The Art of Accompaniment
The readings offered to us this weekend are important reminders always to keep our pursuit of the Gospel and Truth simple – not to complicate it with rationalizations or clever interpretations. Moses tells the people of Israel:
"For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, 'Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?' Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?'
Instead, the will of God for us is clear when we open our hearts to Him; and it directs us outside our ourselves, to the service of others.
This call to serve the needs of others – even to getting involved in the lives of the poor as a friend and companion – was echoed some years back by Pope Francis in his letter Evangelium Gaudii. After listing many places in Scripture where we are called to love and serve the poor, the pope says
This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativize it. The Church’s reflection on these texts ought not to obscure or weaken their force, but urge us to accept their exhortations with courage and zeal. Why complicate something so simple? Conceptual tools exist to heighten contact with the realities they seek to explain, not to distance us from them. This is especially the case with those biblical exhortations which summon us so forcefully to brotherly love, to humble and generous service, to justice and mercy towards the poor. Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by his words and his actions. So why cloud something so clear? We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom….
We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards.
Sometimes we prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society. This leads to a kind of alienation at every level, for “a society becomes alienated when its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer the gift of self and to establish solidarity between people” (EG, 194-196).
Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan shows us what true fulfilment of that command looks like.
Our response to the poor man left on the side of the road speaks to how we have internalized the lessons of the Gospel – that is, the Christian vocation to be like Jesus. It is clear that in telling this story, Jesus does not want His followers to be like the priest or the Levite, who ignore the need of the man and pass without any sort of help offered. Rather, by contrast, we are to see in the Good Samaritan a template for our action on behalf of a world in need – on behalf of people in need – so many of whom are left like this by the side of life’s road. In doing so, we become Christ-like. But what does that mean, really?
Sometimes, we sanitize our assistance and even become numb to the reality of those whom we might be helping. This can happen when we simply “throw money” at a perceived problem. Certainly, those who receive it are grateful; but are we truly acting in a Christ-like way toward them? What does the Good Samaritan do? When he offers aid to the beaten man, he doesn’t simply drop him off at the nearest place to “get rid of him.” No. He first places the man “on his own animal” then at the inn, “The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, 'Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.'
In other words, the Good Samaritan accompanies the poor man, more than simply helping him. This is the Christ-like love that Jesus is asking of us. The Good Samaritan not only helps the man and accompanies him; he also involves others in the good work of loving the neighbor. Again, Christ-like love radiates and encompasses others so that they also feel its warmth and learn to share that love themselves.
Brothers and sisters, we might often become caught in the mental game of trying to figure out God’s plan for us. How can we truly please our loving Father and know His will – let alone do it? The answer is simple, however, although it is not easy! The lesson of the Good Samaritan is that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers – wherever they may be.
And they are not far away. To fulfill God’s will in this regard, we do not have to run off to a foreign mission or even dedicate our lives to some religious order. Rather, we need only to look around us. Our parishes ought to be places where we practice this art of accompaniment together. And we do – through our outreaches like the Winter Relief Shelter in November; through our St. Vincent DePaul society; through our partnership with our parishes in Haiti; through our outreach to immigrants in the Pastoral Migratoria; and many others. All we need to do is ask one another, “Who is my neighbor?”
Thanks be to God that we have been given this beautiful pastorate in which our neighbors are so diverse and talented! Thanks be to God that we share this same call – centered on Christ in the Eucharist – to open our hearts, to lift up the needy, and to share their journey together. May we learn this art of accompaniment, and as Jesus commands,“Go and do likewise.”