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Dear catholic.com visitors: This website from Catholic Answers, with all its many resources, is the world's largest source of explanations for Catholic beliefs and practices. A fully independent, lay-run, 501(c)(3) ministry that receives no funding from the institutional Church, we rely entirely on the generosity of everyday people like you to keep this website going with trustworthy , fresh, and relevant content. If everyone visiting this month gave just $1, catholic.com would be fully funded for an entire year. Do you find catholic.com helpful? Please make a gift today. Thank you. Wishing you a blessed Lenten season.

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Love in Action: Navigating Controversies with Accompaniment

Tom Nash

Tom Nash explores the controversy surrounding the term “accompaniment” and delves into its true meaning, emphasizing the importance of genuine love, humility, and support in helping others grow in their faith and address challenges.


Cy Kellett:

Hello and welcome to Focus the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I am Cy Kellett, your host. Today we’re lucky we have Tom Nash in studio with us. Tom Nash works with us here at Catholic Answers answering all kinds of apologetics questions. He’s an author and longtime theologian in many parts of the Catholic media world, and we thought we’d ask him about accompaniment. This word has become well very popular, but also in some cases popular for the wrong reason. Maybe that is, it’s a popular word since Pope. Francis has been using it a great deal, but it’s also bandied about in a negative way. So why all the controversy over accompaniment and what is accompaniment? That’s our task today with Tom Nash. Tom, thank you for being here with us.

Tom Nash:

Great to be here, Cy. Thank you very much for having me.

Cy Kellett:

Well, if you could accompany us for the next twenty-five minutes, that would be very helpful.

Tom Nash:

I will try to do so. Lord, help me.

Cy Kellett:

And you’ve noticed this trend since Pope Francis became Pope accompaniment as a more frequently used phrase.

Tom Nash:

Yes. And I like how the Pope has said that God will take you where you’re at, but he loves you too much to leave you where you’re at. And a true accompaniment means loving someone and wanting them to be fulfilled in the Lord and therefore charitably taking issue if there is something that needs to be addressed in their life while also recognizing you yourself are a sinner and in need of God’s mercy, so being humble so that the person can see that you truly love them and also recognizes them that you don’t see them as a “charity case” and that you yourself can learn things and don’t take yourself too seriously and realize you’ve got to grow yourself.

Cy Kellett:

Why the negative reaction? I mean, if you can just kind of give us a look at that.

Tom Nash:

I think sometimes accompaniment as it’s perceived or it’s presented might come off as a, I’m okay. You’re okay, kind of a presentation or that accompaniment means enabling or tolerating or I want this relationship to continue no matter what. So I’m not going to be there for you, but I won’t necessarily take issue. It’s a false charity. If we want to maintain a relationship or communication at the expense of someone’s good or sharing the truth. It’s one thing to say accompany someone where you let them know the truth and you’re going to be with them through thick and thin, which means that if they’re living a problematic lifestyle of whatever sort, you’re going to continue to be there. You’re not going to say, that’s okay. You’re not going to be the codependent, but you are going to say things, but you’re going to continue in a relationship and do all that you can.

And sometimes it means Cy, if somebody pushes back, say, you have to accept my relationship, or we’re not going to have any communication. Well, you will continue to love them and you might send them letters. You might send them cards. And so in that sense, being a company to let them know that you still love them and you are not going to let them alienate, even though they might insult you and whatnot, that you continue to be there. I know somebody who became Catholic and married a Catholic and didn’t hear from her sister for forty-nine years, but she kept sending Christmas cards and other things. And by maintaining that communication over time and not taking herself too seriously and also realizing to be able to give that kind of witness or accompaniment even if it’s only through mail, that she needed to have a strong relationship with the Lord and also support of her own so that she did not collapse saying, “I don’t need this. This is a negative burden on me and therefore I’m just going to stop communicating with this person.”

Cy Kellett:

No, she kept it up.

