In the past when I heard the word accompaniment, my thoughts inevitably ran to images of a pianist or an ensemble whose playing supports a soloist in performance, or a side dish that complements a dinner entrée. Somewhat quietly a new meaning of the word has entered the world of ministry and spirituality, as in the capacity or gift of being able to journey with another on the path to insight and wholeness. Recently, in fact, I have heard the bishops of two major American dioceses use the word accompaniment in this context.
In an October 27, 2014, article in the Jesuit periodical America, “Responses to Synod 2014: A Journey of Accompaniment,” author Christopher J. Ruddy refers to “a pastoral approach that the pope has described as ‘accompaniment,’” and quotes the Holy Father’s challenge to the bishops of Brazil during World Youth Day 2013 when, against the backdrop of the Emmaus story, he said:
“We need a church capable of walking at people’s side, of doing more than simply listening to them; a church that accompanies them on their journey; a church able to make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many of our brothers and sisters from Jerusalem; a church that realizes that the reasons why people leave also contain reasons why they can eventually return. But we need to know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture. Jesus warmed the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus.”
Pope Francis then speaks of the “logic of Emmaus,” that the Lord Jesus walked alongside those in darkness, he listened, and he taught.
As a priest, I can say that more often than not today I find myself accompanying others as they move by God’s grace (and patience) toward deeper insight, conversion of life, and wholeness. Particularly in spiritual direction and in sacramental reconciliation, I see how the Emmaus logic of walking with, listening, and teaching produces the greatest lasting effects. The journey may at times seem endless and the goal elusive, but it is worth it. I have no doubt about that.
James 5:7 counsels: “Be patient, therefore, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.”
In This Issue
Redemptorist Dennis J. Billy continues his series on authors and Church figures who wrote on the Eucharist, in this issuing focusing on the late Jean Vanier, one of the founders of L’Arche and a man of extraordinary grace and consistent witness to the dignity of every person. There are other articles and features for your reflection and prayer as we move into the rhythm of a new pastoral and academic year.
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