Accompanying others in sharing mercy
In this, my final installment of reflections on living mercy, I wanted to draw from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium," the Joy of the Gospel. In that document, the Holy Father speaks to us about missionary discipleship, which is part of the pastoral vision of our archdiocese and which includes unity and living mercy. So what can we learn from Pope Francis that can help make living mercy a practical reality here?
The Holy Father is very clear about several things when it comes to the joyous Gospel. The Gospel, he says, is communal. It draws us into relationship with others. The Gospel also is open to all, inviting to every human person who seeks happiness. The Gospel propels the disciple to go out to a world waiting for the good news. The Gospel also is culturally aware, expressed through popular pieties, liturgies for special occasions, pilgrimages such as Corpus Christi processions.
The Gospel also calls us to "accompaniment," to walk with others. This is a concrete principle for living out the Gospel and provides us a clue to how we can live mercy in our archdiocese.
To be missionary disciples, we must accompany. To accompany, we must listen. To listen, we must be close to our neighbor. But we cannot do this if we do not foster what I will call "touch points."
A touch point is a forum in which we can engage our neighbor. About some of them we have no choice. There are touch points at work, school, home and neighborhood, but it is often too easy to retreat to safe ground even there, to isolate ourselves.
So I ask, what can we do to foster touch points for Catholic business leaders? In fact, there are clubs and groups to help connect Catholic professionals. What can we do to foster touch points for couples? In the archdiocese, there are movements such as the Teams of our Lady and Christian Family Movement that foster accompaniment. What can we do to foster touch points for Catholic youth? There are many camps and youth groups at parishes and archdiocesan-wide that help put young people in touch with peers and with counselors who can listen and so accompany them.
All these opportunities put us in contact with others for the sake of long-term relationships that do not revolve only around sports or entertainment, but are open to deeper conversations and listening.
This is important because Pope Francis teaches that there is an "art of accompaniment." The way we accompany can depend on us. On our end, accompaniment can come naturally or it can be more of an effort. This art is rooted in the "art of listening," of hearing what the needs and desires of our neighbors are so we can provide them with the taste of the Gospel that helps address the need or fill the desire. It is something we can be trained in. It is something we must be formed in to do well.
Most important, the "art of accompaniment" and living mercy require practice. We might struggle at first, but in a culture that through politics and technology is so good at keeping us apart, we ought to be intentional about being with others.
First, through prayer, we must be with Jesus Christ, who will shape and drive our accompaniment of others. Next, we ought to be willing to go outside of ourselves to be with others regularly. Doing so will help us live mercy and be Christ to the many waiting to experience the Gospel.
Deacon Omar Gutierrez is manager of the archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at email@example.com.