Tom Nash:

And that’s why I think Ephesians 6:12 is important when we see our real enemies are the flesh and blood, the celestial host of the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places as it says St. Paul, in other words, the devil in his demonic confers, if you will.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, so you mean our enemies are not the flesh and blood

Tom Nash:

Precisely that. And so that we see somebody, we realize they’re only for God’s mercy, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously, so we don’t write somebody off or and be high and mighty or thinking, I don’t need this burden.

Cy Kellett:

Well, let me give you a line of argument that I’ve heard about Pope Francis and accompaniment, that essentially the Christian message is repent and believe the good news because those are the… And that we’re not asking enough repentance. And so the accompaniment, in other words, I think when people explain their negative reaction towards this call to accompaniment, their negative reaction is, well, what happened to repent and believe the good news? All of this gets to my question though, Tom, why do we have such a negative reaction to accompaniment?

Tom Nash:

Well, I think because accompaniment can mean a compromise where having communication or having some kind of relationship on somebody else’s terms becomes more important than sharing the truth so that an accompaniment can that I’m going to support you no matter what and I’m not going to take issue with you. Where as true accompaniment is going to say, “I love you enough to share this. I recognize my own sinfulness and I’m going to do my best to accompany you.” And then sometimes if there’s pushback or there’s not communication, you might continue to reach out. You might leave a voicemail, you might send a text. So that could be a company man from afar. So hopefully you’ll melt the heart and realize they’ll see that, hey, so-and-so, Cy or Tom really loves me and is going to be there. And you also have to be ready to take a little flak, right?

Because oh, you think you’re holy. Kind of says in wisdom, the book of wisdom, we’re going to test this guy. And so not that we accept abuse willingly, but that when we’re dealing with loved ones, family members, friends, that when don’t we take our mission seriously, but not ourselves so that we can let them see that we really love them, that they’re not going to get us to go away by insulting or periodically giving us a hard time that they can see that we really love them, that we have a resilience. And to have that resilience, we’re going to have to have our own support network, friends and family of mind, but also with the prayer life so that we can be able to continue to be present.

So that, as I once said to my nephew, it’s important that I take myself not too seriously, but the larger mission seriously and so that I can continue to, in the case of my brother, Mike, who was away from the church yet still believed in God and had an image of St. Michael of his own volition, always say, encourage the good, encourage the good. For example, my brother Mike, I would feast of the archangels on September twenty-ninth or St. Joseph, that was his middle name, March 19th, affirm the good wherever. And then also realize, “Hey, would you pray for me on something like this?” Ask them. So you realize that you’re being vulnerable and you’re asking them, it’s also encouraging them to think about God and prayer and not just saying, “Hey, I’m praying for you.”

Cy Kellett:

So this, in a certain way it sounds like that the accompaniment properly understood is first of all, not just walking away because somebody isn’t morally where we want them to be or isn’t, in terms of their religious practice, where we would want them to be. But staying in that relationship so that, for example, there’s a certain… Years ago there was a evangelical minister, and I remember him being interviewed and the interviewer was like, “Well, say it’s a rainy night and it’s miserable out, and you see a woman alone walking in the rain towards town, her car is broken down or whatnot, but she’s well known as a prostitute and a sinner in the town. Would you pick her up and give her a ride?” And he said, “No, I wouldn’t do that because that could scandalize people.” Well, it strikes me that’s about the most unchristian answer that you could give.

Tom Nash:

Yeah, especially it being, people might say, is that a setup? She’s trying to… But it sounds like you’re saying it’s clear that this person is vulnerable, she’s in trouble.

Cy Kellett:

In trouble. Well, it was a hypothetical question and that there can be a kind of Christianity that refuses to sully itself by spending time with those who don’t meet their community standards.

