In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis has laid out a vision for our families, our relationships, our churches, and our world - a vision of love and accompaniment. Unfortunately, phrases like "the art of accompaniment" have become a musunderstood buzzword within church circles.
The "art of accompaniment” and is so much more than simply a way of being pastoral to those whose beliefs and behavior are at odds with the Gospel. In the hands and heart of a missionary disciple, accompaniment is a tool for walking with others as they journey into deeper relationship with Christ and the truth of the His Church.
All of us fall into the trap of trying to tell other people what to feel and how to think instead of the listening, and openness of heart that accompaniment calls us to. What starts as sharing my own emotions quickly turns into debating, posturing, defending, and becoming solution-focused - to closing the doors of our hearts rather than opening.
When I jump to debate and response rather than listening, I ignore the lived experience of the person in front of me. I focus on myself - my own defensiveness, skepticism, anger, etc - rather than being truly present to the other. When I jump to solutions rather than compassion and empathy, I am not truly present to the way the Holy Spirit is moving and working in myself or the other person.
Genuine accompaniment calls us to compassion, to empathy, and to listening - rather than arguing. To be clear: this empathy doesn’t require us to change our most deeply held convictions. It simply means that we refuse to let the desire to “win” cause us to lose sight of the presence of God in the person in front of us. It means remembering that we can ALWAYS pause for compassion.
The 10 tips for dialouge below come from Amoris Laetitia, and Pope Francis calls this loving dialogue “essential” for family life. I think you'll find them applicable beyond the immediate family to our human family - and civil society as well.
Ten Tips on Dialogue from Pope Francis
1. Recognize the real importance and dignity of the other person.
Recognize others’ right “to think as they do and to be happy.” Pope Francis challenges us to acknowledge the values of the other’s “deepest concerns” and what he or she is trying to say (no. 138).
2. Try to understand where the other person is coming from.
Consider his or her pain, disappointments, fear, anger, hopes, and dreams (no. 137).
3. Put yourself in the other’s “shoes.”
Try to “peer” into his or her heart. This is the starting point for dialogue (no. 138).
Be ready to “listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say.” Dialogue requires the “self-discipline” of waiting until someone is finished speaking before responding. And, it means truly listening to what someone else is saying—not planning a comeback before the other person has even finished speaking (no. 137).
5. Keep an open mind.
We need not stick to our own “limited ideas and opinions,” but we must “be prepared to change or expand them.” Our goal is “synthesis” that enriches everyone involved in the dialogue. We don’t seek unity in diversity, Pope Francis says, but rather “reconciled diversity” (no. 139).
6. Remember the goal.
Our goal is to advance the common good. Respect and appreciation for the “other” are necessary prerequisites (no. 139).
7. Try not to offend, and don’t vent.
We must choose our words carefully, be sensitive to how others feel, and never seek to inflict hurt. We must also avoid a “patronizing” tone, which “only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others” (no. 139).
8. Love everyone.
“Love,” Pope Francis writes, “surmounts even the worst barriers.” When we come from a place of love, we can better understand others (no. 140).
9. It's not about winning.
Base positions on beliefs and values, not on the desire to “win” an argument or be “proved right” (no. 140).
True dialogue, Pope Francis reminds us, “can only be the fruit of an interior richness” nourished by our quiet time with God through reading, reflection, prayer, and “openness to the world around us” (no. 141).
These are challenging words from Pope Francis. How might our own families be different if we took his words to heart? Our parishes? Our neighborhoods? Ourselves? Our society?
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Adapted from 10 Tips on Dialogue from Pope Francis Copyright © 2016, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Quotes from Amoris Laetitia, copyright © 2016, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City State. All rights reserved. Used with permission.