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Consolations of Love

Jules J. Toner, SJ states that faith is the radical work of the Holy Spirit, and charity is His principal and crowning work. The Spirit enables us to grow in living faith: to know Jesus ever more intimately; to understand His teaching and promises more clearly, more fully. And He pours the charity of God into our hearts. How does the Spirit do all this? Through His gifts of consolation.

Spiritual consolation is an experience in which our living faith is not only increased in depth or firmness or purity or intensity or effectiveness, but is also recognized by us so that we experience feelings of peace, joy, confidence, exultation and the like. The result? The Spirit’s consolations prompt us toward the expression of our living faith in our thoughts, affections, choices and actions.

Even in the spiritual life, there is a pyramid. Those few at the top who love much are given much consolation. According to St. Ignatius, the Spirit stirs an inner motion within them that sets them on fire with love of God that they love all created things only in the Creator of them all. When they experience this flame of love, they experience the joy of loving God, not only because of their faith-conviction that God is infinitely loving and lovable, but also because of their faith-experience of God’s love and lovableness.

The consequence of this inflamed love is that the lover can love no creature in itself but only in God. Without loving creatures less but rather loving them even more, all the love is love for God, one love for one Beloved. All their love is unified in God. For the moment, and it doesn’t last long, they love themselves only because they love themselves in God and God in themselves. Their love is utterly unselfish. For those who love much, the highest form of consolation!

Note that our love of God can be pure, intense and firm without inflamed feelings. Admittedly, the gift of consolation makes it easier, more enjoyable, but as Christ has told us: the sure sign of loving Him are not feelings, but doing God’s will. It is possible even in desolation and darkness to love God and creatures unselfishly.

Second, the Spirit gives the consolation of peace and joy for deep sorrow over our sins, or for heartfelt compassion with Christ in His passion. Here our sorrow is rooted in faith and love for God in Christ. Our sorrow becomes fused with the realization of God’s merciful, tender love conquering sin and turning it to His glory. A creative tension exists ¬†between a deep sense of our sinfulness and of God’s redeeming love in Christ that flourishes into greater humility and gratefulness.

Third, the Spirit prompts us with His consolation to increase our faith, hope and charity. This does not mean that we cannot grow in these virtues during periods of desolation and dryness. In fact, we are encouraged to stir ourselves to these virtues when we are in such a disposition. However, being creatures who are so dependent on our feelings, we are grateful for the Spirit’s consolation, which helps us enrich our faith, hope and charity. In this way, the Spirit moves us toward an increased integration of our whole conscious life with our living faith as the center and source.

Fourth, the Spirit gifts us with the consolation of inward gladness that draws us to heavenly things. The gladness we experience is spiritual if it calls and draws us to heavenly things and to salvation; it must be a gladness over God and over all the wonders of creation and salvation as seen by faith, gladness because of hope in God’s promises, gladness because of some experience of God’s presence, a foretaste which rouses a yearning for the full consolation. Thus, our descriptions of consolation have progressed to a wider range of experiences, and have expanded to a larger number of people.