33 Days to Merciful Love for the first time, I bought Consoling the Heart of Jesus because of his references to some concepts of interest being expanded on in the book. I started to read it and then part way through misplaced it. I was on maternity leave, navigating life as a mom of four and preparing to transition back to work at the end of summer.
I kept thinking eventually it would show up, but when I was reading 33 Days to Merciful Love this spring - one year later, I decided it was time to re-order the book as it was still nowhere to be found. I started again from the beginning and was not completely sure at which point I crossed over from already read to new; however, I do know that toward the end of the retreat portion of the book it was so perfectly aligned with areas of confusion and struggles from last spring/summer. The material that I didn't quite get to because I couldn't find the book would have been highly beneficial.
Now, through the lens of concepts in this book, I can see those experiences with deeper clarity, helping to illuminate how God was helping me to navigate part of my journey and making me stronger in the process. Of course, based on additional space and time to reflect, his ideas made more sense now than they would have then. Maybe I needed those additional months to be able to let the experiences to take shape in my mind in order to then step back and view them from this lens in a more meaningful way. Fr. Gaitley mentions that he typically re-reads the retreat annually, explaining how "With each new reading, the old themes seem to enter my heart more deeply, and I'm brought back to my spiritual foundations" (p. 26).
The book is set up to be a self-guided retreat. In recognition of the power of 30-day Ignatian retreats filled with silence and prayer and the reality that it can be a struggle for many people to access one of the retreats for various reasons, this book is an alternative to help support similar growth. The retreat portion of the book begins with an introduction, followed by a section to lay a conceptual foundation to live a guiding principle in our lives, a section to overcome obstacles to living the foundation, and a conclusion.
The foundation all comes back to St. Ignatius' First Principle and Foundation, focusing on the purpose of life and how align our lives to that purpose through proper prioritization. In general, this foundation is closely aligned to my experience in 2015 of choosing core as my one little word to guide my year in which my journey led me toward recognizing that God had not been at the core of my life and then on-going discovery through an inquiry process about how to change that. Fr. Gaitley explains, "the principle 'first things first' basically means that when one keeps his eyes on such a vivid goal, the 'first thing,' then all else falls into place. It can also imply that when one goes after a 'second thing' first, he loses not only the second thing but the first as well" (p. 37).
The longest section in the retreat portion is dedicated to overcoming obstacles, which makes sense as it is comparatively easier to understand the principle but much harder to navigate authentically living it in our lives as the obstacles (fear of suffering; our weaknesses, sinfulness, and attachments; fear of suffering, again; the sensitivity of the Lord's heart; and the insensitivity of our hearts) arise.
However, when the retreat concludes, there is still a little more than half of the book remaining, including: an appendix that addresses Ignatius' rules for discernment, another appendix with excerpts from St. Faustina's diary, and references and notes. The end of the book has a "Consoler Cheat Sheet" to summarize the main concepts and key reminders of how to live aligned to the suggestions. His section on discernment was a good supplement to True North, Discerning the Spirits, and Discerning the Will of God. It helped me to feel more confident with the concepts of consolation and desolation. I did not read the section with excerpts from St. Faustina's diary since I read the whole book earlier this year; however, I eventually might read it since I like how it groups together by common topic. As I was marking page after page when reading the diary, part of what I was noticing was the concepts that came up again and again.
Though this is the third book of Fr. Gaitley's that I have read, it was the first one that he wrote. Fr. Gaitley recommends reading the retreat portion of the book over a weekend; however, I read it in smaller pieces over a longer span of time. Perhaps, that is why his newer retreat books are intended to be spread over 33 days, recognizing that sometimes people are able to block out a weekend, and other times, they need to read and ponder in smaller pieces.