Jesus - Spiritual Companion, Model for every spiritual companion!
WORD FROM THE FOUNDER
Deacon Georges Bonneval
“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9: 36)
Jesus’ pierced heart at the sight of lost and helpless people should pierce our own hearts and passionately challenge us to the mission of listening to souls through spiritual accompaniment. This grace of compassion is certainly the first fruit we see in someone when they have a charism for spiritual accompaniment.
Above all, discovering the loneliness and anxiety of others provokes us to a service of compassion, which proceeds from a benevolent and listening heart. Then comes the service of intercession, which seeks out the needs of others through prayer. Next comes caring for souls through evangelization, and finally through spiritual accompaniment.
It is first and foremost by contemplating Jesus- Spiritual Companion, His loving gaze and His inclination towards each of His sheep, that we will let ourselves be guided by Him and will comprehend this mystery. Indeed, Jesus “needed no one to testify about anyone; for He Himself knew what was in everyone.” (Jn 2: 25)
Jesus accompanied His apostles and His disciples continually for three years, in a life of close proximity, walking and evangelizing, stopping and serving, listening and teaching, questioning as much as welcoming. At all times and in all He did, He went about doing good.
Peter, visiting Cornelius at Caesarea, says of Jesus:
“That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.” (Acts 10: 37-38)
There are many biblical accounts that reveal the face and nature of Jesus-Spiritual Companion. We cannot name them all, but let us recall some of them: His meeting with the Samaritan (Jn 4: 5-42), with the hemorrhaging woman (Mk 5: 25-34), with the rich young man (Mk 10: 17-22), and with the sinner in the house of Simon (Lk 7: 36-50), etc.
Jesus is also ‘interrogated’ in certain situations along the way, whether it be improvised by others or sometimes set up as a trap, in which others want Him to pronounce judgment on something and, at times, to do so that very hour. For example, when He arrives during a conflict between Martha and Mary in Bethany (Lk 10: 38-42); when someone in the middle of a crowd calls upon Him to solve their inheritance problems (Lk 12: 13-21); when He comes out of the Temple and some Pharisees bring Him a woman caught in adultery, asking Him: “In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (Jn 8: 5).
Alone or in a small group, it would be interesting to read one of these stories and ask ourselves this question, “How would I have reacted in this situation?”, and seek to respond as honestly as possible. We may be surprised by our own answers!
Christ, the Redeemer of man, reveals to us who we are by His look of love.
“The Father has spoken one Word, it is His Son.” (St. John of the Cross)
In the School of Jesus-Spiritual Companion
Jesus-Spiritual Companion teaches us greatly through His words, His gaze, His reactions and His gestures in the presence of the people He meets. But the story where we can receive the most instruction and direction is assuredly the story of the disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24: 13-34) told by the doctor of souls, also known as St. Luke, who comments on every detail.
Remember that in the introduction of this story, Jesus does not address two unknown pilgrims or travelers from another religion. He goes to accompany two of His friends and disciples! These two, after the crucifixion and death of Jesus, journeyed along the road. Only, which road? St. Luke simply says, “they were going to a village called Emmaus” (cf. Lk 24: 13). No doubt, they are returning to their village of origin and to their former occupations. In any case, they turn their backs on Jerusalem, their community and their journey with Jesus and undertake the long walk back. Their Christian adventure is done, everything is finished and they are filled with sadness and discouragement.
Let’s take a closer look at each detail of this story:
a) “Jesus approaches.” (Lk 24: 15)
Who would think that these two disciples are, at this moment, “gathered in the Name of the Lord”? They talk about Him, so it is (still) in His Name that they are gathered together. But they are alone in a simple human conversation, a conventional fraternal discussion. It is then that Jesus comes close to them, just as He did on a previous occasion when He was asked the question: “But who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10: 29b).
b) “Jesus Himself came near and went with them.” (Lk 24: 15)
They were two and now they are three. Jesus discreetly joined them, without anyone being aware. He joined them naturally, humanly. Jesus does not rush anything. He approached discreetly, for it was time to listen, not to speak. Let us give thanks for all those moments when God was there in silence, looking upon us, listening to us without judgment, and often we did not even know it.
Jesus knew that this road and the direction they were walking in was not right, yet He agreed to walk a part of that road with them. He agreed to go their way for a time. Jesus walked with His disciples and placed Himself in their story, doing so completely ‘innocently’.
