There are some amazing conferences happening in our Archdiocese this week. The Mid-Atlantic Congress (MAC) begins today! This is the fifth year that the Archdiocese has offered pastoral leaders the opportunity for skills development, networking, and prayer with other pastoral leaders. Also happening this week is Mount 2000, an intense retreat for high school students. It provides young people with an opportunity to pray in community and be formed more deeply in their faith. Both the MAC and Mount 2000 can be intensely moving. Some call these type of occurrences “mountain top experiences” because on the top of the mountain you feel spiritually and physically closer to God, and in hindsight these moments can be seen as climactic.
Conferences, retreats, missions, and workshops can all be “mountain top” experiences. They can be times when the participants see and experience the glory of God. And isn’t that what we want them to do? That’s why we, as pastoral leaders, invite and encourage our parishioners to attend those events. We hope that it will bring them closer to God and the Church. We want the experience to be powerful and even life changing.
We must remember and imitate the biblical accounting of the Transfiguration, that beautiful story of Peter, James, and John witnessing the glory of our Lord. They were so touched by what they saw and felt that they did not want to leave the mountain. They wanted to stay there with Jesus forever. But of course this was not possible. Jesus walked with them down the mountain and back to the valley. Like Jesus, it is also our responsibility to not only invite parishioners to the mountain top, but to spiritually accompany them on the journey back to the valley.
As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium, “In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity- into this ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (EG, 169)
Respecting their individual and communal experiences, our presence and prayers should encourage them to fully engage and be open to whatever grace is given them at that moment. And as we accompany them back to the valley we should help them bring the mountain top experience into their everyday lives, because without such accompaniment some may view the event as an isolated incident that has no impact on how they live their lives.
Spiritual accompaniment is not always an easy task, so here are a few suggestions:
- Begin with listening. Allow the person to speak about their experience. Listen with an open heart, respect and compassion.
- Listen for those moments of conversion and bring them to the attention of the speaker.
- Invite conversation that will help the speaker discern what is different or new in their relationship with God.
- Never judge the experience. Remember that this is holy ground. God was and is present in all that occurred.
- Be in touch with your own “mountain top” experiences and how you have changed and grown as a result. This will help you better relate to the person you are accompanying.
- Help the person to translate the experience into action. Mountain top experiences should make us hungry to be better missionary disciples.
What are some other ways that we can accompany others on their journey from the mountain to the valley?