True Accompaniment (The thoughts of a catholic man who grew up in a single parent home)
“Accompaniment.” That word seemed to be thrown around a lot in Rome during the Synod on the Family in October. The Instrumentum Laboris, the working document used by the synod fathers during the Synod makes reference to accompaniment 37 times throughout the document. Yet, after reading it including the section on the “Art of Accompaniment”, I see neither a proper art or really any indication that those who wrote the document have a sense of what it actually means to accompany anyone.
I was once a child, who grew up in the context of a single parent home, where my mother and father were divorced. If the synod fathers needed an example of a life that needed true accompaniment, mine was one. My father left my mother because of her faith when I was a baby. My mother was ill, relying on disability pensions and child support for most of my upbringing. I received a lot of care from my grandparents. Yet, faithfully, my mother, grandparents, and I went to Mass every Sunday. My mother chose to remain single after the divorce for many varied reasons, even though she could have annulled the marriage, as she was married outside of the church before she was baptized. My father remained at a distance my whole life, seeing him only a handful of times a year, and he rarely spent one-on-one time with me unless he had to.
So, though catholic, my life was messy. Really messy. Yet, the presence of the local church was not present in those gaps for most of my life. It was not until I was a teenager that I was given one of the greatest graces of my life – a priest-mentor. A local priest befriended me as a teenager and took me under his wing. The priest scandals of the last ten years had not yet happened, and so there was not really a safe environment policy which prevented me from hanging out with him. This priest showed up in my life at what was the most crucial moment and not only pulled me back from the precipice of self destruction I was beginning to head down as a young teen, but he began to form me into the catholic man I am today.
This priest used to invite me over to hang out, watch movies, and help out around the church. He gave me the tools to work hard. He showed me what it is to work. He even helped me with my homework. He showed me how to communicate with everyone. He would take me on little road trips and visit shrines and different people’s homes. He taught me how to pray. He instilled in me a love and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament by inviting me over to pray at 6am. He shared his love for the Liturgy of the Hours. All of these things led me to begin discerning the priesthood and religious life. It was what led me to become a Secular Discalced Carmelite. He showed me how to love our Blessed Lord, the Church, and people. It was his mentorship that helped me weather the storm of confusion I encountered years later after being seriously wounded by another member of the clergy. This first priest had given me what I needed in my life, an example of true fatherhood. He had accompanied me as Christ accompanies us through life – by my side, like a father.
After reading the Instrumentum Laboris and reading the reports coming out of Rome during the synod, I could not believe how many times they referenced accompaniment without providing real concrete examples of what that looks like. Yet, surprisingly enough, even President Barack Obama recognizes one of the greatest issues in our present culture that the synod simply seemed to overlook-the absence of fatherhood and how the Church should help.
In relation to my previous blog in which I discussed how the simplest questions are sometimes the most difficult, I feel that same theme carries here. True accompaniment is not a sterile task. It is messy. It gets into a person’s life and gets involved. The church does not need to throw communion to the divorced and remarried. It does not need to look for the positive aspects found in homosexual relationships. It needs to look at how it can be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. St. Joseph is the Universal Patron of the Church. St. Joseph was tasked to care for a child that didn’t belong to him. He was tasked to care for a woman who would now be a pariah in their community because she was an unwed mother. The Church needs to ask the question, “how do we be like St. Joseph?” I was a child who spent 12 years of his life without any involvement from his local church. They knew full well of my mother’s situation. No one came to our aid. Yet, we continued to file into the pew Sunday after Sunday, to hear the priest preach about serving the poor and needy.
Instead of spending so much time focussing on communion for obstinate, unrepentant sinners, the Church needs to ask now more than ever how they can become like the Eucharist, the daily bread, to those hungry for love, care, truth, and true accompaniment and then they just need to do it. You don’t need a synod of bishops to figure this out. Look around your pews, find the hurting, and reach out. Grow a heart, church.