We can read a parallel story in St. John, when the Apostle Peter, devastated after he had denied knowing the Lord and after the crucifixion, resumed his work as a fisherman: “that night they caught nothing.” (Jn 21: 3).
c) “But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.” (Lk 24: 16)
Luke agrees with the story of John, in chapter 21. These disciples also did not recognize their Lord! God comes to meet man where he is. He encounters them without asking anything from them, without any pre-conditions, and without blaming them for their spiritual blindness. He only listens to them to understand where they are at in matters of the heart.
God is discreet, and becomes a pilgrim with them, with us; a pilgrim so commonplace and familiar that we cannot recognize Him because we expect Him elsewhere. Mary Magdalene believed that the risen Jesus was the gardener. God does not impose Himself. However, there is something familiar, very simple, very human about Him. God came down to us and sought to be subjugated so that He could be within our reach. He took on our human form, says St. Paul (Cf. Phil 2: 7). We seek God in the heights, while He is waiting for us in the depths!
d) “He said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’” (Lk 24: 17)
Jesus entered into their questions and made them ask the essential question, pretending to be dumb! God makes Himself innocent, even to mockery and ridicule!
This is the second time He ‘accompanies’ them. After listening to them and understanding their story, Jesus speaks and the dialogue is initiated.
However, His question seems so naive for us who know the story well. After listening to them, Jesus can now talk. How much time after? We do not know, as it is the time of divine pedagogy. The spiritual companion must allow themself to enter into this captivating patience of God, because God Himself was captivated by man.
Take time, waste time. Often, God doesn’t seem to be in a rush to bring us His Wisdom and Light.
Jesus, who knows the depth of the heart, begins with a question, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”. In other words, “What is it? Tell me.” In His question, He puts them face to face with themselves, 'Where are you in the direction you have taken; in your walk, in your life?'.
God, who knows all, wants their explanation and waits for their account, their own review of their life. Luke recounts that they were sad, because the question carried too much weight. Here lies the importance of our memories, which tell the story of our lives with our own words, in a way that no one else can tell it.
e) “They stood still, looking sad.” (Lk 24: 17)
They stopped; it is they who decided to stop, not God. They felt the need to stop because they have touched the heart of their problem. Their somber faces as recounted by Luke lets us understand the deep sadness that had invaded their hearts; a legitimate sadness for those who had left everything to become disciples of Jesus.
Jesus’ question was aimed directly at them to bring them back to the real question. Their sadness returned when they dwelt on the traumatic events of the past. The spiritual companion must be aware of this and not insist that the one accompanied reveal too much, or they will inevitably fall back into the dramatization of their trauma. This legitimate grief, which can arise during spiritual accompaniment, should be entrusted to the Lord, along with our trials, difficult circumstances, annoyances, abuses, injustices...
Paul explains that there are two kinds of grief. We learn that grief in itself is not bad, but rather it's its origin that matters.
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you.” (2 Cor 7: 10-11)
The road taken by our two deserters is indeed that of discouragement, despair and worldly grief. And so it is a road of death. It is certainly because of this that Jesus comes in Person to join them and intervenes.
f) “Cleopas answered Him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’” (Lk 24: 18)
Yes, Jesus is alone. He was alone on the cross and as His disciples have not yet recognized Him, He is still alone. Not only because they did not recognize Him, but also because He was accused of ignorance. God is accused of being removed from evil; He is accused of not being aware of the evil from which man suffers. If God existed, if He really were there, He would change things, the world would not be what it is. And yet Jesus is there. Not only is He there, but He is the main character; He is there with us at the heart of our trials and distress. Jesus is accused of ignorance, of absence. He is accused of understanding nothing of our daily life, our trials, our struggles, our expectations.
And yet not only is God very close, but He is within, being the first one involved. He is the first to show concern. We can thus see the error of our blindness, of our unbelief, and the error of doubt which so often brings us back to its base tendencies.
“Now the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.’ Gideon answered him, ‘But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?... now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judg 6: 11-13)
g) “He asked them, ‘What things?’” (Lk 24: 19)
This is the second question of Jesus-Spiritual Companion. It is a scholarly question, to finally give birth to the interpretation they make of their own history. He must listen to their version, even if, to the ears of the one doing the accompanying, their story does not sound completely just. He will make them clarify what happened, but through their own perspective.
Jesus wants them to be able to entrust their hearts to Him, along with everything that weighs them down, even if their version of events is blind and sideways. They must offer it all to Him. It is not enough that this story be told between them, in their own spirits and in their hearts. They must be able to give it to Him, the mysterious Spiritual Companion.
