Champaign, IL December 2000. During the celebration for the AVI’s renewal of vows at St. John’s Catholic Church on the U of I campus, Father Tony Dittmer told the story of a little boy named Americo. When he was still a seminarian in Rome, Italy, Father Tony became friends with Luciano and Stefania Capogna, whose child Americo was being treated for leukemia at the Bambin Gesu’ Pediatric Hospital. The tragic day came when the boy could not fight any more against the illness, and died at the age of 6. Tony grew very close to this Italian family, thanks to the intercession of little Americo, who from Heaven was already praying in a unique way for his family and for his seminarian friend. Through a mutual friend, the Capogna family introduced Tony to the Apostles of the Interior Life, with whom a new and solid friendship was born. After being ordained, Father Tony invited the AVI’s to offer a week-long mission to the parish where he was assigned in Central Illinois . It was during that special week that this new religious community was officially invited to open the first house in the United States, at the Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. This was the beginning of a snow ball effect of graces and blessings for the spiritual apostolate of the AVI. As he was done telling the story, Father Tony called Luciano and Stefania up to the altar and introduced them to the congregation, saying ‘What you young people are receiving from the Apostles of the Interior Life is the fruit of Americo’s sacrifice. He is the one that brought them to America”. Amid tears of gratitude, after Mass many students went to embrace Americo’s parents. It was at that point that Luciano, still grieving from the tragic loss, yet consoled by the discovery that so much good fruit had come out of this sacrifice, shared with us, “We know by faith that suffering produces much good; yet most people must wait until Heaven to find that out. We are being consoled by the fact that God has allowed us to see the beautiful outcome of our pain. Nothing will ever erase our suffering; yet, we are now able to see a meaning behind it”.
Legnano, Italy 2007. Despite having been the victim of a terrible car accident a few years ago, Rossella shines like a bright light, giving comfort to all those that go and visit her. She intercedes with an indescribable strength for the people that are being entrusted to her, no matter where they are. She carries in her heart the presence of God, allowing His power to shine through her eyes, the only bridge that connects her to the world. Rossella waits for you right there, in her bed, and listens without ever interrupting you. She cries if her muscles hurt, or if she doesn’t want you to leave the room. She even has a great sense of humor, and is always making jokes! She doesn’t reach you by walking towards you, but by engaging your eyes and your heart. She can hardly talk, but when she does, her sentences are more precious than gold. One day she asked me, “Are you happy?” and I answered “Yes! And you?”. With the pure gaze that is typical of those that are contemplating Heaven she answered “Yes, BECAUSE GOD LOVES ME!”. How is that possible?! She is like a little lamb, sacrificed yet consoled with the consolation that we each long for. She is afflicted in her being unable to move; consoled in her peace-filled soul; blessed in the foretaste of the spousal love with God. Scripture says “Blessed are those that are afflicted, because they shall be consoled”. Many that are afflicted are already able to experience Paradise here on earth, through peace, joy and love. Jesus promises that they are indeed blessed. How could we doubt it, since He alone knows what the future holds for all of His children? To be consoled is not the goal. Rather, it is a sign that God gives to those that are afflicted, so that they may continue to hope and become themselves a sign of hope for those that are not afflicted. When in the midst of extreme situations of affliction we encounter messengers of peace, joy and love. We are then reminded that God’s presence is being manifested in the fact that we can give meaning to what seems meaningless. We become aware that the beatitudes are the fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and not the product of favorable external circumstances (Gal 5:22).
What does it mean then to receive consolation? In the third rule of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola says, “I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to Heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord”. This is what it is all about. It is not about the human consolations that we want, and those that are afflicted know the difference! Notice how Saint Paul encourages the saints (and we, by virtue of our Baptism, are called to become such). “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all consolation, who consoles us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our consolation also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your consolation, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the consolation.” (2 Cor. 1,3-7)
This is the heart of the matter: consolation is linked to affliction. The Resurrection is linked to the Cross in the same way as Paradise is linked to death. This is the dynamic that Christ has brought about. Christ was first afflicted in His Passion and then was blessed in the Resurrection. And it is through the historical events that happened between Holy Thursday and Easter morning that He has proven to us that His promise is trustworthy. Based on this certainty, we can be reassured that we also can experience the joy of the Resurrection after each of the many “deaths” we encounter in our lives. Every day of sorrow, every “Good Friday” that we undergo will be followed by an Easter morning, though we do not know how long our Holy Saturday will last… Affliction belongs to the present, while the beatitude is a promise for the future: in one hour, in 5 years, or in Paradise, suffering will cease and we will experience the triumph of joy. In the mean time, we welcome the many consolations that anticipate for us the fulfillment of the promise, filling our hearts with a mysterious and supernatural courage. Our hope is based on the promise of the One who showed us through His Cross and Resurrection that those that are afflicted like Him are blessed, because they shall be consoled. “You turned my mourning into dancing.” (Psalm 30)
I try to think of a person that has joyfully and peacefully embraced a big suffering, and I thank them for their amazing witness and I thank God for consoling his/her heart. I also will try to become aware of a special consolation that God has given to me personally.