Christian accompaniment is best understood through the Gospel story of the Road to Emmaus. If Emmaus is Heaven, each of us is on our own journey: afraid, confused, and attempting to make sense of the joy of the Resurrection. Each of us needs someone to walk beside, someone who will minister to us by simply listening, then understanding, and advising. On this journey, our earthly traveling companion is on one side and Jesus is on the other. The disciples couldn’t have come to understand the Paschal Mystery or their relationship with it until they let Christ be their guide.
As a precursor to the 2018 Synod, the Synod of Bishops released their working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. In its second part, the document discusses the necessity for vocational accompaniment, defined as “a process that is able to unleash freedom, as well as the capacity to give and to integrate the various dimensions of life within a horizon of meaning.” Though a rather lofty definition, it is clear that accompaniment centers around a proper understanding of discernment.
Discernment can be a confusing Catholic buzzword. For some, the mere thought of it causes extreme panic, while others understand it as equivalent to “religious life.” I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had where someone leans over to me and asks in a hushed tone, “Are you discerning?” to which I respond bluntly, “EVERYONE is discerning!” Every young person is constantly discerning not only our capitol “V” Vocation (such as a call to religious life, the priesthood, or to marriage), but also our vocation for every year, month, or moment of our lives. Each day is an opportunity to ask to know God’s will. Even a small daily prayer invites Him to let the Spirit work in our lives.
With this definition of discernment in mind, accompaniment is the simple act of being present to someone, forming a relationship in order to walk with him or her towards an understanding of Christ’s will. The Synod’s Instrumentum Laboris says that there are many kinds of accompaniment. Whether it be formal spiritual direction, psychological accompaniment, advisement from a trusted elder, etc., accompaniment is necessary for the spiritual journey. We cannot live out our faith alone. We need others to share with, to learn from, and to pray with in order to grow as children of God.
In my own journey, I have been blessed to be accompanied by many different disciples. My parents were the first to show me what it means to be accompanied in and through love. In high school, a few wonderful teachers gave me room to grow and begin to understand how Christ was speaking in my life. In college, I learned how to open myself to totally new companions and walk with college-aged ministers. In the most traditional sense, an excellent diocesan priest and longtime friend welcomed me in spiritual direction last year and together we learn how God is calling me to serve Him as I grow as a person and daughter.
I know accompaniment is important because when I try to walk the road alone, I am met with a sense of isolation and confusion. When I made the decision to study abroad in Rome for the semester, I never realized the sort of impact it would have on my spiritual life. Leaving my closest companions, faith friends, and spiritual director behind in the United States, I felt unable to cope with the new challenges I’m facing. I’ve come to realize that without those spiritual relationships, the journey towards Christ becomes far more difficult.
To accompany and to be accompanied are not positions to be taken lightly, and hopefully this Synod will show the Church how to better foster these sorts of relationships. In a time where many of us are feeling betrayed or isolated by the Church, it is difficult to trust that She is the source of these types of reliable and authentic relationships. As young people, however, we have to trust in the healing mercy of the Holy Spirit and the grace bestowed upon our Church’s shepherds. It is not an easy time to be a Catholic or a young person, but that is all the more reason for us to persevere on the journey with a companion on one side and Christ on the other.