If there is a buzz word to the pontificate of Pope Francis, in my mind there is no doubt that that words would be “accompaniment.” This can be verified both through his writings and the frequency of the use of the word itself and also in the personal witness of the Pope that has caught the attention of the whole world. Who can forget him washing the feet of the youth in the Juvenile Detention Center on Holy Thursday of 2013? Or him embracing the leper and kissing his wounds? Or the little girl in the Philippines who asked him why God allowed her to suffer, and how Francis simply drew the little girl to himself in an embrace and not only held her but cried with her.
This principle of accompaniment is expounded in The Joy of the Gospel, the first apostolic exhortation issued by the Bishop of Rome, which he stated express his pastoral program for the governance of the Universal Church under his pontificate. And I believe that the fruitfulness of the New Evangelization, the renewal of Western Society in response to Postmodernity, largely rests on learning the art of accompaniment.
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes:
In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. 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 (cf. Ex 3:5). 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.
He goes on to say that:
We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing. Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders.
If we can learn to walk with people, meeting them where they are at and sharing in their joys and sorrows and steadily witnessing to the power of Jesus Christ in our own lives, then we can make disciples. As we get close to the Paschal Triduum, we should prepare ourselves to receive the New Commandment of Love that Jesus’ gave us on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper. The art of accompanying others is grounded in this novo mandatum.
How can we cultivate this art of accompaniment in our Catholic Beer Club gatherings? Perhaps there is someone at the gathering just waiting for us to walk with them, if only we learn to open our eyes and see.