The Heart of the Gospel
Comfort the Afflicted
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who
comforts us in all our afflictions, so that we may be able to comfort
those who are in any affliction, with the same consolation by which we
ourselves are consoled. For as we share abundantly in Christ's
sufferings, so through Christ do we share abundantly in His consolation.
(2 Cor. 1:3-5) St. Paul perceived the mysterious link between Christ's
sufferings and our own, between Christ's consolation and our own. That
link was forged when Jesus was consoled in His afflictions by the
Father of mercies (cf. Luke 22:43) and when the God of all
consolation "replied" to the dereliction of the Cross with the
supreme consolation of the Resurrection. It is on this Christological
foundation that the fourth spiritual work of mercy — console the
afflicted — rests.
Let her console the afflicted, St. Clare of Assisi exhorted the abbesses who would succeed her, (RULE OF ST. CLARE, 4) joining the service of authority to the ministry of mercy. Indeed, in the Lady Clare's evangelical vision, the abbess must be the channel of God's healing mercy in the community: let her be the last refuge of the troubled, lest if they should not find with her the remedies for health, the sickness of despair might overcome the weak. (op.cit.)
But the practice of this spiritual work of mercy was not only confided to the abbess. The Seraphic Mother specifies that in the little and large afflictions of daily life each Sister is called to support and console her Sisters as she herself would hope to be consoled in her time of need: Let one confidently make known her needs to another. [For] if a mother loves and nurtures her physical daughter, how much more lovingly ought a Sister love and nurture her spiritual Sister! (RULE, 8)
St. Clare learned the art of consoling the afflicted from the Gospels which tell of our Lord comforting a grieving widow (Luke 7:13) and compassionately reaching out to the weary, harassed crowd (Mark 6:34). In the figure of the Good Samaritan, Clare saw Christ bending down to tend the wounds of fallen humanity. (cf. Luke 10:30-37) She marveled at the Crucified comforting the Good Thief in his affliction with the promise of Paradise. (Luke 23:39-43) Clare's Gospel ponderings were then translated into merciful actions.
Our Lord had, so to speak, an "open door policy" for comforting the afflicted: Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome. (Matt. 11:25) St. Clare had the same policy. She wrote in her Testament: Let [the Sisters] confidently make known their needs and trustingly have recourse to [their abbess] at any hour. So when a Sister came to her in the middle of the night, weighed down with physical pain, the Seraphic Mother, moved by her usual compassion, rose to console her. When she saw one of the Sisters suffering some temptation or trial, she called her secretly and consoled her with tears. (PROCESS OF CANONIZATION 10, 5)
As one who had shared abundantly in the sufferings of Christ during her life, St. Clare was well-equipped to share the abundance of His consolation with others. Even on her deathbed, she found ways to console the afflicted. Those who visited the dying Clare came away strengthened and ready to share the consolation they received. This is what happens when mercy is at work, in us and through us. Human affliction is drawn into the circle of divine consolation. As we share the consolation we have received from the Father of mercies, the God of all consolation is manifested to the world, and those who suffer are abundantly consoled.