On consoling spirituality and suffering

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Honesty time: While my transition into my new life and new job haven’t been nearly as nerve-wracking for me as they could have been, there were (and are) still some rough patches. Most notable was the hit that my prayer life took in the midst of the transition. My prayer routine gets disrupted whenever I experience a shift in my schedule. Sometimes easing back into that routine is, well, easy, because the shake-up is short-lived. Other times, though, it takes awhile, because my old routine has been uprooted and I need to lay down a new one. Such was the case, as you can probably imagine, with this move.

For my first few weeks on the job I was in survival mode, just trying to get by and figure out what my new life was like. And in those weeks, I didn’t make prayer a priority. And I felt the consequences of that choice: I felt off-centered because I wasn’t giving Him the time and space He deserved. I didn’t hunger for that time with Christ like I usually do, and that manifested itself when it came to going to Mass, too. I went to Mass, but my attention and my desire weren’t focused on Christ when I went.

Last week that off-centered-ness hit fever-pitch. I was still struggling to make prayer a priority. I wasn’t keeping my gaze fixed on Jesus throughout my days. And on top of all that, I was having trouble being patient with myself as I overcame some hurdles in my new job, so I was wondering if I was in the right place at all (because obviously not knowing how to do everything right away in a new job means that God was wrong in calling you there).

One night all of that was sitting pretty heavily on my heart. I tried to pray Liturgy of the Hours before I went to bed but I wasn’t feeling up for it. I got in bed and as I lay there, I lamented to Jesus that I wasn’t feeling myself. I was hurting.

As I lay in bed, I remembered a passage from Gabrielle Bossis’ book He and I, a journal of Gabrielle’s revelations from Christ. One day, she recorded Jesus saying to her, after she received Communion, “Let us exchange our sufferings and love in secret.”

Our sufferings.”

Not just Gabrielle’s. Jesus had something to say, too.

He had something to say to me that night as well, but I probably wasn’t letting Him get a word in.

So as I remembered that passage from the book, I asked, “but what about You, Lord? What’s hurting You tonight?

As soon as I asked that, that distance closed up. There was no more hurt. My worries seemed to disappear. Sweet relief and peace filled me instead and I soon fell asleep.

I’ve been pondering that instance a lot in the days since it happened, wondering what it meant and what caused my worries and burdens to dissolve after I asked Jesus to share His hurts with me. But I think I get it now, and at the same time, I think I better understand a spirituality that I’ve been trying to live for the past few months: consoling spirituality.

I’m not sure where, when, and with whom consoling spirituality began. But its premise is simple: it’s rooted in the understanding that Christ, even though He is in heaven, still suffers. He suffers because in return for the love and mercy that He has shown us, He receives mostly indifference and hatred. Consoling spirituality seeks to make reparation for this hurt. Two books that I’ve read, Consoling the Heart of Jesus and 33 Days to Merciful Love (both by Fr. Michael Gaitley), conclude that this reparation can be carried out namely by being merciful to others (because when we are kind to others, we are kind to Christ) and by living in joyful thanksgiving for all Christ’s blessings and trusting in His goodness throughout each day. I’ve been trying to do that since finishing those books, but the days where I actually succeed in those things have been few and far between. But I’m trying.

During most of my journey in consoling spirituality, my prayers have often involved begging Christ to make my heart a suitable place for Him, a place where He feels safe and loved, a place of rest from the coldness and cruelty that He receives. My intentions were good, but I wonder now if that was the best way to console Jesus. It makes it sound like I need to wait until I’m “worthy” before I can console Christ–until I’m pure, sinless, selfless, humble, insert your favorite virtue here. Unless I am those things, I can’t console Jesus. It’s a thinking that grips many people; they think that, because they are not perfect, Jesus cannot love them, or they are not worthy of following Him. This isn’t how Jesus works, though. He doesn’t require perfection; all He wants is a bit of good will and pure intentions.

As the days have passed since that night last week, I think I understand consoling spirituality a bit better. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to be worthy of consoling Him (whatever that means) as much as He does our sincere attempts at it. Let’s face it–if we wait until we’re “worthy” before we follow Him, or console Him, or love Him, we’ll be waiting our whole life. He doesn’t need our perfection, just our desire. And I do think that those attempts to console Him can include inviting Him to come and rest, giving Him an open heart and a listening ear as He seeks souls who will share in and relieve His sorrow. And beyond that, souls who understand that their sufferings are shares in His cross and His continued suffering. Christ is so vulnerable with us by offering us His love and His woundedness; I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that He loves it when we do the same for Him.

Maybe that’s why I remembered that passage from He and I that night, when Jesus invites Gabrielle Bossis to draw near to Him so they could exchange their sorrows.

And maybe that’s what happened when I asked Jesus to tell me what was hurting Him. I may not have been perfect in that moment, but maybe He saw my troubles, however small they were, as reflections and extensions of His own, as a point of entry for Him, as an invitation for Him to unburden Himself of whatever was on His Heart. He had done the same for me countless times; I guess I was returning the favor. He didn’t see my imperfection and unworthiness, but my willingness to help, to open myself up through my own woundedness.

Perhaps, in the moments of calm that followed, we were as friends or lovers sharing in each others’ sorrows silently, wordlessly, finding comfort and peace in the fact that we weren’t alone.





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