The Art of Accompaniment
Presented by Bill Huebsch
January 18, 2018
Article by Jamie Moloney
From The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis says that the art of accompaniment “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (The Joy of the Gospel, 169; The Art of Accompaniment, Bill Huebsch, p8).
Pastoral care ministers have walked (and perfected!) this path of accompaniment, as the very nature of pastoral care work is walking with another. On January 18, Bill Huebsch spent two hours talking with us about Pope Francis’ call for each of us to accompany others, in faith, through difficult or challenging times. We need to help others “encounter Christ anew,” and to do that we, ourselves, need to be well-grounded in Christ. Bill encouraged us by saying the Lord does not disappoint those who take the risk of turning our hearts to Christ. In turn, we help others orient their lives to Christ.
One way we do this is by helping others hear the voice sounding in their hearts, helping them to understand their conscience. We do not replace a person’s conscience with our rules. Rather, we help others find a balance between having a love and respect for the law and the Church, and a conscience that might not agree with everything the law says. We are humans in relationship to the law, using prayer and discernment to distinguish how we are called to act according to God’s will. Most of you are familiar with the church term, internal forum, which speaks to a person’s conscience in relation to Church law.
Bill encouraged us to focus on the Joy of Love, specifically Chapter 8, where Pope Francis speaks about the conscience of the faithful. He walked us through a “hierarchy,” so to speak, of how we form our conscience. Following is the list, beginning with the Word of God. Note that the authoritative teaching of the Church is fifth on the list:
1. Word of God
2. The Lord’s Cross
3. Gifts of the Holy Spirit
4. Witness or advice of others
5. Guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.
Through Christian accompaniment, we lead others to know Jesus and love the church. When meeting with a person, we focus on listening to them. Since each situation is unique to that person, norms cannot be applied. For example, not everyone who is married, divorced, and remarried without an annulment should be denied Holy Communion. Pope Francis asks us to show mercy by listening to that person’s situation, and how they have formed their own conscience in relation to what God wants of them.
To clarify, this is not to say that anything goes, and people can justify not following Church law without proper discernment. Rather, with guidance, discernment, spiritual direction, and prayer, a person may come to understand that God is indeed calling them to take this path, even if the path is not following Church law. Taking the example of the remarried person who did not receive an annulment, their situation may actually lead them to discern that receiving Holy Communion is the right decision.
The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone, but to walk with them. We all belong to Christ, there are no exceptions. Therefore, we guide others (just as others guide us) to an awareness of their relationship with God. We love the Law and love the Church, even if we do not agree with everything.
Bill also spoke at the recent conference, “Henri Nouwen: The Way of Compassion,” sponsored by the Emmaus Center (March 9-10, 2018). Again, he spoke about the Art of the Accompaniment, explaining accompaniment as an ancient practice in the Church that is being renewed. This is nothing new! We especially want to accompany those on the fringes of our church - those who do not feel welcome, and do not have someone to help guide them in their faith.
Grace, of which God gives us in abundance, is given to all of us. We cannot assume someone is not in grace, even if that person is not following Church law. Article 1776 of our Catholic Catechism says that God’s voice echoes in our depths. This deep voice in our conscience dwells in each one of us.
Bill stressed what each of us should emphasize always, in every situation: God loves us, completely, totally - who are we to withhold that love from anyone else? God loves us thoroughly and unconditionally, and God loves each other person equally thoroughly and unconditionally.
Let us all continue to accompany each person we meet, with the love and compassion of Christ.