In his biography on Pope John Paul II, George Weigel explains that St. John Paul II was given a call from God: “to live with people, everywhere to be with them, in everything but sin.”
What many of us neglect to realize is that each member of the Church is given this very same call.
At first glance, this may seem like a simple task—one with less depth or difficulty than other actions the Lord calls us to, yet with further reflection, it becomes far more profound. The heart of this call begs the question: how are we to “be?”
The life of St. John Paul is an excellent model of how Christ calls us to live and be among all of his people. St. John Paul invested in his students, building authentic friendships with them through outdoor excursions such as kayaking, hiking, skiing and camping. He grew to become a master listener, deeply caring for the thoughts, feelings, struggles and joys of every single one of his students. He fully entered into their lives, and walking with them, wholeheartedly desired to know them as the unique individuals that God created them to be.
Simply put, he was a true friend. In accompanying his students of all walks of life, St. John Paul radiantly shined as a witness to God’s love. He acknowledged the important role accompaniment plays in evangelization asserting, “People today put more trust in witnesses than teachers, in experience than in teaching and in life and action than theories. The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission…”
Unleash the Gospel notes that Jesus was the original model of accompaniment in evangelization stating, “When Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he did not immediately begin to instruct them. Instead, he first listened to them and allowed them to share their hopes and disappointments, winning their trust. He met them where they were in their faith and helped them go further.” (Marker 6.2)
As Jesus’ disciples, we too are invited into accompanying others as authentic friends in evangelization, showing and sharing with them the love that Christ gives us. However, we must remember that this process is neither timely nor easy—there will be highs and lows, there will be growing pains and there will most definitely be sacrificed time and energy. Unleash the Gospel continues elaborating on accompaniment explaining, “This is not always an easy process, especially for those who have spent many years living apart from God. They need others to walk by their side and lead them closer to God with patience, compassion and wisdom.”
That prompts the question, how can one strive to be a patient, compassionate, wise, witness in accompanying others?
Don’t be discouraged—although the art of accompaniment may be somewhat demanding, there are simple ways we can practice growing in virtue to become radiant witnesses to Christ’s love and authentic companions for others:
Skip the Small Talk
As opposed to just small talking with the individuals you are trying to walk with, engage in more meaningful conversation—a conversation that allows you to truly get to know that individual for who they are. Learn their interests and hobbies outside of the faith, their hopes and dreams, their fears, etc. By talking about real topics of greater depth, you will get a better idea of where that individual is spiritually, and thus be able to more fully tend to their needs. Through authentic conversation, a mutual bond of trust may be formed, which will serve as a firm foundation for a virtuous friendship.
Be an Active Listener
Being an active listener can be tricky sometimes. Feelings and thoughts are often overlooked or thrown to the side due to our fast-paced world teaching our brain to always keep moving on to the next thing. Instead of running conversations, try to intentionally create space for the other individual to share a thought, feeling or story without interrupting them or adding on. It’s important to create intentional breaks in conversation to let the other share more fully, show them you truly care and are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Try New Things
As you’re getting to know the individual you are accompanying, sometimes you will discover you have a few different interests. Say they invite you to come play volleyball with some other friends, but you have zero interest in playing sports. What does a supportive, authentic friend do? Try new things! Even if it’s an activity outside your field of interest or expertise, it’s a good practice to go outside of your comfort zone and partake in hobbies of interest to the other individual. Chances are that taking steps to grow in their faith or partaking in some of your unique hobbies is just as uncomfortable as you being below average at volleyball!
It’s important to put the other individual’s actions into perspective. Something that might seem like no big deal to you might be a really big deal to the other. With that in mind, it’s important to take the extra minute to send that thank you text, check in with a phone call or even thank the individual in person for coming to a social get-together, formation event or Bible study. Taking the extra minute shows the individual you’re walking with that every “yes” they give is sincerely valued, and that you’re proud of the time and vulnerability they willingly give.
Share Your Source of Joy
When the individual you’re accompanying hits you with the “why” questions of your joy, peace, purpose and knowledge of identity, don’t be afraid to give them the non-watered down version of it all being rooted in the Lord’s love. Be a living witness to the individual of how great the Lord’s love is, and how he has the same amount of true love and desire for them.
Heavenly Father, through the intercession of St. John Paul II, we implore you to equip your servants to be patient, compassionate, wise witnesses to your love, so that we may master the art of accompaniment and bring more souls to the love and truth found in you alone. Amen.