Consoling and Being Consoled

Yesterday’s Gospel was Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, a reading paired with a passage from The Book of Job.

There were many things in Fr. Dale’s sermon at Christ the King that were compelling, particularly his suggestion that the the appropriate response to the existence of suffering is not “why” (a question debated from the beginning of time) but “what can I do to alleviate the suffering or console the sufferer.”

But it was the framing of the body of his sermon that had the most impact on me, and quite a powerful one at that.

Fr. Dale began his sermon by observing that there are two kinds of people in a faith community – those who suffer and those who console – and that on any given day, we are each one or the other. He end his sermon by repeating that there are two kinds of people in a faith community – those who suffer and those who console – adding the question: which are you today?

What blasted in my mind when Fr. Dale asked that final question was the realization that being part of a faith community (and perhaps other communities as well) means accepting consolation in one’s own suffering as well as consoling others.

For many of us, consoling others is a whole lot easier than accepting consolation. We are comfortable being with others in their suffering, supporting with our words or presence, doing things to take care of others. But for many of us, letting others into our suffering, being willing to put ourselves into the hands of another, letting them take care of us, is much less comfortable. Oh, most of us can do that with one or two of our closest friends, but accepting it from others beyond that seems to make us more vulnerable than we quite like.

It is hard for me to explain this realization other than in conclusory terms, but Fr. Dale’s question helped me to clearly see that if I view myself only in the role of consoler, I’m not fully part of the faith community. Not being willing to accept the consolation of others in my suffering keeps me removed, withholds a part of myself and places me, apart from and, in a sense, above those whom I console. If I am apart from and above, I’m not fully with, not totally in the community.

In a sense, then, the question with which Fr. Dale ended his sermon – “which are you today?” – impliedly also asks: Are you willing to really be part of this faith community?

I know the answer to that question.

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