This important detail resembles other biblical stories like that of the meeting with Bartimaeus (Mk 10: 46-52). It is Jesus who sends for him and asks him the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”. Behind His question, Jesus wants to hear our real question, request and answer. He is not driven by a spirit of curiosity. In spiritual accompaniment, the companion must never be curious. Still, Jesus’ question is meant to go deeper, to give birth to an answer. It’s time for Him to provoke the opening of the heart.
h) “They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth... We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel, but...’” (Lk 24: 19, 21)
This is the story, told by the one who is being accompanied. It is their version. They need to tell the story: how they feel and live it.
This is the time of the anamnesis, the time to remember. The story is then disseminated, revealed and conveyed in two dimensions: one is objective and real, the other is through the necessary human thickness of subjectivity. Jesus listens patiently; He takes time to listen.
For the healing of the mind and memories to reach fulfillment, He needs to listen. Even if God already knows the story, we must take the time to lay things down step by step. “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Ps 32: 3)
There is a harmful silence, one that is deadly and closes us in on ourselves. God welcomes and receives what we offer Him, and He can offer back His healing to those who have opened the book of their story. This can be called the “opening of the heart” or “opening of consciousness”.
i) “Then He said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into His glory?’” (Lk 24: 25-26)
If the heart of the one who is being accompanied has a certain disposition, the spiritual companion can risk making a correction or admonition: “O how foolish you are”.
He speaks directly to the heart to take into account two things: intelligence and faith. He chastises them for their ignorance of the Holy Scriptures, for their lack of faith and for their withdrawal from the theological life. This view of faith must always be at the heart of spiritual accompaniment.
“Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into His glory?” It’s the same story but now it’s told by Jesus. When Jesus tells the story of each of us, it is a story that is healed, transfigured by grace and resurrected. We can then leave our inadequate human logic to enter into God’s Logic, the Logos.
j) “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” (Lk 24: 27)
He who is the Son of God could have easily convinced His companions with His own words inspired by the Father. He has the humility to quote the Holy Scriptures to interpret precisely the path of suffering enlightened by the “message of the Cross” (cf. 1 Cor 1: 18). He evangelizes them again. Luke does not reveal the content of this long catechetical revision “from Moses and through all the prophets.”
Christ-Spiritual Companion is also the Christ-Teacher. This is the New Evangelization that they needed, as we ourselves may need throughout our journey of discipleship.
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Ps 119: 105)
Jesus then reveals Himself as the Word of the Father, the Christ-Teacher, the Rabbi, the one who explains the Scriptures. It is here that the spiritual companion teaches and challenges with the Word to illuminate all the steps of our life. Meaning is restored. In the light of the Word of God, this story is no longer the same story. Human reason could not understand it and could not interpret it alone.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3: 16-17)
It is vital that the spiritual companion enlightens the path of their accompanied one with the Word of God. It is the power of enlightenment, healing and conviction that is produced by the Word of God and given in the Holy Spirit, that will do the main work: giving meaning to the life of the person being accompanied. Their life is thus interpreted under the light of Scripture.
k) “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if He were going farther.” (Lk 24: 28)
Is Jesus pretending? He doesn’t play tricks, but Luke wants to emphasize the Lord's discretion here; Jesus does not want to impose Himself. An essential quality of a spiritual companion is his or her discretion. Jesus does not depend on anyone, nor does He make anyone dependent on Him. On the contrary, He seeks to bring freedom. He restores our lost freedom.
“The Lord leaves us our freedom and our will, He
who is so much a friend of order.” (St. Teresa of Avila)
l) “But they urged Him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over’.” (Lk 24: 29)
It is interesting to recognize that the discretion of the spiritual companion causes desire, even insistence, in the one accompanied! The Lord can stay and remain with them when He receives their request and invitation. It is the love in their hearts that asks Him to stay.
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (Jn 14: 23)
The Lord is waiting for our permission, our invitation. He wishes it, begs it and desires it, because He wishes to remain with us if we choose.
“God wants to give, but He gives only to prayer so as not to expose Himself to a refusal.” (St. Augustine)
It is now the time for a new opening of the heart. This time, it is not so that they can offer Him their struggles and torments, but so that they can receive the Lord Himself in His Person, in an unselfish way: “They saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” (Mt 17: 8)
m) “So He went in to stay with them. When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.” (Lk 24: 29-30)
Jesus has not finished guiding them. Here “He went in to stay with them”. The precision here is very important. It is no longer about a road, a search, or questions, but about a house – the Church – where He comes in to stay with them. Finally, He will remain with them!
