Lessons from Evangelii Gaudium #12
Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world, Evangelii Gaudium or “The Joy of the Gospel,” has many points that are relevant to the work of Marriage: Unique for a Reason. This series will explore some of these themes and apply Pope Francis’s words to the culture of marriage and family in the United States.
Spiritual Accompaniment (nos. 169-173)
In evangelization, part of our task is to provide the attentive and loving presence of Christ to others, which entails being fully aware of and present often as we can. Pope Francis points out that our culture is “paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity” (no. 169). In both of these cases—not knowing our next door neighbors but knowing all the details of our friend’s dinner from Facebook – we inadequately recognize the other people as unique children of God, with all of their particular needs, struggles, and gifts to offer. The culture is in dire need of Christ’s “closeness and his personal gaze” (no. 169). It is not only the task of ordained ministers and pastoral workers to make this presence known to others; instead, Pope Francis reminds us we must all be initiated into this “art of accompaniment” (no. 169). The clergy and the laity alike must foster a proper disposition towards others that “teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (cf. Ex 3:5).
While sufficient attention must be given to those whom we are accompanying spiritually, Pope Francis warns against a lapse into “a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption” (no. 170). We must keep in mind that each individual achieves true freedom only in God, while sin binds us and makes us a dim version of who we are. Our path of accompaniment must be therefore be likened to a “pilgrimage,” towards the Father in a life of virtue (no. 171). We cannot condone wrong actions or encourage people to focus on themselves alone. Attainment of virtue is a process, a habitus that requires much patience and correction.
The Holy Father encourages “the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing,” as the best way to show our respectful and compassionate presence on the journey (no. 171). By listening we are reminded of the mystery of each person in their relationship to God. We can never know everything about this relationship from the outside. Because of this, we must always aid and correct others by recognizing and helping them to realize “the objective evil of their actions, but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability” (no. 172). Through listening, prudence, and our own experience, we will come to learn the best ways in each situation to gain trust and encourage growth.
“Genuine spiritual accompaniment always begins and flourishes in the context of service to the mission of evangelization,” and this mission starts within the family (no. 173). Marriage is to be a place of spiritual accompaniment, where respect and compassion for one’s spouse abides. Being open with each other about your faults and failings in virtue, always with prudence and kindness, can be an opportunity for growth. Many married couples attest that no matter how well you know your spouse, they are still always a mystery. Make this week one in which you embody the art of listening.