It was a few weeks after attending the New Evangelization for Higher Education Conference at St. Vincent’s College that I found myself truly understanding what accompanying someone on their personal faith journey really is. Cardinal Wuerl gave the plenary address on the first night of the conference where he outlined a model for evangelization on college campuses: 1) Listening, 2) Accompanying, and 3) Discerning. I tend to believe that we are natural, if not struggling listeners, as listening is an obvious step in developing any sort of relationship, and discernment the process of using our faith in action. But accompanying? What exactly does that look like? What is the example, the design, of accompanying someone on the most important pilgrimage on earth? As your typical college student, I am sadly obsessed with right answers; this would be one of those right answers that would help me get into Heaven, right? Me and whomever this friend would be.
A few weeks into realizing that I had a lack of “handling” on resolving this idea of accompaniment, I found myself at daily Mass and Confession. I began the practice of veiling at the start of spring semester under the merits of growing in humility, but today, my veil stayed in my purse, even though I was waiting in the confessional line in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. I was afraid to appear obnoxiously “pious” wearing my veil while other churchgoers saw how I clearly had some sins to be forgiven of. This shame, upon embarrassing reflection, was my pride manifesting itself in that other churchgoers would actually believe I was so significant to judge in passing.
I noticed another woman accompanied with child getting in line next me. She was dressed fairly plain: long black maxi-skirt, sensible black loafers, and a white cardigan. Her daughter dressed in a pale pink dress and stood silent beside her mother. This woman started to put a black mantilla, or Spanish veil upon her head while she began to pray in preparation for Reconciliation. I felt a striking sense of comfort and humbleness watching this woman who contrasting to me, decided to wear her veil into Confession. It was almost as if she was the matured foil, sent to gently mitigate my fear and pride, just for me. Her raw trust in God’s mercy was striking; she came into Confession without the materialistic fears that I had.
As I was leaving the confessional, I had a better look at her daughter. I assumed she was an elementary-school aged child, probably seven or eight from her stature, but she appeared to have Down syndrome from her facial features and was definitely older, perhaps a teenager. The woman walked into the Confessional accompanied by her daughter, their hands held together, silent, reverent, and intimate. I tried to imagine the love this woman has for her daughter, being so open with her spiritual life that she brought her into such a vulnerable space of mercy. Later during the Mass, I saw this mother-daughter pair celebrate together, receive Communion together, and pray together. The pair always stood close together, shoulders touching, and incredibly ordinary. I tried to imagine the love this daughter has for her mother, willing and patient to attend Mass with her.
I often forget that loving someone sometimes means to just simply do it. Meeting them where they are, being vulnerable and open to the suffering and the joy that might accompany the relationship. I do not know the extent of this woman’s story, her story of motherhood. I do not know the extent of the girl’s story, her story of daughterhood. But I know for sure, they are fully committed to this life, together, no matter what. Cardinal Wuerl’s message of accompaniment came to life that day where I saw the witness of this mother-daughter pair: true accompaniment means to be all in for the other. It was not a complicated, extravagant display of self-serving advances; but it was a glimpse into the sacrificial love of the Gospel, which we are all called to evangelize with.
Photo Credit: Adam Cohn https://www.flickr.com/photos/adamcohn/