basis for his Spiritual Exercises.

 When we experience and come to know consolation we long to experience it all the more. As we mature we find that this is only possible if we seek the source of consolation. That person being Jesus, who is love and the source of all love. Gratitude then enables us to move from self-centeredness to an acknowledgment of the Trinity. In relationship with our triune God we are able to experience consolation in all moments and are compelled to offer gratitude unceasingly. But in time we are moved beyond this reciprocal paradigm and are inspired to serve others.

 In serving others we go beyond our own experiences and enter into the life of others. Often in doing so we see pain and suffering that we would prefer not to be aware of or encounter. In helping others though we find that this service is in fact an immeasurable source of consolation. Jesus life and ministry teach us both how and why. Although we may think that we don’t see consolation clearly in the Gospel, it is actually hiding in plain sight. The complete union he had with the Father is a perfect observation of consolation.

Consolation, gratitude and communion with God is self-perpetuating. No matter where we begin in this theme we end up, in a cyclic manner, experiencing consolation more often, become more ‘human’ and become infinitely united with the Trinity. This alters our nature so that we begin to see through the eyes of Jesus and love with the heart of the Father. Consolation after consolation!

Over the next week observe everything through the lens of gratitude or be aware of consolation in your day. Notice the places, experiences and people that lead to these moments. Then offer gratitude. Meditate on the goodness of God and let his Spirit refine ‘you’. Have courage when you are called. Service requires fearlessness and confidence. It is through service however that you will find ongoing and unfathomable consolation. As you experience these things notice how consolation gradually becomes a regular experience and how it leads to ever-increasing gratitude and faith.

Meditate again on the questions that may help you acknowledge consolation in your life and incite a desire to consider how these thoughts might guide you this week.

What was the happiest moment in your life?
What was the best thing about your day?
What makes you happy?

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash


Topic tags: spiritualityandtheenvironment, ourrelationshipwithgod

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