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We are God’s presence for everyone we accompany

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It can be a deep comfort to be heard and validated. Photo: Pexels.com

A few years back, our 23-year-old son found himself accompanying a stranger.

At the time he was working for a building company that specialised in upgrades and maintenance for safety compliance. When he knocked on the door to discuss the scheduled works with a resident, the woman burst into tears.

Her partner had cheated on her, she sobbed to our bewildered son. Some minutes later, embarrassed, she declared “You don’t get paid enough for this!” and insisted on making him coffee.

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Apparently, it was terrible coffee, but he didn’t want to offend her, and it was too hot to gulp down. So, as he sipped and listened, she talked.

In our wounded and fragmented culture, opportunities to accompany each other are increasingly needed, especially in our intimate relationships.

Whether it’s a seasoned marriage in distress, or one struggling to find its feet in the newlywed years, people of all ages and stages need companions.

The prevalence of marriage breakdown has led Pope Francis to call for Catholic communities to accompany married couples and to normalise this as part of our life of faith. But what does accompaniment look like in a Catholic context?

Like every work of the church, Catholic accompaniment has a higher purpose: to be the loving presence of God to those we accompany. God calls every person into deeper relationship, in a process called “evangelisation.”

Accompaniment may certainly include practical help grounded in present need, but without the invitation to deeper faith, it fails to be authentically Christian. It offers temporal comfort but neglects to offer the eternal consolation that can only be found in our creator God.

To be clear, table-thumping proselytisation or self-interested manipulation has no place in the sacred encounter with a person in need. In fact, Pope Francis has said both that evangelisation is foundational to accompaniment, and that proselytisation is to be avoided.
Authentic evangelisation is about falling in love with God. It’s a courtship with the divine lover who at every moment seeks to honour our free will.

Evangelisation is the reason the church exists and everything we do as a Christian community should reflect that core purpose. It’s central to the life of faith for every member as we grow is our relationship with God over our entire life.

At a practical level, empathetic listening is a key part of accompaniment and features strongly in the words of Pope Francis. It begins with human empathy—one human heart reaching out to another.

It can be a deep comfort to be heard, validated, and honoured in our story by one who shares our human reality. Any companion can offer this gift of empathy, including those specially trained as counsellors.

Catholic accompaniment offers more: an encounter with God’s empathy. That kind of divine empathy can heal the primordial wounds that underpin and amplify much of our present suffering.

Another practical aspect of accompaniment is guiding. Companions do this in many ways including the sensitive re-orientation of conversations and self-talk from fruitless, circular rumination, towards the discernment of a godly resolution.

Discernment is not just decision-making with a bit of prayer tacked on. Discernment is leaning into God, seeking to know his heart and his plan for us, so that our heart and our choices will reflect his desires.

God always desires our good, but his perspective is eternal compared to our more temporal view. While it’s human nature to want relief from our pain now, God desires our eternal joy and fulfilment, and that usually means a measure of suffering in this life.

The kindness of a companion who listens and guides from the frame of faith, can change the trajectory of an unfolding tragedy. Yet accompaniment shouldn’t only be for times of crisis or difficult transitions.

Accompaniment should be a regular part of Christian living. As fellow pilgrims, let us accompany each other to our heavenly destination and there is no better place to start than in our own marriage and family.

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