HENRITZE: The challenges of accompaniment

September 28, 2021

Photo by Devin Avery/Unsplash

I can vividly remember the internal dilemma I faced when, at the age of 18, I received my Eagle Scout Award at a special Scouting Court of Honor.
One of the parts of the Eagle award ceremony is a moment when you, as the recipient, are asked to bestow upon a mentor an honorary pin, thanking them for all the ways they assisted you on your journey. I had been accompanied by so many wonderful adults that the choice was quite difficult to make.
At the time, still being young and naïve, I couldn’t comprehend how blessed I was to have so many mentors, nor did I understand the challenges that come when you accompany another person.
Over the years since that day, I have mentored many others myself, accompanying them on their journey, sometimes in a formal capacity, sometimes in an informal way.
At its core, our Christian faith is intensely relational. Jesus Christ entered human history to be in relationship with us and accompany us home to God the Father. The model of his life provides an excellent blueprint for how to mentor others and overcome some of the challenges involved in the accompaniment process.
The greatest challenge in accompaniment relationships is that of commitment.
Both the mentor and the one accompanied must make an intentional choice to journey together and communicate with one another. Hand-in-hand with this commitment is a mindset of co-responsibility. Each person in this relationship must know what they expect from the other and what is expected of them.
Like in the Gospel account of the rich young man (Mark 10), it may be that one of the people in the accompaniment process is unable to commit fully to the relationship. As a mentor, we can imitate Jesus by continuing to love that person.
A second challenge when you serve as a mentor accompanying another person is allowing the one accompanied to truly be the protagonist of their faith journey.
It is natural that as your relationship with the person deepens, so too will your love and concern from them. A dangerous trap that must be avoided is the often-well-intentioned idea that you know what is best for them and that as a more mature Christian, you should tell them or advise them what to do.
When a young person is empowered to be the protagonist of their faith journey, it means that they are the primary force that moves the story along; it is the young person themselves. In the famous bread of life discourse (Jn 6), Jesus could have easily told His disciples that they had to stay with Him, that He knew what was best.
However, Jesus left the ball in their court when the crowds were abandoning Him, and He asked the 12 apostles: “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn 6:67).
Jesus recognized the importance of free will in the process of discipleship. Although He was God, He refused to take that gift away from His followers.
Any adult present in the life of a young person can mentor and accompany them. This includes parents, faith leaders, and loved ones. As mentors, it is imperative that we allow those we accompany to truly and authentically be the protagonist of their faith.
Yes, this is challenging. Yes, this will possibly lead to heartache. Yes, this will require that you, as a mentor, take a back seat. But this is part of the art of accompaniment which will sustain the Church and nurture lifelong disciples. †

Brian Henritze is an associate director with the office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization.