For all of us there comes a time when we are unable to comfort someone we love. There is nothing we can say or do that will ease their pain. We can only mutely register their need and pray that God will do what we cannot. It is at such times that we know our own fragility and are humbled by our incapacity. We discover that all our ambitions and dreams are as nothing compared with this desire to help another. We are finally freed from our obsession with self, but at the cost of feeling a pain so intense that it numbs us utterly. Overstatement? If you think so, you probably have not yet experienced what I am describing. This morning that experience of aching helplessness is being undergone at many a hospital bedside, in prison waiting-rooms, refugee camps and behind the curtains of respectable houses on respectable streets that give every appearance of knowing no need. Most of us have a busy day ahead, filled with plans for this and that, shot through, I hope, with moments of joy and gladness. Let us remember, and pray for, those less fortunate — those who grieve silently, inwardly, for whom there is no comfort, given or received. It is the work of the Communion of Saints and, as such, our work, too.
In our monastic calendar today is kept as the feast of Our Lady of Consolation, (originally, Our Lady of Comfort). It was a devotion popular in the Low Countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it was adopted by the English Benedictine nuns of Cambrai. English sailors took the devotion to Galicia in Spain where you can still find the occasional statue dedicated to Our Lady under this title. In recent centuries Our Lady has acquired other, more popular titles, but I find this one rich in scriptural allusion and content.
Consolation is a beautiful word, so is comfort in its former sense of giving strength. Consolamini, consolamini, Comfort, comfort ye my people . . . Every Christian must be, in some measure, a giver of strength and consolation to others, but it is not something we can do through our own efforts. Mary, the Mother of God, was a mulier fortis, a strong woman, a valiant woman, one who allowed grace to flower in her, an excellent teacher of what it means to be a giver of comfort to others. I like the way in which Mary is always and everywhere leading us to her Son. As she said to the servants at the wedding feast of Cana, ‘Do whatever He tells you.’ With that advice she solved the problem of the wine running out, taking nothing to herself but giving the glory to God, to whom alone it belongs.