Accompany: Where Are We Going and Who Is Driving?

Inevitably, when my wife and I are able to find a babysitter for our three delightful (read: crazy) children under five years old to go on a date, we sit in the car for fifteen minutes trying to figure out where to go for dinner. Neither of us has a clue what we are hungry for and what might satisfy that hunger. Similarly, the act of accompaniment can appear to lack direction as well.

What exactly do we mean by “accompaniment”? Who is accompanying whom? And where are we going?  Since accompaniment has been identified as a mission priority it is worth some reflection. Following insights from Pope Francis’ The Joy of Love, I want to identify a few essential pieces to what he calls the “art of accompaniment.”

1. Openness

Accompaniment first requires a radical hospitality that both assumes nothing and imposes nothing—not an easy task. Difference enriches unity but this first requires us to let the other be different than ourselves. To be sure, this is not to suggest that the truth is not the truth but instead recognizes that conversion (even our own) requires time and space.

2. Patience

So often, we want things to happen immediately but the current reality of the Kingdom of God is that it is already but not yet.  We have been redeemed by Christ but we are still bogged down by the reality of sin and concupiscence (i.e., the inclination to sin).  Conversion takes time—just as God gradually reveals himself through Salvation History—and so too we are called to walk slowly with individuals as we grow closer to Christ. 

3. Presence

Being with and listening to another person is essential.  Pope Francis talks about the way we “look” at others.  Put another way, do we look at others?  Too often we are occupied with technology or the busyness of life, which makes true presence a challenge.  In part, this is why presence is of such great importance, because it allows the person to feel heard and even valued.

4. Invitation

Jesus Christ, is the way, the truth, and the life and salvation is through His Church.  This reality can be stated positively and within the context of a relationship but we commissioned to introduce others to Jesus Christ.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus were going somewhere and when Christ opened the Scriptures their hearts “burned.” So too, when we accompany others, their hearts should begin to burn with a love for Christ and, indeed, our own hearts should burn evermore intensely.

I am not sure whether this reflection will help my wife and me to make a decision about where to go for dinner on Saturday night, but I hope it begins to shed a little light on how we can think about accompaniment as a mission priority.

From your work in ministry, what other components are important for authentic accompaniment?

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