At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter. Follow this link for the full document, Misericordia et Misera.
Significant sections of two major prophetic books, Jeremiah and Isaiah, are devoted to the message of consolation. The context is for a Jewish community in Exile in need of a message of hope after an unimaginable dismantling of homeland and culture. Sounds familiar for some people today, right? Even in these United States. Many people are exiled from work, home, loved ones, and culture. This through various experiences of death, loss of job and relocation, homelessness, serious illness in one’s own body or of a family member. What is this to us? If one is not in Exiole, I would say the Christian imperative is to offer concrete hope to those who are.
13. Another face of mercy is consolation. “Comfort, comfort my people” (Is 40:1) is the heartfelt plea that the prophet continues to make today, so that a word of hope may come to all those who experience suffering and pain. Let us never allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope born of faith in the Risen Lord. True, we are often sorely tested, but we must never lose our certainty of the Lord’s love for us. His mercy finds expression also in the closeness, affection and support that many of our brothers and sisters can offer us at times of sadness and affliction. The drying of tears is one way to break the vicious circle of solitude in which we often find ourselves trapped.
All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters.
Offering hope doesn’t always mean “doing things” for another person. Simple accompaniment can be simple enough: wordless companionship:
Sometimes too, silence can be helpful, especially when we cannot find words in response to the questions of those who suffer. A lack of words, however, can be made up for by the compassion of a person who stays at our side, who loves us and who holds out a hand. It is not true that silence is an act of surrender; on the contrary, it is a moment of strength and love. Silence also belongs to our language of consolation, because it becomes a concrete way of sharing in the suffering of a brother or sister.