The following is the text of my talk at the NCCL breakfast on June 1, 2018.
Good Morning. In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis says, and I quote:
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. The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.
In the ministry of faith formation, this “art of accompaniment” is essential. If we want to accompany others along the road of faith, we must resist the temptation to call out to them, saying, “Hey what are you doing way over there. Get over here with us.” It is far more effective to go to the other, meet them where they are on the journey and say, “May I walk beside you?”
To do this takes humility. We must understand that God has the same love for each and every one of us. God loves each of us with a full, passionate and unselfish love. In fact, Pope Francis says, God’s love for us is the only bond that unites all of humanity – the one thing each of us has in common with the other.
Accompaniment requires listening with empathy and reflection. In today’s hectic and noisy world, too often we fail to take time with one another, to listen without worrying about what we will say next. Accompaniment means sitting with the other, listening to the words they speak and reflecting on the feelings behind the words. It means recognizing what a gift we are being given when others trust us with their stories.
To accompany others, we must get in touch with the joy and good humor that comes from openness to God’s grace. Pope Francis cautions us against “a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’.” The word he uses in Spanish is “caras de vinaigre” or “vinegar faces.” I think that image says it all. Pope Francis begins every day by praying St. Thomas More’s “Prayer for Good Humor.” It goes like this:
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
Finally, accompaniment takes courage. The courage to step outside of ourselves. The courage to encounter and accept differences. Pope Francis says that differences are uncomfortable for us because differences make us grow. We will experience some growing pains when we embrace the art of accompaniment. But unless we are willing to grow, we will never become the people God made us to be – the Church God calls us to be.