Tom Nash:

This is where Pope Francis says to get the smell of the sheep around those. And the good Samaritan is an excellent example because he was ostracized. This was the heretic of his day. He is the true neighbor to that man who’s in trouble and picks him up and helps him out. That it was ironically, the heretic, the person who seemed to be the least religious, who actually showed the greatest charity. And I think that’s the point that we need to be able to accompany and to be able to be. True accompaniment says, “I love you no matter what.” With a spouse, it’s not fifty-fifty, a hundred zero if necessary, that you’re with that spouse and you are laying down your life, for example, the husband to the wife, and you need to have a good relationship with the Lord and other support networks so that you can do so.

But people need to see that you really care sometimes and they might test you on that. As we see in the book of wisdom, we’re going to see, hey, how much testing this person is. And I’ve mentioned the example before, my brother, God rest his soul, Mike, that I would reach out to him and I continued that even though he was unchurched and I say on his feast day, call him or text him and things like that. But I remember one time where he used the Lord’s name in vain and I got really mad and got in his face, literally. And then I had to catch myself say, “Hey, forgive me.” Part of I think accompaniment is being able to be humble and to say, “Hey, forgive me.” And I say, “Well, I’m not going to… He didn’t say repent when he did something to me.”

This is where you see the larger mission in Ephesians six, where you see it’s not against flesh and blood, it’s the power and principalities we all need God’s mercy. And this person is not unlike the demons, is not irrevocably opposed to God, and therefore you want to always seek somebody out and to show the love that you would want if you were in need. But you want that person to turn their life around and to be reconciled to God, realizing your own need for God’s mercy. And in this case, being able… I think you need to be present and to be able to not take yourself seriously so that you can have standing so that they might listen to you over time. Because over time, if you-

Cy Kellett:

Well, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but what you just said there, I want to point out because that does strike me as Paul the sixth in his beautiful letter.

Tom Nash:

[inaudible 00:11:36]. Yeah.

Cy Kellett:

The world needs witnesses more than it needs teachers or people respond to witnesses better than they respond to teachers,

Tom Nash:

And if they listen to teachers, it’s because they are first witnesses. Yes. I love that too. And this is the key that we have to have credibility and we have to show people that we love them. And that means being small, not being in… Talking about somebody in an abusive relationship where they physically have to do things, but if you’re with a loved one that you are strong enough and don’t take yourself too seriously that you can be present. And like I say, divine jujitsu. Where I know somebody who had been away from the church and were watching a football game and he used the Lord’s name, the Lord Jesus’ name in vain. I said, “Blessed be his name or praise be his name.”

And he kind of looked at me and he said, and then the second time he said it and he goes, “Oh, sorry.” As opposed to if we say, “Who do you think you are and how dare you use it?” And you’re going to get a negative pushback, but if we do this thing and get people’s attention and we’re there and we’re accompanying them, we’re pointing out something without being obnoxious about it.

Cy Kellett:

It. Yeah. We’re in a sense witnessing to our own relationship with Jesus rather than demanding that they, demanding anything of them.

Tom Nash:

And in some ways, and they might feel convicted, but that’s just it. You’re not walking away from them. You continue.

Cy Kellett:

Well, that’s the thing is-

Tom Nash:

You got to be resilient.

Cy Kellett:

… this accompaniment is Christian accompaniment, which means if a Christian person is doing it, you can’t shy away from Christian truth. You can’t stop living as a Christian person. Let me give you a couple concrete examples before we have to wrap up.

Tom Nash:

Sure, sure, sure.

Cy Kellett:

So that you can help us with how this idea of accompaniment is meant to apply in a person’s life in a Christian person’s life. The parent who has the adult child say in their twenties, who’s living with the romantic partner and the kid wants to come home for a visit and the parent says, “You’re welcome, girlfriends welcome, boyfriends welcome, whatever. But in our house, you can’t sleep in the same room together.” The child takes this as a rejection and so rejects the parents, “Well, if you’re going to treat me that way, then you don’t love me or I’m sick of you or judgments on me or whatever. I don’t live by your standards, you shouldn’t, blah, blah, whatever.” But the parent just says, “Look, here’s the deal. You’re welcome here, but these are the conditions in my house.”

