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Were You There: Consolation in Isolation

Charlie Gardner_featured image

Editor’s note: Charlie Gardner—a FMS formation presenter and a member of the Sant’Egidio Community—reflects on how cries for help often reveal a deeper need for recognition and consolation.

“Bartimaeus began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”  -Mark 10:46-52

For Ash Wednesday, I went to Mass at a nursing home. I have been visiting residents of this particular nursing home for the past four years on Sundays with the Community of Sant’Egidio, but this was one of the first times that I visited it during the week. While gathering residents to the worship space, I met several persons who I had not seen before but who decided to participate in the liturgy. Among them was an elderly woman named Rita who had difficulty speaking and whose right arm laid stiffly over the side of her wheelchair.

During the psalm, Rita called out, “I’m not Catholic, but can you help me?” During the second reading, again she called, “I’m not Catholic, but can you help me?” A fellow member of Sant’Egidio went to her and tried to discretely assure her that it was okay. But Rita called out again asking for coffee, and then again for juice. By the end of the homily, we had moved her from the front to the back, urging her to pray quietly and not disturb the other residents.

Rita continued to call out from the back, “I’m not Catholic…Can I have coffee…?” Since I was now the closest to her, I went to assure her that she could stay and that lunch was soon to follow. As I was about to leave, she said to me, “Please, do not leave me alone!” I then understood that her cries requesting help, was a plea to be welcomed and belong. Asking for coffee was the way she knew how to interact and to break her isolation.

Consolation is a beautiful word, which means “to be with” (con) the “lonely one” (solus). Jesus’s consolation both heals Bartimeaus of his blindness and creates space for him in his community. No longer is he a marginalized beggar; he becomes a companion to Jesus.

As I walk the path towards Jerusalem this Lent, I must look to see who my companions are. I know that Rita is waiting for me, waiting for consolation, waiting for my friendship. And on Good Friday, the distance that I will be standing underneath the cross will be measured by how close I have remained to Rita.

Reflection question: Are there people in your life who may be lonely and calling out in need of a warm welcome and a sense of belonging?

Charlie is the Washington Officer for the Community of Sant'Egidio, representing its international initiatives in peacemaking and development to persons in DC. He is also responsible for organizing service opportunities for young adults in DC, especially with persons who are homeless. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame where he studied the Great Books and Catholic Social Tradition, and earned a Master of Arts in Theology with an emphasis in Catechetics.