In Pope Francis’ ongoing catechesis series on discernment, he took up this November 23 the theme of consolation, after focusing last time on desolation.
The Pope spoke of a handful of ways to recognize spiritual consolation, which is a gift from God:
• It is an experience of interior joy, consisting in seeing God’s presence in everything.
• To be consoled is to be at peace with God, to feel that everything is settled in peace, everything is in harmony within us.
• Above all, consolation affects hope, and reaches out toward the future, puts us on a journey …
But as beautiful as consolation is, we can’t program it. It comes as pure gift from God, the Pope explained.
“It is a gift of the Holy Spirit,” he said. And when it comes, “It allows a familiarity with God that seems to cancel distances.”
This is what happened to 14-year-old Thérèse of Lisieux when she traveled to Rome at age 14, the Pope said. When she was at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, she tried to touch one of the nails of the crucifixion venerated there:
Therese understood her daring as a transport of love and confidence. Later, she wrote, “I truly was too audacious. But the Lord sees the depths of our hearts. He knows my intention was pure […] I acted with him as a child who believes everything is permissible and who considers the Father’s treasures their own” (Autobiographical Manuscript, 183).
Consolation is spontaneous. Consolation leads you to do everything spontaneously, as if we were children. Children are spontaneous, and consolation leads you to be spontaneous with a tenderness, with a very deep peace. A 14-year-old girl gives us a splendid description of spiritual consolation.
His house is my house …
Drawing from this, the Pope said that with consolation we can “feel a sense of tenderness toward God that makes us audacious in our desire to participate in his own life, to do what is pleasing to him because we feel familiar with him, we feel that his house is our house, we feel welcome, loved, restored.”
With this consolation, we do not give up in the face of difficulty – in fact, with the same boldness, Therese would ask the Pope for permission to enter Carmel even though she was too young, and her wish was granted.
What does this mean? It means that consolation makes us daring. When we find ourselves in a moment of darkness, of desolation, we think: “I am not capable of doing this, no….” Desolation brings you down. Everything is dark…. “No, I cannot do this … I will not do it.”
Instead, in times of consolation, the same things – “No, I am going ahead. I will do it.” “But are you sure?” “I feel God’s strength and I am going ahead.”
And so, consolation pushes you to go ahead and to do those things that you would not be capable of doing; it pushes you to take the first step. This is what is beautiful about consolation.
But still discern …
Nevertheless, the Pope warned that we have to be careful: “We must distinguish well between the consolation that comes from God and false consolations.”
Something similar happens in the spiritual life that happens in human productions: There are originals and there are imitations. If an authentic consolation is like a drop on a sponge, is soft and intimate, its imitations are noisier and flashier, they are pure enthusiasm, like straw fires, lacking substance, leading us to close in on ourselves and not to take care of others. In the end, false consolation leaves us empty, far from the center of our existence. For this reason, when we feel happy, at peace, we are capable of doing anything. But let’s not confuse that peace with passing enthusiasm because there’s enthusiasm today, but then it is taken away and is no more.