What the world calls “luck” is what those who have faith in Christ call “providence.” In the past few days I began reading a book co-authored by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon titled Resident Aliens. The theme of this book is that the Gospel is more than a set of teachings or rules, but is instead a journey with Christ. We are meant to accompany Jesus on our pilgrimage through life, always adjusting our path to fit His - and not the other way around.
The providential aspect of this book finding its way into my hands is that the third of the Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAPs), the focal points of the ministry of the Society of Jesus for this third decade of the 21st Century is “To accompany young people in the creation of a hope filled future.”
Even before there was a promulgation of these UAPs by Fr. Arturo Sosa, S.J., the Superior General of the Jesuits, Pope Francis has made this theme of accompanying young people on their journey, on their pilgrimage, a focus of his papal ministry. And even before there was a Pope Francis there was Resident Aliens and its call to a renewed sense of salvation as a journey, a pilgrimage, and an adventure.
As is so often the case with big statements that call for universal approval, there is a need to heed the warning of philosophers that the terms of the statement need to be defined. The answer to the question, “What, in this context, does it mean to accompany?” will determine the course of action for accomplishing this UAP. Considering both the necessity of the Gospel message and Jesus as the embodiment of that message, the path of this accompaniment is pretty narrow.
What it does not, and cannot, mean is an affirmation of anything contrary to Jesus and His Gospel as presented by the perennial teachings of His Church. A mistaken notion of what it means “to accompany” is directly related to the equally mistaken notion of what it means “to love.” We show love by willing and acting upon what is best for another person, and not by acquiescing to her or his desires or actions. The phrase “what is best” implies something that so many in the post-Modern world deny: a true end or goal.
In its obsession with “progress” the world we inhabit forgets that there needs to be a finish line, a terminal point, otherwise the progress is illusory. If a person boards a train and it travels to Los Angeles, then each minute that she or he spends on that train is “progress” only if Los Angeles is the proper destination. If the person needs to arrive in Boston, then - despite the constant movement of the train - there is no progress, and, in fact, the goal speedily recedes into the distance.
If, morally speaking, I accompany someone to Los Angeles, but her or his true end is Boston, then I am not only helping that person to regress, but I am doing the exact opposite of loving her or him. In addition, if I know that the train is headed to Los Angeles and that the true end of that person is Boston, then the term “accompany” is stripped of the meaning inherent in the use made of it by Pope Francis, Resident Aliens, and this particular UAP.
As has been pointed out so often by Francis and his brothers in the Society of Jesus, if there is no end, no destination, then life is bereft of meaning. If there is no end, then it no longer matters which train a person boards because Los Angeles is just as good as Boston, and accompanying simply means going with the flow.
If life has meaning, then accompaniment means more than just “traveling with” - it implies certain responsibilities. Not only must we ride the train with those we love, but we must do all we can to help them to find the right train. It can be a tricky business finding the right train, but that is part of the adventure. And, to use an insight from Resident Aliens, it is on this journey that we - together with those we accompany - are offered the opportunity to more fully develop our virtues, and, because Jesus accompanies us, that includes the virtue of love.