God of All Consolation
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves. Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow.” (2Corinthians 1:3-5)
This faith proclamation of St. Paul sings the praises of our Triune God: of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior; of God our Father, who is Supremely Gentle in his plans for us; and of the Holy Spirit, our God of All Consolation, The Comforter, the Companion of Our Soul -made present to us in all our sorrows.
It can be argued that the most profound and deepest intimacy known is not found in love, but in shared suffering. So it is that our Suffering Christ loves us from the Cross.
In the heart wrenching moment when Jesus was leaving this Earth, as his disciples were feeling lost in sorrow, he promised that he would ask the Father to send us the Paraklete: the One-Called-Alongside; the Comforter; the Strengthener; the Helper; the Encourager. This Promised One, this Gift of Peace, this Spirit of Jesus and his Gentle Father, is given that we will never be orphaned in our need; that in all our sorrows will he be made known.
St. Paul, in this letter to the Corinthians, was not concerned with delivering them from suffering; only in leading them into the Transcendent Truth –that we are not alone in our suffering, rather, the tender, gentle Love of God overflows from our suffering, and he meets us there in the Intimacy of His Cross.
The Good News Revealed is that not only are we not helpless victims of suffering, but because of knowing the Saving Love of God in our deepest pain, we become Conquerors of Death, Overcomers in adversity -Witnesses of his Saving Grace- able to shine his Light into the hearts of others darkened by suffering. The Spirit’s Gift of Faith is not just for our personal consolation. After raising us up, he then sends us forth to share his Hope.
For those of us who have seen God’s miraculous healings, we are tempted to expect that we, or our loved ones, be spared from all suffering. Yet, Paul was not ashamed of his sufferings or that of his beloved Corinthians. He knew that, unless the muscles of an athlete were torn by hard training, they could not grow stronger. He knew that without trial, character cannot take root. And he knew The Secret, that God is intimately involved in our pain, even more than in our joy -because that is where we need him the most, because our God is a Gentle Father.
St. Paul lived life to the full. He expected a lot from God. He was fearless –undaunted by the impossible. His uncompromised faith left a legacy to the Church that is still unfolding two millennia later. Yet, Paul was familiar with trial, failure, rejection, persecution and suffering. Three times he asked God to deliver him from a thorn in his flesh and God refused him, telling him he was strongest when he was weak. (2Cor 12/8)
St. Paul was larger than life because he lived as if he were nothing without God. He accomplished the impossible because he knew all things were possible with Christ. He was unfazed by failure because he knew all things work out for the good for those who love God. He believed that God was Faithful, that his promises were true. Paul had Faith in God’s Love.
Faith is everything. It defines our eternity. It is our vocation. It is the key to eternal life. It is the only thing required of us. It gives order to our chaos. It is what makes us pleasing to God. It is Faith that allows us to love. It is Faith that opens us to Truth. And, it is for Faith that that we suffer -because without suffering, there can be no Faith.
Suffering cracks open our ego -exposing the truth within ourselves: that ultimately we are powerless; that our self sufficiency is an illusion. It is suffering that opens our eyes to our need for God, to our dependence on him for our breath. True Faith is born out of desperation. For me, I did not trust in God’s Provisional Love until I suffered enough to exhaust all other options for Hope. Even now, I am most prone to Sin when things are going my way -when I am lured into Forgetfulness and let go the Hand of God who is saving me.Contrary to the Unbeliever’s cry, suffering is congruent with our Gentle Father’s heart. In his Mercy, he shepherds our suffering, gently allowing us to be brought to our knees –to a posture where we in turn allow ourselves to be found by him. It is the Desperate Heart which is open to Grace. It is the Broken Heart that searches for God. It is the Redeemed Heart which truly exults in the God of All Consolation, and, it is this Transformed Heart which offers authentic witness to his Love.