When people speak about the work of evangelization or accompaniment, they often speak about going out to the margins, “to the highways and the hedgerows” (Luke 14:23,) to bring the “nones” and the unbaptized into the Church. This is, of course, an essential part of Jesus’ final commission to his apostles to baptize and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20).
But I have to wonder: what’s the state of spiritual health in our own parishes? Are the lay faithful aware that their sacramental experience is an encounter with Christ, and do they care about their brothers and sisters with whom they share Communion? Are the people in our pews accompanied by anyone in their journey of faith or are they trying to live their faith on their own?
There are many definitions for spiritual accompaniment, but in the book I co-authored with Colleen Campbell as a resource for the Catholic Apostolate Center, we define spiritual accompaniment as “the apostolate of intentional relationship that is oriented toward a definitive direction of growth in holiness and transformation in the Person of Christ.” In general, accompaniment is “a broad term that refers to a relationship between two or more people who share mutuality and reciprocity in the spiritual life” (The Art of Accompaniment). I believe this “apostolate” of accompaniment is essential to a parish’s spiritual health for three main reasons:
First, creating a culture of accompaniment in the parish enables the lay faithful to be who they are called to be by their baptism. In the Rite of Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit and we are made members of Christ’s Body. As members of the same Body, we have a responsibility to bring the light and love of Christ to one another. As Paul writes in First Corinthians, the various parts of the body must have concern for one another because we need each other (1 Corinthians 12:21-26). When members of the lay faithful take an interest in one another’s faith journeys, encouraging one another on that journey, they are living their Christian vocation as the Church intends. When members of the lay faithful are not concerned for members of their parish community, they become spiritually stunted and begin to believe that faith does not require community in one Body.
Second, accompaniment helps a parish to become the best ordinary place of encounter with Christ. The parish is the most likely place where an individual begins his faith journey. Churches that sit on familiar street corners appear as safe havens for those who seek the Lord or some other help. The parish must embrace a culture of accompaniment so that when individuals approach it seeking communion, they are met with a warm and welcoming response instead of sacramental hoops or parish boundary restrictions. Accompaniment challenges parish staff and parishioners to “[respect] the dignity of the human person, and [seek] to increase their freedom to respond to the all-encompassing love of God within their life” (The Art of Accompaniment).
Finally, it’s important that we implement a culture of accompaniment in our parishes because one of the goals of accompaniment is liturgical worship, and this can only take place in the parish. Sacramental theology reminds us that the sacraments are how Jesus accompanies and remains with his Church in a physical way (CCC 1088). Accompaniment’s goal is “transformation in the Person of Christ,” and if the lay faithful are serious about accompanying one another, they will encourage one another to seek out liturgical life at the parish, because the sacraments sanctify us, build up the body of Christ, and give worship to the One who Accompanies.
For more resources on Accompaniment, please click here.
To purchase The Art of Accompaniment, please click here.
Thomas Carani works at a parish in Austin, Texas. He received his B.A. in Theology and Religious Studies from The Catholic University of America. Thomas is also a graduate of the Echo Graduate Service Program at the University of Notre Dame, where he received his Master’s in Theology.