One of my community was showing me a new app the other day. Unlike many apps, this seemed really useful. What it does is recognise tunes. It is the equivalent of humming a tune and finding out very quickly what the title is. But for some peculiar reason, you can hear the opening chord of some tunes and know immediately what it is. Even more strangely, sometimes that happens with a tune that you don’t even like. One tune which I do like and seems to have lodged in my brain is part of Howard Shore’s musical score to the film The Lord of the Rings. The title is Many Meetings and it is the music written for the gathering of the fellowship of the Ring before it sets out. This week, the phrase jumped into my head before the music, as it seemed to capture what my life has been like after Easter. Since Easter was as late as it could possibly be this year, it seemed as though every possible meeting was scheduled for Easter week and the week after Easter.
I found myself in Coatbridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, sometimes talking and sometimes listening, even sometimes snoozing. I was in conversations about catholic education, safeguarding, ecumenism, Judaism, Jesus in scripture and art. On a number of occasions I was talking about Pope Francis and how some of the things he is saying in a number of places but particularly in The Joy of the Gospel connect with his legacy from St Ignatius and Jesuit Spirituality.
But probably my most important meeting was in the intensive care of the Sick Children’s Hospital in Edinburgh. I had been called out a week before to baptise a one year old girl who was in danger of death. I returned to complete the ceremonies to find the little girl a lot better but still very unwell. Her family had gathered for her brother’s First Communion, and though they didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak their language, they heard the ‘music’ of the service and were able to name it as Baptism. These two meetings with the little girl and her family are a small part of the accompaniment which Pope Francis talks about in his Joy of the Gospel.
Pope Francis has a vision of the Church which grows out of his understanding of the parable of the Good Samaritan where the Samaritan accompanies his traditional enemy to the place of safety in the inn. Pope Francis has the idea that accompanying one another is something we are all called to do. Maybe we do it already, but it is something that everyone must learn.
The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Exodus 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.
The Pope seems to be drawing here, among other things, on the suggestion that St Ignatius offers to those to accompany others particularly in their prayer, that the listener should start by putting the best interpretation on what the other persons says.
In The Joy of the Gospel 172, he says
One who accompanies others has to realize that each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without........
And he goes on,
Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. Our personal experience of being accompanied and assisted, and of openness to those who accompany us, will teach us to be patient and compassionate with others, and to find the right way to gain their trust, their openness and their readiness to grow.
But all this meeting and accompanying presupposes a relationship established through many meetings. In paragraph 3, at the very beginning of The Joy of the Gospel, he says
I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal meeting with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him meet them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.
Sometimes we can hear ourselves saying: “That’s not for me. That’s for other people.” But the Pope says that we are all included, and while we may be nervous about getting to close to Our Lord, the Pope encourages us:
The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.
The prodigal son was welcomed back with music. We too are being invited all the time, but sometimes we don’t recognise the tune.
James Crampsey SJ