I am often perceived as a happy, joyful person by my friends. Something that I, and pretty much everyone, struggle with is how to handle the experience of being in the “calm before the storm.” We are all familiar with the struggle to push ourselves through hard things, and we succeed or don’t succeed with this fairly often. What is harder to pinpoint and practically work through is how to be at peace in times of consolation.
In mid-March, I and many of the other Seton Teaching Fellows went on a retreat run by the Seton Teaching Fellows formation team. It was an amazing time. We were in a facility that is the home of the oldest operating Catholic summer camp in the US, and that was as fun as it sounds. The whole weekend was such an amazing combination of fun summer camp-type of bonding with fellow Fellows and amazing spiritual renewal. We had adoration, games on the lawn, walks around the property, bonfires, and lots of time for thought and prayer. Our focus was on “Discerning the Will of God” through St. Ignatius’ Discernment of Spirits.
We read and discussed the Ignatian Rules of Discernment and notes by Mother Clare, CFR about discerning between good and evil spirits and times of consolation and desolation.
This way of thinking led me to consider that I had many ways of coping with stress. I dread stress, butI began to realize that I often feel more at peace in times of stress because the stress is present, than I do in times of peace when I’m constantly waiting for “the axe to fall,” so to speak.
So, after our last talk at the retreat, I asked Father Mark Haydu and our formation director, Mrs. Emilia Chornay, how to practically work through feeling anxious in times of consolation. Both of them offered a couple of practical tips on the subject, and it was helpful to hear about them from the perspectives of a lay, married person as well as a member of the church dedicated to religious life.
Mrs. Chornay shared how she receives consolation and peace through experiencing challenging moments in her life. Rather than dread the challenge before it is here, be confident now that in times of challenge God will provide you with the peace and motivation you need to respond at that time.
Father Mark shared how Mother Mary, the ultimate model of how to work through spiritual consolation and desolation, handled times when she was challenged. He used the Finding of Jesus in the Temple as an example. When Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus, they were both relieved and troubled. His words “Didn’t you know that I would be in my Father’s house?” confused them. Mary “should” have been at peace in this time of consolation, but this was challenging her. So, she “pondered these things in her heart.” Father Mark explained that he took this passage to mean that Mary savored her joy and relief at finding Jesus, even though she suspected his future might confuse or trouble her.
In conclusion, if you should be at peace, and you’re not, don’t worry. Priests, married lay people, and the Virgin Mary have all been there. It’s a difficult challenge to understand, but—as cheesy as it sounds—there is a practical solution: thank God for the blessings of the present moment. Enjoy that nap, call your mom, and offer up Mass in thanksgiving, because that is what helps us to carry our crosses to God.
Margaret Howerton is a graduate of Christendom College where she studied English Literature. Originally from North Carolina, she has been an incredible asset to our school and mission where she works with and catechizes 3rd graders at Brilla College Prep Elementary School in the South Bronx.