How does He stay with us? Through His Eucharist. After the Altar of His Word, He leads them to the Altar of His Sacrament of the Eucharist. The sacraments of the Church are celebrated within the Church and not outside of it. The spiritual companion brings his or her companied to the Church; not just to the door, but into the heart of the Church. The spiritual companion is a person of the Church, for Jesus Himself desired to enter this house and remain there until the end of time.
When He comes into our lives, the Lord celebrates! “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.” (cf. Lk 15: 7)
Jesus' celebration is the joyful gathering of His children for the wedding feast. The greatest celebration, the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, No. 11.) , is the Eucharist.
n) “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, and He disappeared from their sight.” (Lk 24: 31)
It is often 'after the fact' that God reveals Himself. Even in the First Covenant “God was seen only from the back” because no one could gaze upon His face without dying. True conversion is when one has been led into the heart of the Church: to the sacramental life. Perhaps the disciples were not yet deeply converted because they had moved away from the Church. Brought back home, it was during the Eucharist that their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. There is thus a new stage, a second conversion; a fullness in their own conversion. It is then that Jesus departs from them; He no longer needs to accompany them as they have returned to the heart of the Mystery.
At the moment that their eyes open in faith, they no longer need their earthly vision.
So it is for us today, as we see with eyes of faith. We believe in the presence of Jesus in the Church, Jesus hidden in His Church. Jesus disappeared from their eyes and from now on He makes His presence known in another way. The spiritual companion does not draw the one accompanied to themself, to their ideas, their own choices. They draw the other to the Mystery of God and to His Church. Once they have done so, they withdraw – one could say ‘on tiptoe’ – and continue to accompany the individual, but this time invisibly, in the silence of prayer.
“Moses persevered as though he saw Him who is invisible.” (Heb 11: 27)
o) “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us’?” (Lk 24: 32)
Their minds and their hearts are transformed so that they can now remember God’s blessings. They can give thanks. Once again they start conversing with each other. They are now aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in them, in their hearts.
Fraternal sharing is not necessarily the heart of spiritual accompaniment, but it comes after God has acted. Fraternal sharing is then a fruit of God’s actions, of a feeling of God’s presence which leads us to others and encourages us to testify.
It is an outlook that understands past events, remembers and gives thanks. They can now testify by proclaiming, 'now I understand', due to the light and the fire of the Holy Spirit.
In God's kingdom, we will discover the thread of our lives and the meaning of our trials and struggles. Above all, we will understand the Scriptures and all that the Lord Himself sought to explain to us through them.
p) “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.” (Lk 24: 33)
“At this very hour”; “At once”; these expressions emphasize the fruit of their new conversion: putting everything back in order.
After having this encounter, they cannot continue walking in the same direction. Jesus did not even have to ask them to return to Jerusalem. He trusted in His disciples and they quickly made their choice. It was up to them to do it. It is then that their conversion is confirmed by the decision they make: they return to Jerusalem at once.
Jerusalem is the center of the local Church, of the Apostolic Church. This is where their brothers and sisters in the faith live; their community, its members, its hierarchy, its assemblies and its worship. It is the Church of the Apostles, the Church of St. Peter, the Church of the Pope. Their automatic response is to join the Church of the Apostles without delay or discussion.
q) “Here they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, ‘It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon’.” (Lk 24: 33-34)
The grace which they will now receive is that of being confirmed by the Apostolic Church. In spiritual accompaniment, we need confirmation to verify that what we are living is well authenticated by the Tradition of the Church, by the Magisterium, by our Bishop, by our priest, by the leader of our ministry, by our Pastors.
r) “Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when He broke the bread.” (Lk 24: 35)
It is their turn to testify. After being confirmed by the Church and their Pastors, they have great boldness to testify and to leave on a mission. And the mission has already started, because they are, and will continue to be, testifying.
Throughout all these stages, we have within our reach all of Jesus’ pedagogy for accompanying and guiding others; bringing His friends back to God and His Church.
He approached His disciples
He joined their journey
He traveled with them
He listened to their words
He was not recognized
He asked them questions
He listened to their story in their words
He denounced their blindness
He gave them the Word of God to enlighten
He left them free
He was discreet
He remained with them in their house
He brought them to the sacraments of the
Church by celebrating the Eucharist
He withdrew Himself
He trusted them regarding the future
He led the disciples to take the right road back
to the Apostolic Church
They were confirmed by the Apostles
They began their mission by testifying to the