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Missing God’s Invitations

We have noted that consolation can come from the Holy Spirit and also from the enemy who attempts to deceive us. There is a third source —ourselves. Examples are our natural joy of aesthetics, wonder, good company, or the exhilaration of doing our own thing. These non-spiritual consolations are not bad in themselves. They are naturally good. What is bad is when we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are experiencing spiritual consolation when we are not.

Note: for the joy and peace of consolation to be the work of the Holy Spirit, they must be integral parts of a faith experience. If faith isn’t the source of our consolation, we can deduce that our consolation is non-spiritual.

The really unfortunate fact about non-spiritual consolations is that they are missed invitations: they are spiritual consolations waiting to be discovered. And when we convert our non-spiritual consolations into spiritual ones, we don’t lessen our joy, we only magnify them. Why? Because they become gifts from a magnanimous Gift-giver.

Jules J.Toner, SJ, gives us a number of examples. Consider the opportunities we have to raise our minds and heart to God in faith as we look out into His creation. We can look upon God’s creation with just the natural joy of wonder. BUT only when we center our joy in God as Creator revealing Himself in creation or faith in God’s love for us as shown in His gifts, do we experience spiritual consolation—the work of the Spirit.

Take works with thoughts and feelings with a religious theme such as Handel’s Messiah. They can give us a purely aesthetic consolation. Yet, they could be invitations to awaken spiritual consolation. For example, the Messiah could be an invitation to celebrate our faith in Christ’s Resurrection and our own future resurrection.

Likewise, we can read Scripture in a scholarly way or even as great literature or as simply as a part of a ritual, but totally devoid of spiritual experience. Are we missing the Spirit’s invitation to greater faith, hope and charity? If we think of Scripture as being always a challenge, as always a call to metanoia, we can activate our faith in the Spirit’s presence and open ourselves to spiritual consolation.

Religious experiences should prepare us for spiritual consolation. However, Father Toner writes: “The joy or peace or contentment that comes in liturgy from moving words and music, from personal encounter with other persons who are participating—these feelings can be to a large extent or even wholly non-spiritual when the subjective ground is not living faith but only sensitivity to poetry, great thoughts, music, the charm of human persons.” We need to be aware of what is taking place within us. Then we need discernment. Is our joy coming from our faith? Or is it coming from natural exhilaration? We must ask ourselves: What can we do to activate our faith, our hope, our charity and thus convert our non-spiritual consolation into the work of the Spirit?

Our ultreyas are another example of a religious setting that should prepare us for spiritual consolation. We can even deceive ourselves into thinking that we are doing something spiritual. The fact is that we can allow ourselves to get lost in the amenities of the experience—music, food, good company. It is only by activating our faith in Christ as being present in community and thus the source of Spirit-empowerment that we can convert our experience into a truly spiritual experience.

We may take joy in doing a work for God that we like doing, even if it wasn’t for God. Again, we can deceive ourselves that we are experiencing spiritual consolation. In reality, we may be finding joy in doing our own thing. We must see our talent as God’s gift in order to convert our joy into spiritual consolation.