Summary: God gives us abundant consolations in our ministry, but does not grant us the privilege to be comfortable.

The God of Consolation

Monday of Tenth Week in Course 2013

St. Paul seems almost obsessed in today’s reading with the word paraklesis. In seven verses he uses some form of the word at least nine times. Paul is certainly trying to tell the Corinthians, and us, something important.

Paraklesis can be translated comfort, consolation, and encouragement. I suspect, because we know that Corinth was “sin city” in the first century, a port town notorious for drunkenness, gambling, prostitution and other vice, that he was reacting to reports that the Christians there had gotten too “comfortable.” The Council Fathers had something to say about this meaning of paraklesis:

“Now a man can scarcely arrive at the needed sense of responsibility, unless his living conditions allow him to become conscious of his dignity, and to rise to his destiny by spending himself for God and for others. But human freedom is often crippled when a man encounters extreme poverty just as it withers when he indulges in too many of life's comforts and imprisons himself in a kind of splendid isolation. Freedom acquires new strength, by contrast, when a man consents to the unavoidable requirements of social life, takes on the manifold demands of human partnership, and commits himself to the service of the human community.” (Gaudium et Spes 31)

Elsewhere in his correspondence with Corinth, Paul speaks of the inevitable conflicts that this infant church faces. The conflicts were inside the church and outside, with a hostile world. Inside the church, we know there was a continuation among some neophytes with the sins they had been habituated to before baptism. Outside the church, there were problems with people being married to hostile pagans, problems with the Jews, and questions about dealing with meat that was affordable because it had been sacrificed to idols. These daily conflicts with evil are wearing the Corinthians down, so Paul is reminding them that for every affliction, there is a consolation, even though that consolation may be only spiritual. The Christian life is a life of obedience and service, and that is not often comfortable.

Jesus’s summary of his ethic, the Sermon on the Mount, as Matthew tells it, is set forth in the Beatitudes. They are words of blessing and encouragement, not of comfort. Specifically, we should translate: “Blessed are those who mourn over the evils in the world; they will be consoled and encouraged.” These challenges culminate in the line: "Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

In other words, you won’t be comfortable, but you will be blessed, consoled, and encouraged, if you follow Christ in his life of prayer, service, and persecution. Listen to and heed every call of his. Praised be the name of Jesus Christ, our encourager. Praise to the Holy Spirit, our consoler. Praise be to the Father, creator of all blessings.

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