Comfort one another

A Sister from Rempstone reflects on the spirituality of our present crisis and on how we can keep praying, stay joyful and always continue to give thanks

Whenever there is division and disunity in the Church, there is pain, confusion and hurt on both sides. But there are times when there is no escape from the suffering except by remaining in it. Seeking to be elsewhere, or to make things other than they are, serves only to increase pain. The seemingly inevitable remains and the deadlock mysteriously deepens in the face of stubborn resistance.

Jesus at Calvary can alone make it possible for us to continue to be, in such a situation. For the joy that lay ahead of him, he endured everything, and there are times when he calls us to join him in this. In his strength we are to remain with him in his trials and make up what is still lacking in his sufferings for the sake of his body, the Church.

Lord of his Church

However gravely we might seem to err, in our own eyes, cor-porately or individually, Jesus remains Lord of his Church, for it is his; the gates of the underworld will not prevail. There may be casualties and bitter anguish on the way for us all, but there will be no final defeat, for victory is already achieved. The Church, in fact, has no meaning or purpose outside the predetermined purposes of God, and if we remain faithful, while human things are shaken, then so much the sooner will the unshakeable Kingdom come.

St Paul would probably tell us to comfort one another with these things. It won't be a cold or sentimental comfort either, that pretends things are not as they are. The comfort we are to minister to one another, even across our conflicting understanding of things, is the strengthening grace of the Holy Spirit, who sustained Jesus through Calvary and the underworld into the resurrection. Such comfort enables us to remain in the suffering, while God works his redemptive purposes, and so brings a whole universe, in the End, back to himself.

At times, we may feel utterly alone in all this. Companions, if there are any, or well-meant cliches, even from the words of Scripture or pious exhortation, are meaningless, or indeed an insult. We are like Job in the face of his comforters. Again, there is no escape, except that of acceptance. This is the rock bottom of faith, the faith that can understand and see nothing, but which persists. And it is there that we find our companions again. We know of a surety that the Church is the company of all the redeemed, and that nothing can come between us and one another in the love, which is God himself.

In the love of God

It is there, too, that we can know that others are at prayer with and for us, and we are upheld. However, there is always the immediate, practical moment. What is to be done? At times of pain and bewilderment, after the initial, paralysing inertia, there comes the need to be doing something, the sheerly ordinary, so that we can regain our sanity and equilibrium. What might our Lord require of us?

St Paul, once again, suggests an answer, 'This is what God, in Christ, wills for you,' he says [1 Thess. 5.18]. The suggestions made might well grate at first, but lets look at them: 'Be always joyful; pray continually; give thanks whatever happens.'

Joy may well seem furthest of all things from heart and feeling. Yes indeed, if we mean a facile, hand-clapping, 'all's well with God's world' sort. Rather, let us return to an earlier thought -Jesus at Calvary, making it possible for us to endure, because he endured the full cost of the Cross and Passion for the joy that lay ahead of him. The rock-bottom faith we have spoken of, which God graciously bestows on us at our point of near despair, is the birthplace of a renewal of hope. By this same grace of the Spirit, it becomes gradually possible to find a quiet joy at all times and even in the bitterest circumstances, since God is in control and all is in his hands.

Praying continually

Sensing the presence of the Spirit is to be praying continually. There will indeed be moments when prayer, on the individual level, will seem impossible. It is then that we should perhaps recall that there are those in the Church given wholly to a life of prayer. In them, we are upheld. But for all of us this is God's will - pray continually.

Just as soon as it is possible, we must return, after moments of crisis, to the regular pattern and framework of daily prayer to which we are accustomed, in liturgy and private devotion. Feelings are immaterial. The framework is vital as our strong support, and we shall be enabled to regain meaning, pattern and purpose there, in the familiar.

Ultimately, of course, we shall need our Eucharist, where we can, day by day, week by week, participate in the full mystery of our dying and rising with Christ. This brings us to St Paul's third point: 'Give thanks whatever happens.'

On the surface, this might seem to imply a false, external show of being glad about awful things as much as the ones we feel to be just right. But not so. Ultimately, our faith tells us that everything is well; in Christ, all things genuinely work together for good, since God is the Lord of his own creation, and God is love. For the Christian, then, it is possible, by his grace, to thank God at all times for everything. When it is well-nigh impossible to feel grateful, it is all the more important to offer Eucharist.

At times of crisis in the Church, we may perhaps feel tempted to opt out, and do our own private thing. Isolation is not often the best course. Maybe our Lord, in the words of St Paul, is giving a timely piece of advice: whatever you do, do not stop making Eucharist. This is your lifeblood and your contribution to the renewal and up-building of the Church. There you will find comfort, and the gift of mutual support:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able
to comfort those who are in any affliction,
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings,
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too [2 Cor. 1.3-5].

Thanks be to God. |jyp|

St Paul would probably tell us to comfort one another with these things

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