Wednesday, April 12, 2017

To be Consoled, or to Console?

By Sr. Iliana

As Jesus hung on the cross in utter anguish, struggling for every breath, He turned to the thief crucified to His right and said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). These words suddenly had deeper meaning for me when I found myself one day struggling to breathe in an emergency room. If any of you have ever struggled to breathe, you know the anxiety that this produces. I do admit I felt pretty anxious. I soon realized that I felt lonely, too, as if I had been abandoned. I hadn’t actually been abandoned, but that is how it felt. Due to a series of unforeseen events, I was there alone. The nurse who was caring for me was truly a dear, but she was a stranger to me, and I desired my loved ones to be there. Even though I knew in my mind that there was no need for them to come, my heart still desired for them to come. This is a very normal human reaction! When we’re suffering, we want to be consoled by our loved ones. We even want this when we’re not suffering. The first thing I do when I’m in a large crowd is scan the room for someone I know.

Jesus was actually abandoned by His friends. Of His twelve disciples, only John came to the foot of the cross. Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, and all the others fled in sheer terror. Though His Mother was there, and a few women at a distance, His intimate friends abandoned Him as He foretold. Jesus must have felt truly abandoned. Jesus is fully human and He desires consolation just as we do.

Yet in the moment that all of humanity would most desire to be consoled, Jesus turns to the stranger at His side – the thief who had been mocking Him just moments before – and He consoles. He says, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” as if to say: “You are now as close to Me as possible. You are now a saint. You are about to be face to face with your Father who loves you. Between us is the most intimate friendship, the most intimate love.” He takes the stranger and brings him into intimate relationship with Himself, the same relationship He desires for each of us. Whereas I desired my intimate friends, Jesus makes the stranger His intimate friend.

When I was in the emergency room, I eventually stopped feeling sorry for myself, and began to talk to Kaitlyn, my nurse. She asked me to pray for her, and I was profoundly moved by our encounter. I even wondered if Jesus had allowed me to be sick just so that I could be there with Kaitlyn in that moment. Kaitlyn was a consolation to me. Imagine how much more Jesus was consoled to see the salvation of the thief at His side. The Lord wants to take us out of mere feelings and into true communion with Himself, so that in the moment of our utter darkness we can see the hand of God and be consoled – not because the darkness has now passed, but even in the midst of the darkness. The thief was still nailed to the cross in anguish when He received the greatest consolation of all – the promise of eternal life. As we face the trials of our life, as we pick up our crosses and follow Him, let us join St. Francis in praying, “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console.”

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