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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 11th July 2021.

‘Consolation’

Last Monday, the set readings for daily Morning Prayer turned to St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, so each morning for the next couple of weeks or so there will be an extract from 2 Corinthians set for Morning Prayer. For Monday we had part of the opening chapter, 2 Corinthians 1:1-14, and here are verses 3 and 4:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our 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.”

This passage set me thinking this week about consolation.

What do we mean by ‘consolation’? My Chambers Dictionary defines it as ‘alleviation of misery; a comforting action or circumstance’.

Throughout the pandemic, we have seen on our TV screens many examples of NHS nursing staff trying to alleviate the effects of Covid on vulnerable patients, and trying to comfort them in their distress. Whenever there is a disaster, such as the recent collapse of a building in Miami, it can be very helpful to victims if there is someone to console the injured and comfort those who have lost loved ones. It is part of human nature to support the weak, the injured and the vulnerable, and to make them feel that there is someone who cares, that they are not alone in their sorrow.

How do we console people? There was a time when we were actively discouraged from giving people a hug, but we are now relearning the benefits of a good old-fashioned hug. When someone is distressed, just holding that person’s hand will, I am sure, make a difference. It shows that we are not standing back, but being part of and sharing in the person’s grief or unhappiness. The worst thing we can do is to do nothing when it is within our power to be sympathetic, helpful and consoling.

Consolation is akin to compassion. Again, I have looked at my Chambers Dictionary, which tells me that compassion means: ‘a feeling of sorrow or pity for the suffering of another, with a desire to alleviate it’.

The late Jean Vanier, a Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian, defined compassion in this way:

“Compassion is a word full of meaning.
It means:
sharing the same passion,
sharing the same suffering,
sharing the same agony,
accepting into my heart the misery in yours.
Your pain calls out to me.
It touches my heart.
It awakens something within me,
and I become one with you in your pain.
I may not be able to relieve your pain,
but by understanding it and sharing it
I make it possible for you to bear it
in a way that enhances your dignity
and helps you to grow.”

It’s like the old saying: ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. If we try to cope with our own problems – whether about health issues, financial problems or problems with relationships – there is always a risk that the problems can be magnified out of all proportion in our own minds. It helps if there is someone we can speak to in confidence, because very often that other person may be able to help us to put things into perspective and make us realise that our problems are not really as big or insurmountable as we at first think they are.

I am tempted to advocate a National Hug Day, to raise awareness that there are always people close to us who could benefit from a good hug. I doubt that it will happen, but for today may I suggest that we all try to think of someone who may be struggling with life in one way or another, who might feel better for a hug, or a hand held, or a phone call or an email, or any other form of TLC, to let them know that we care, and that they are not alone in their difficulties.

And if anyone reading this reflection is suffering in any way or feeling unhappy, don’t be frightened, be brave, and pick up the phone and let someone close know that you need a hug! It will make both of you feel better.

And if you have simply had a hard or difficult day and just need a bit of consolation, here is a suggestion from Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, priest and theologian:

“Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.”

(Presumably in the reverse order!)

Fr. Ray