Ignatius of Loyola teaches that that all things on earth exist to help human beings to live the life of praise, reverence, and service that God’s love offers them (SpEx 23). In light of this, Ignatius says one is in consolation “when there is some interior movement in the soul which causes it to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, such that it can love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but only in its Creator” (SpEx 316). But what does it mean to “love no created thing in itself, but only in its Creator?” To make sense of this statement, we need to enter into the mystery of God’s love and the faith that it offers us.
An analogy from human love can help us. If a man wishes to surprise a friend experiencing a difficult period in her life by making her a favorite dish from scratch—a blueberry pie, say—then this dish is clearly intended as an instrument of love so that joy might enter into a difficult situation. Let us imagine the cook surprising his friend with the pie at the door to her home. If she “lets herself go” and “loves the pie in itself,” then she might dispense with formalities and “pig out” right there at the door, eating the pie straight out of the pie tin. That would clearly be an awkward situation. But let us imagine the opposite: the friend realizes what a great symbol of love this pie is, and so decides not to eat it at all, but instead puts it in a display case so that anytime she is down, she can look at it and remember how much she is loved. This would, likewise, be disappointing to the cook, who lovingly made the pie so that his friend would enjoy it. The proper way to actually receive the gift might be for the friend to invite the cook inside, cut and serve two pieces, and then enjoy the pie together with the one who made it for her out of love. She would actually be delighting in the pie—that is why the cook offered it to her, after all—but she would not be loving it in itself, but in the love conveyed through the gift by its creator, the cook. This is an example of consolation.
God is the Creator, and he offers us all things that he has created as a gift of love, so that we might make use of them to live out the life of love that he offers us. God wishes us to love and delight in the beautiful and good and true things of this world, but not in themselves. Rather, we should delight in them in the way that the Creator wishes, being drawn into the ever-greater Love that is their source, such that we, too, join in this life of love. This is the reality that today’s first reading (Wis 13:1-9) indicates. Let us ask God for the grace to truly delight in the beauty of created things, not in an idolatrous way, but in the way that God intends, so that we might receive the gifts that God offers us and share these gifts with others in the same love.