Pope Francis reminds us that the accompaniment aspect of becoming a disciple offers us a chance to be truly present to others, especially to those who are struggling.
Accompaniment is one of the four steps in the missionary discipleship methodology. It has been at the forefront of my mind this past week in four different contexts.
I have spent the last couple of weeks with my elderly parents, supporting them as they age in place. The two of them are walking distinctly different paths. My mother’s daily life is filled with challenges and meaning as she continues her work and ministry, while my father struggles to find purpose as each day starts and closes.
The above quote about Pope Francis is incredibly apropos for me as I struggle with the difficulty of accompanying my father through the last stage of his very rich and fruitful life. This part of his life doesn’t seem very meaningful; “waiting to die” seems pointless. I jokingly tell him that his job right now is to make me laugh (which he does occasionally) but still it’s hard to watch a man who was once so strongly motivated by his love for family, friends, and faith now merely treading water on a daily basis.
Two of this week’s CatholicsRead titles address this part of life and discuss the accompaniment of those facing the end of life.
Keep at It, Riley! Accompanying my Father through Death into Life, by Noreen Madden McInnes and published by New City Press, focuses on the story of the author’s family as they journeyed through the sickness and death of her elderly parents. Loyola Press’s Rock-Bottom Blessings, by Karen Beattie, makes the case that true abundance is found in the transformation that occurs when we experience God’s presence during periods of grief, loss, and disappointment.
Of Womb and Tomb: Prayer in the Time of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth from GIA Publications, reminded me of another relationship that I described to a friend this past week. I remember the day when I got an emotional phone call from the husband of a very dear friend of mine. He asked me if I could come to the house and just be with her as she mourned a recent miscarriage after many struggles to get pregnant. He knew my own story of infertility and said that I was one of the only people he knew who would understand how she was feeling and would know how to be present with her. Of Womb and Tomb is one of those resources you come across so rarely; it can help you to authentically accompany someone during this particular grief journey.
Brother Mickey McGrath’s Saved By Beauty: A Spiritual Journey with Dorothy Day, also from GIA Publications, lays out a stunning and compassionate vision of how to proceed on the other side of this grief. It is a visually rich book that depicts the fascinating journey of Dorothy Day’s conversion to the Lord through nature and the beauty around her.
My next anecdote about accompaniment is actually two parts of a single whole. Through interaction at a Career Day and a one-on-one conversation with a college student, I was recently able to accompany two people who are at the start of their life’s journey. They are exploring what professional opportunities are available and what obstacles they will need to overcome. In both situations, I spent less time just being and more time sharing the story of how I got to where I am professionally.
Two of the resources featured in CatholicsRead play “supporting roles” in what I shared with them.
When we look at the possibilities for the future, my experience has always been focused on finding the moments and movements of grace. Liturgical Press’s Tilling the Church, by Richard Lennan, discusses this search for moments of grace; it explores the possibilities for a more faithful, just, and creative Church.
How do we find that focus? Prayer is essential. Praying with Mary can provide a renewed appreciation of Mary’s place in today’s world, where, as always, she points the way to Christ. RENEW International publishes At Prayer with Mary, by John Phalen and James Posluszny, CSC; it is the perfect tool to guide you in praying with the Mother of God.
The last book on this week’s list, Alison M. Benders’ Recollecting America’s Original Sin: A Pilgrimage of Race and Grace from Liturgical Press, reminds me that the story of accompaniment is ongoing and unfinished. Recollecting America’s Original Sin explores the U.S. history of anti-black racism through the lens of Christian spirituality. Anyone who wants to respond faithfully to the present moment in the United States will benefit from reading this book.
Therese Brown is the Executive Director of the Association of Catholic Publishers. She holds a master of arts degree in youth and liturgy from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She previously served as senior marketing specialist at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Publishing Office. She is the author of Graced Moments: Prayer Services for the Lives of Teens (World Library Publications). She resides in the Baltimore area.