The art of accompaniment with priests and religious

Have you ever sung “Companions on the Journey,” which was written by Carey Landry? It’s one song I dread singing at Mass. The only redeeming feature of the song is the message it conveys, albeit, poorly. As a lay person, I break bread and share life with other lay people and with priests and religious … and I am blessed. Yes, blessed by the presence of many beautiful men and women, priests, brothers and nuns, who have accompanied me in my journey through life. It is the still fresh memory of one priest’s sharing with me on the phone the other day that illustrates for me the importance of lay people sharing their lives with priests and religious who are lifted up and inspired to keep serving God through serving God’s people. Listening is a critical skill in the art of accompaniment. Active listening, yes, but really, it is listening with the heart for the sound of the Holy Spirit at work. And as I listened to him, we both recognised the signs of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of people he served in his parish. Without knowing it, they accompanied us, priest and lay person, in our desire for union with God. 

In his reflection on the role of the priest in YCW, Cardijn noted: “It is a difficult, slow task which demands patience and perseverance in facing disappointment and failure and a readiness to give up a great deal. The chaplain must be the youngest among the working youth; the youngest in faith, hope and charity; the youngest in enthusiasm and optimism.” The priest is not a lay person. The work of the lay apostolate remains the work of the laity. The priest, however, places himself at the service of the lay apostles and is there to give the Church’s guidance and blessing. In the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis), which was promulgated prior to the close of Vatican II, we are told that priests “would be powerless to serve men if they remained aloof from their life and circumstances” (PO, 3).

The Gospel reading for today is short (Mark 3:20-21) yet relevant to the issue of the accompaniment of priests and religious by the laity, which is reciprocated. Mark tells us that Jesus went home, and so many people gathered at his home, hungering for his presence in their lives, and he made room for them in his life and his home. Jesus’ relatives thought that he was crazy. Clearly, they had no understanding or appreciation of his mission. In one sense, the Gospel scene is so unlike our Australian society, which was once predominantly Christian, but is now marked by a lack of commitment to Jesus. Across Australia, about 11% of Catholics go to Mass regularly. If they meet Jesus in their daily lives, it is likely that they do not recognise him in the Eucharist. In this country alone, there is a real need for the Emmaus Walk to be lived out millions of times in people’s lives.

For those of us who attempt to “practise” our faith in ways that include priests and religious, what is there that we can do to grow in faith through accompanying others, particularly those who are priests, or members of religious orders or congregations? One starting point might be one’s examination of conscience: What have I done today or recently to show my appreciation for the presence of my parish priest in my life? When was the last time I shared with him my hopes for a world united in faith at home with Jesus? How do I show the religious I know that I appreciate the part they play in my life and the part I play in their lives? And when was the last time I expressed my appreciation for them sharing their lives with me? It will be by small steps and sharing the experience with others that change will happen. 

By Greg Lopez and Pat Branson

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Joseph Cardijn, The priest in the YCW (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)