A presence for those in need

By Fr. Jack Treloar, SJ | For The Compass | April 27, 2017

In the last set of considerations of “The Spiritual Exercises,” St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests a series of meditations on Jesus’ resurrection. As the retreatant considers the various resurrection appearances, Ignatius says that, one should, “Consider the office of consoler that Christ our Lord exercises and compare it with the way in which friends console each other.” This week’s Gospel shows us how Jesus exercises his new office of consoler.

On that first Easter, the two disciples have left the companionship of the other followers of Jesus. They are alone. They are despondent, for all their hopes have been shattered. They thought that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. Even though they had heard some stories about a resurrection, they could not believe these tales. Jesus comes along and engages them in conversation in order to console them. When the time comes for the disciples to separate from this stranger, they urge him to stay with them. At the meal Jesus breaks the bread and they realize that this stranger is actually Jesus. After he disappears from their sight, they tell each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us along the way.”

Two aspects of this experience give indications of Jesus’ function as consoler. He remains the teacher for his disciples. He gives them precisely what they need to move from their despair. As teacher he shows them how various Scriptures apply to him as the Messiah. He moves them from despair by showing them that the tales they have heard about his resurrection are indeed true.

The risen Jesus functions in exactly the same way for us in the 21st century. In our prayer, Jesus continues to unfold for us, his disciples, the implications and consequences of his messiahship just as he did for the two on the way to Emmaus. He greatly desires that our own hearts will be set on fire by his teaching. He also functions as one who is present in our every despairing moment to console us and bring us new life as a way out of our sadness.

We should not forget that the first impulse of the two disciples was to return to Jerusalem and share their experience with others. They have a mission to share his teaching and consolation with the community. It is important for contemporary believers to take on this mission.

Each one of us has many experiences when we can function as consoler to those in need. It is not a matter of sharing material goods, but rather the willingness to be present to one who is in need. Sometimes one hears someone excuse himself/herself from a friend’s wake or sick bed with the words, “I don’t know what to say.” The issue is not what we say. Our mere presence as consoler is our mission as disciples of the risen Lord.

Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.

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