As I explained in the first post of this series, conversions to the Catholic faith are down and the numbers of Catholics leaving are up. This has been the case for some time. In fact, for every newly baptized Catholic, six leave the Church! This is a staggering reality, and it makes clear the need to reassess how we do ministry.
This post will focus on the nature of accompaniment and will explain why it is so needed now. Accompaniment is an essential step toward turning back the tide of Catholics leaving the Church.
Encountering Christ, the focus of my first post, is actually a first step (or phase) in a much larger process known as “Accompaniment.” This post will focus on the nature of accompaniment and will explain why it is so needed now. Accompaniment is an essential step toward turning back the tide of Catholics leaving the Church.
Download A Reflection on Accompaniment: Quotes from Pope Francis and use it to go deeper into the Art of Accompaniment.
What attracts people to a particular faith or religion? Sociologists have studied this question for some time and some consensus has been achieved. It appears that the primary motivation for religious conversion is the strongly held belief that the relationships one will make in a new religion or faith community will be more meaningful than one’s current relationships. (Here, we are referring to young people and adults who are able to make a decision to convert.) Where there is choice, there is a desire for meaning. This is not surprising. Human beings are always in search of greater meaning, which is why religion continues to be an essential part of humanity, and is also why the classic, big questions of life are “big” to begin with (e.g., “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?” “Is there any purpose to life and death?”). When life ceases to be meaningful, we succumb to all sorts of negative states like depression, anxiety, despondency, and apathy. Without meaning, we cease to live and instead merely exist.
When people can’t begin to (or are no longer able to) discover meaning in their religion and/or religious community... they begin to search for greener pastures.
Putting all of this talk about meaning into a religious context, we observe that when people can’t begin to (or are no longer able to) discover new meaning in their religion and/or religious community, when the life of faith seems to be on life support (for instance, “Mass is boring”, lack of interest in learning more, “Prayer is difficult and seems pointless”, community appears unsupportive, and so on) people begin to search for greener pastures. And who can blame them? While the Church can’t force people to stay, it can persuade them. Enter accompaniment.
Accompaniment is not just a catechetical approach or methodology; it is a way of being church. Accompaniment is about building relationships based on respect, trust, and love, which are the bedrock of evangelization and catechesis. Relationships form the foundation of any religion or faith community. They are the sinews of the religious body.
If accompaniment is so essential to faith, you may be wondering why it has only recently made an appearance in Catholic discourse. The truth is that accompaniment has always been around, but has been known by other names, such as “community life,” “service,” or “pastoral ministry.” Accompaniment has always been present in some shape or form in church ministry, especially in the celebration of the Sacraments. So what’s the problem? Why aren’t we all accompanying others the way we ought to?
Accompaniment is not just a catechetical approach or methodology; it is a way of being church. Accompaniment is about building relationships based on respect, trust, and love, which are the bedrock of evangelization and catechesis.
Unfortunately, our sense of individual faith often overrides our sense of corporate faith, which is precisely the kind of faith we hope to express during Mass (or any liturgy). We are, after all, the body of Christ. We are called, by God, to work together for the benefit of the whole. And we are also saved together, for it is impossible to love God without loving one’s neighbor. “Me and Jesus” cannot be separated from “We and Jesus.”
That being said, accompaniment in the way it is described in Pope Francis’s 2013 exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” is a vision of church where disciples gradually discover the importance of sharing faith (in and outside of Mass) in a way that builds up individual and collective trust and charity. Francis’s exhortation makes clear that every single Catholic must become an artisan of accompaniment. This is not something that can or should be left only to religious specialists or professionals. Accompaniment begins when believers locate their need for Christ within their need for others.
Accompaniment is focused on nurturing interpersonal relationships. It is a way of connecting faith and life experience; love of God and love of neighbor. Accompaniment has three phases: Encounter, Sharing Faith Experiences, and Systematic Instruction. Each phase includes certain actions and attitudes that Francis has identified and elaborated on. (I have already written about the actions of Encounter in the first post.)
The aim of accompaniment is to foster (or resuscitate) conversion to Christ by nurturing meaningful relationships based on respect, trust, and love. Recognizing that meaningful relationships are key to religious conversion, accompaniment is a process that has applications beyond catechesis: It is a way of being church today.
Download the A Reflection on Accompaniment: Quotes from Pope Francis and share it in your home and/or parish to encourage others to reflect on ways they can nurture meaningful relationships within the faith community.