This post is part of our Lenten series, journeying the Stations of the Cross. In this meditation on the Sixth Station of the Cross, Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus, Lisa takes us deeper into what it means to experience spiritual consolation, and how Our Lord walked with her in the midst of grief.
“It will be downhill from here.” The oncologist had finally told my parents what to really expect with my mom’s cancer from that point. It was December of 2010, and my mom had been battling metastatic breast cancer in her bones that round.
My (now) husband was driving me and my nephew to my parents’ home in Florida to spend Christmas together. On that second day of our drive from Dallas, Dad had pulled away to call me after Mom’s oncologist visit. After months of treatment again, her body was no longer responding to it, and she was out of options.
I told Dad we would pray a Rosary for them, and that we would be there as soon as we could. My parents had prayed the Rosary together for years. And it was amidst the third mystery that I heard God say, “You will be planning a wedding and a funeral at the same time.” I began to weep.
When we arrived, Mom could no longer walk. That rapid decline occurred in the time since we had just seen her a couple of weeks earlier for Thanksgiving. After months of being her sole caregiver, Dad was exhausted and beyond grateful that we were there.
We knew time was precious, so what better gift than a Christmas Day proposal where I said yes! As the youngest, the only girl, and the only unmarried child, my mom was ecstatic. She cried on the other end of the couch while Mike was down on one knee, and we toasted champagne and called our family members with the blessed news. Little did I know at that point that I would not be leaving my parents’ home until February, a couple of weeks after Mom’s funeral.
So the Lord’s word to me indeed came to pass. I am grateful that He provided that knowledge to prepare my heart for what was about to transpire. Never had I simultaneously experienced that depth of life-changing joy and sorrow, bouncing between profound desolation and consolation. For example, some may recall our incredible tale of wedding dress shopping with Mom from her hospice bed. How surreal it all was as I tried to make plans for the beginning of our new life together while my parents were coming to the end of theirs. And that I saw God moving mountains and pouring love out upon us while we lived these opposing realities.
I remember reading a message that resonated with me at that time from Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.
“I used to think that life was hills and valleys—you go through a dark time, then you go to the mountaintop, back and forth. I don’t believe that anymore. Rather than life being hills and valleys, I believe that it’s kind of like two rails on a railroad track, and at all times you have something good and something bad in your life. No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.”
It mirrored my life—traveling along the rails that brought the realities of life and death, pain and peace, laughter and tears, excitement and anxiety, agony and joy, consolation and desolation. It gave me insight into what God desires for his children: to reveal His love for us, whatever our circumstances are. Did He not provide manna in the desert for His chosen people?
So, What Is Consolation?
Consolation is a movement of the soul towards God. The movement towards the Lord draws us into deeper intimacy with Him.
The term consolation is tied to the discernment work of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius did not conceive the notion of discernment, but he wrote the definitive work on what is considered the discernment of spirits, or “motions of the soul.” His writings cover fourteen rules as a guide, providing insights on the interior movements related to our “thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Spiritual discernment of spirits involves becoming sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, and understanding where they come from and where they lead us.” (IgnatianSpirituality.com)
St. Ignatius defined consolation as “when some interior movement is caused in the soul, through which the soul becomes inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and consequently when it can love no other thing on the face of the earth in itself, but only in the Creator of them all… Finally, I call [it] every increase of hope, faith, and charity, with all interior joy that calls and attracts to heavenly things…”
What Are Signs of Consolation?
How do we know that our souls are moving towards God? Consolation manifests itself in a variety of ways.
Here are some signs that you are in consolation:
- Experiencing an intense love for God
- Crying tears out of love: In praise and/or adoration of God
- Crying tears of sorrow: For sin or for what Christ has suffered for you
- Having an increase of hope, faith, and/or charity
- Experiencing a deep interior joy
- Being drawn to things of God, heaven
- Resting in the Lord: Experiencing the quieting of soul and Christ’s peace
How Can Consolation Exist with Suffering?
By definition, consolation appears to relate to goodness—the goodness of God, good spirits, and good feelings. Consolation always is tied to God, either directly or indirectly relating to Him. So how does it follow to be able to experience consolation amidst suffering?
Have you ever grown close to someone by going through an intense or difficult experience with them? The same holds true with the Lord. If our souls are open, suffering is a powerful conduit that draws us deeper into intimacy, particularly with the suffering servant of Christ.
How Can We Experience More Consolation?
We cannot avoid desolation or rig a spiritual life that only nurtures consolation. Desolation does serve a purpose in our spiritual life, such as purification, and growing in detachment. The key is to remain docile to the movements of the Holy Spirit and to follow the rules of Ignatian Spirituality, which will help us to navigate desolation and to enjoy consolation in their seasons.
To identify consolation and desolation, Ignatius’ rules direct us to evaluate our moods and emotions. One tool that is helpful in doing that is to perform daily the examen, or examination of conscience. The beauty is that the examen helps us to see how God is working amidst our life as well as our areas that need God’s help. If this is something you aren’t doing regularly, know that I am still working on implementing this as well. I have linked to a wonderful app (below) that can lead you through the examen in the resources below, but the gist of how Ignatius practiced it is in the following five parts.
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
Further Resources on Consolation and the Discernment of Spirits
- A helpful overview of St. Ignatius’ approach to discernment
- Spiritual Warfare and the Discernment of Spirits by Dan Burke
- Fr. Timothy Gallagher: The Discernment of Spirits on YouTube
- Reimagining the Examen App