Consolation: Our Special Call

By Sr. Riccardina Silvestri, MC

In my memory, there is an image that developed during the years of formation as a Consolata Missionary Sister. That image portrays Joseph Allamano in the cozy and frequently visited spot that was familiarly referred to as il coretto, (small loft) at the shrine of la Consolata, in Turin, Italy.

The elderly priest gazing at his “Madonna” for long periods of time caught my attention. I, often, dwelt on that scene with a sense of expectation, as if a sudden light would reveal some secrets.

Only recently, the reflection on that deep “communion” yielded a valuable insight. In my opinion, the intimacy between la Consolataand Joseph Allamano provide an important clue to understanding his extraordinary creativity as a priest, as the promoter of social initiatives, and as the Founder of two missionary congregations.It is said that people become whom they love. Joseph Allamano, in my understanding, confirms the truth of this view. The Founder of the Consolata Missionaries, while contemplating the icon of Mary, assimilated her concerns, her passion for humanity, and her vision of wholeness and dignity for every human being. In a way, to paraphrase Paul, (Gal. 2:20) we could hear Allamano claim, ”It is no longer I who live, but it is the Consolata who lives in me.”

Because of this assimilation, I do not consider it bold to maintain that his spirituality is strikingly feminine. In fact, it bears this feature, A listening heart, which implies mindful attentiveness to experience, because it enfolds the mystery of divine love, and God’s unfolding plan.

“Relationality”, according to Elizabeth Johnson, “is the power of being, who enlivens, suffers with, sustains, and enfolds” the whole of humanity and the universe itself. This quality makes us aware of how interconnected and interdependent we all are. (Who She Is, p. 13)? A life-giving power that nurtures growth by loving in ways that address human brokenness, violence, injustice, and degradation of our beautiful environment. Even a quick appraisal of these qualities suggests a common denominator: a thrust toward the promotion of the full humanness of all people. Or, to use St. Irenaeus’ well known axiomGloria Dei vivens homo, the glory of God is the human being, the whole human race, every individual person, fully alive. Elizabeth Johnson maintains that “wherever human beings are violated,diminished, or have their life drained away, God’s glory is dimmed and dishonored. Wherever human beings are quickened to fuller and richer life, God’s glory is enhanced.” It is not a coincidence, therefore, that Joseph Allamano chose as a motto for his missionaries, “Et Annuntiabunt Gloriam Meam Gentibus,” “And They Will Announce My Glory To All People.” This saying, in fact, poignantly affirms the goal of our Mission: to further God’s plan to promote the full humanness of all people, in Christ Jesus.

I have often wondered whether this motto was not inspired by the Founder’s attentive listening to the lived experience of his historical period. In fact, he lived at the time of colonization, industrial revolution and the social degradation they caused, evident in unjust partition of countries, in child labor and the exploitation of the worker. The Founder witnessed the plight of a multitude around him: a plight that forced them to be anything except fully alive. His sensitive nature and deep awareness of God’s life-giving plan for humanity sparked prophetic actions that “quickened [women and men] to fuller and richer life.” (p. 14) He passed this challenge on to us, Consolata Missionaries, “You will proclaim God’s Glory: humanity fully alive, to all peoples.”

His challenge is our charismatic expression of the Good News, which is CONSOLATION. Our Lady Consolata inspired this challenging vision and motto. She is the model of humanity fully alive. In fact, “she functions as an icon of the maternal God, revealing divine love as merciful, close, interested in the poor and the weak, and ready to hear human needs.” (She Who Is, p. 102).

I wish to briefly dwell on the feminine qualities I have described above and illustrate how they apply to Mary.There are three scriptural moments that are of striking relevance.The first is in Luke 2:49. Following the incidence of Jesus’ mysterious remark in the temple, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” the evangelist simply remarks that Mary noted and held all things in her heart. (Luke 2: 51)

I like to describe this inner posture with an image: the hospitable heart. It is the attentiveness to the experience and the listening to it that makes all the difference. In fact, attentive listening not only inspires befitting answers, it first and foremost suggests the befitting questions; the ones prompted by the discrepancy between God’s life-giving plan for humanity and reality that dishonors the divine intent.Secondly, in the Magnificat, Luke (1: 46-55) poignantly suggests the effect of “staying with the experience”. It is captured in Mary’s tremendous insight into God’s option for the poor and into the call to solidarity. Both, option for the poor and solidarity, are rooted in the truth that we are “related”, connected, kin. We are the human family. And we are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.The relational aspect, which even the scientists are discovering today in the universe, is beautifully highlighted in Cana’s wedding feast. (John 2: 1-11) Mary is a living, creative, and proactive member of the community. She is her sister’s and brother’s keeper. She intuits the part she needs to play. She refuses to stay idle in somebody’s plight.When it comes to relationship, we acknowledge that we are standing on HOLY GROUND, the Glory of God.

I conclude with a poem by Adrienne Rich. It invites us all to tend our feminine side. It holds strands of redeeming wisdom.Vision begins to happen in such a life as if a woman quietly walked away from the argument and the jargon in a room and sitting down in the kitchen, began to turn in her lap bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps, laying them out absently on the scrubbed board in the lamplight, with small rainbow-colored shells …Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity,the striving for greatness, brilliance –only with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing dark against light, silk against roughness, pulling the tenets of a life together with no mere will to mastery, only with care…