December 3, 2014
Marketing experts have discovered that consumers quickly read a headline before delving into the advertisement of a product. The headline has to capture their attention. If not, the readers go no further. Based on the results of their research, experts have found that we instinctively respond to certain words used in advertising.
Words such as “announcing” and “introducing” catch our interest
. We like to hear about something new. We thrill to the sense of discovery. This sense of discovery even accounts for the excitement that both children and adults find in unwrapping gifts.
With Pope Francis, the Church has received great attention. The Church is more visible. No doubt, the “packaging” of the centuries-old office of the papacy in a new and unexpected style has led many people to examine what the Church teaches and how she lives out her teaching. Following the gestures and the speeches of Pope Francis, people have the sense they are seeing and hearing something new. And, why should we be surprised? As St. Augustine said, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new!”
One of the
new catch phrases that has signaled a shift in the ways of presenting the truth of the faith is the expression “art of accompaniment.” This new slogan of evangelization springs from the theology of liberation, popular in Latin America. It embodies a certain pastoral strategy that Pope Francis has not only encouraged, but has himself followed.
Some hear the expression “the art of accompaniment” and they understand it to be a way of relating to others whose beliefs and behavior are at odds with the Gospel without the necessity of offering them the truths of the faith and the moral teachings of the Church. This is hardly how Pope Francis uses this expression.
The Holy Father is not espousing a value-free strategy of listening to others and being with them in their life journey without ever helping them to come to the truth. On many different occasions, the pope urges openness, dialogue, free expression of one’s convictions and attentive listening. But, he does not stop there.
On Oct. 25, 2014, Pope Francis met with 8,000 members of the International Schoenstatt Movement. When someone asked him about how to apply this pastoral “art of accompaniment” to those who are living in irregular situations, he spoke forthrightly and clearly. The pope said, “What they are proposing is not marriage, it is an association, but it is not marriage! It is necessary to say things very clearly and we must say this! The pastoral helps, but in this alone it is necessary that it be ‘person to person.’ Therefore, support, and this also means to expend time. The great teacher of expending time is Jesus! He expended time to support, to have consciences mature, to heal wounds, to teach. To support is to journey together.”
Listening to others, entering into dialogue with them and joining them on their life journey is not an end in itself. On Oct. 21, 2014, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sent a letter to the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome’s academic institution dedicated to evangelization. In this letter, he raised the question whether or not mission, bringing the truth of the Gospel, is still relevant in a world of so many diverse religions. He asked whether or not dialogue should replace mission. He answered that question by saying, “Joy demands to be communicated. Love demands to be communicated. The truth demands to be communicated… We proclaim Jesus Christ not in order to procure as many members as possible for our community, and much less for the sake of power. We speak of him because we feel the need to transmit the joy that has been given to us.”
In accompanying others in their life journey, we listen, we dialogue, and we stand before them with an open mind. This does not mean that we cast off the historic creeds of the faith. This does not mean that we deny the moral teachings of the Church. No, it means that we take our place with others in the pursuit of the truth. Accompaniment requires an open mind. But, as G.K. Chesterton astutely remarked, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” And, the truth of the faith that we share with others is the solid food that nourishes the mind, the heart and the soul and leads to eternal salvation (cf. Hebrews 5:14).