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TIM: The Role of the Laity

To some, his ‘gift’ was that they should be apostles: to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; to knit God’s holy people together for the work of service to build up the Body of Christ. ~ Ephesians 4:11-12

The Art of Accompaniment

By Father Thomas Rosica CSB

In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis added several phrases to his ever-expanding lexicon and vision of the new evangelization. One of his favorite phrases is the art of accompaniment. 

"The church will have to initiate everyone - priests, religious and laity - into this 'art of accompaniment' that teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5)" (No. 169).

While some pastoral ministers have asked if the papally encouraged art of accompaniment refers more to listening rather than teaching or exhorting, they can often miss the positive emphasis that Pope Francis has placed on this expression. For Pope Francis, the whole purpose of our accompaniment of people along life's journey is a means to an end - and that end is evangelization. 

We do not accompany for the mere sake of accompanying, Pope Francis writes. "Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization" (EG, 173). "Spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God. ... To accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father" (EG, 170).
Having served as a priest for 31 years this year and worked closely with priests and bishops around the world, I am certain that this careful art of accompaniment has not always been obvious to those of us involved in the church's mission of evangelization. At times our zeal and deep desire for others for their change, repentance and conversion overshadow the necessity that people have to be accompanied through the deep valleys and dark nights of the human journey. 

This work of authentic evangelization must be guided by principles, but it is clearly an art. Each expression of art requires practice, repetition, even failure at times, yet the desire to keep trying. The energy required for our evangelization efforts flows from human virtues of kindness, charity, humility, affability, courage, patience and hope. Accompaniment continues throughout our lives, helping us to know ever more fully and live the "Joy of the Gospel." 

Amoris Laetitia is the fruit of very intensive listening on the part of Pope Francis. This important apostolic exhortation - the fruit of two highly significant synods on the family - is the pastoral accompaniment of individuals and of families by the community of the church. The journeying together of all of the members of the church implies this accompaniment. But it also calls for a change in pastoral style and intensity. 

Pope Francis calls pastors to do more than teach the church's doctrine - though they clearly must do that. They must take on the "smell of the sheep" whom they serve "so that the sheep are willing to hear their voice" (EG, 24). This requires a more careful and intensive formation of all who minister to families - lay ministers, catechists, seminarians, priests and families themselves (AL, 200-204).

In Amoris Laetitia Pope Francis describes the notion of accompaniment: "Conversation with the priest in the internal forum contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow." 

For Pope Francis, as also for his predecessors, accompaniment does not mean simply walking with those who are divorced and remarried as if to follow them along a wayward path. Rather, it means coming up alongside them, taking them by the hand and leading them to the objective truth and reality of their situation, and to feel the loving embrace of the Lord.  

When we accompany people, we not only assert truths of the faith simply because "the church has always taught this way," nor do we insist that these truths are inalterable and immutable no matter what one's circumstances may be. We must be deeply concerned that those we seek to help and counsel may discover the radiant, merciful person of Jesus Christ and develop a deep, personal relationship with the Lord.

-- Lexicon for Evangelization and Pastoral Ministry According to the Mind and Heart of Pope Francis, Father Thomas Rosica, CSB 

Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council provided broad themes that led to the formation of parish pastoral councils (PPCs). The laity should accustom themselves to working in the parish in union with their priests, bringing to the Church community their own and the world’s problems as well as questions concerning human salvation, all of which they should examine and resolve by deliberating in common. As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish.
(Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 10)

Decree on the Laity

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity refers to the relationship between lay people and pastors: “As sharers in the role of Christ, the laity has an active part to play in the life and activity of the Church.” Lay men and women hear and answer the universal call to holiness primarily and uniquely “in each and every one of the world’s occupations and callings and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, form the context of their existence. All of the baptized are called to work toward the transformation of the world. Working in the Church is a path of Christian discipleship to be encouraged by the hierarchy. (See Lumen Gentium, nos. 30, 33, 37).
(Coworkers in the Vineyard, USCCB, 2005.)