Tom Nash:

Yes.

Cy Kellett:

How does I think a lot of parents, they then see a break in the relationship. The kid’s like, “Well, I’m not coming home then.” And that hurts parents. Yes. So tell us about the accompaniment in that kind of situation.

Tom Nash:

I think at that point too, I say, “Hey, we want you to be part of your life.” But I would say to this that yes, you can talk about there in terms of friendship, and we love you and we love you and we would love to have you over for dinner, but if you want to spend the night, we are concerned about, and it’s not because I love you but, it’s I love you and.

 I think and is an important word to use instead of, but because, but puts people off. I love you and because I love you, I would ask that because you’re not, in this case a committed relationship that husband and wife and that sexual intimacy because it is totally an unconditional giving and its natural expression signifies and concretizes that we cannot have you not only because of concern for any children that might be around, but even if the kids are all grown, we’re concerned about your eternal, your immortal soul, and therefore we love you and this is why.

Cy Kellett:

And then what do you do when the child rejects you?

Tom Nash:

Yeah. Well, I think then you kind of reach out. It’s kind of like that. I said earlier, that lady who kept writing to her sister center, her Christmas cards, 49 years, that you continue to love them and you have to say, “I love you. My relationship with the Lord is first, and it’s not that it’s because of the Lord I reject you. No, because of the Lord. I have to love you authentically and therefore I’m going to continue to support,” and you continue to reach out and maybe you send things and maybe they get sent back or you call periodically or you get voicemail, right? But you continue to reach out and let them know that you love them. And to be able to do that, you have to have that support network of brothers and sisters in Christ, be they friends or family, other friends and family, as well as having that good interior life of the Lord.

Cy Kellett:

It sounds like you can’t do it without that-

Tom Nash:

No. Right. But then I think then that’s going to over time because I think in some ways when they reject you and then they see you reject them as a response that’s going to say, “Oh, they didn’t really… They’re hypocrites and they didn’t really love me anyway.” No. That if they could see that you continue to love them through thick and thin, like the Good Shepherd who reaches out in Luke 15 before he discusses Luke the prodigal son later in that chapter, but where you can reach out with a good shepherd always looks for the sheep, kind of like in the prodigal somewhere, the father’s looking for the son, but where you’re going out and you’re continuing to seek after Christ, you can only do that with a strong relationship with the Lord, and it really shows a true love and a desire that, okay, I’m accompanying you even if you’re not recognizing my efforts, but if I can stay with it, then I’m going to show you that my love for you is authentic and therefore, hopefully that in time we’ll have some kind of communication.

Because if you’re in someone’s life, Cy and you’re having some kind of communication, then God’s going to, I dare say, bless that. The alternative is where you’re, I’m okay, you’re okay, or I can’t think of not… You get too emotional about it and you want to be, I have to be in this person’s life. I don’t want to be severed. And where you’re putting your affection and their return of having some kind of communication becomes the highest good, and you therefore don’t… It is a pseudo accompaniment that is not going to lead to your good or their good.

Cy Kellett:

Okay. I want to just before we finish, get to the one that I think the whole world is stressed about. When you talk to young people, people in their teens and twenties, the primary difficulty they have with the church is that they believe the church is rejecting gay people. Now, I think that that difficulty is a manufactured difficulty in the sense that this is what all the media is telling them. This is what their university is telling them. This is what their favorite whatever is telling them this is a manufactured controversy because that’s never been the position of Christianity. No Christian person has ever, not no Christian person, but no truly Christian teaching has ever been about rejecting gay people or something like that. You think about super macho Catholics from the 1950s, well, I’m thinking of the coach of the Green Bay Packers. What’s his name?

Tom Nash:

Oh, Vince Lombardi.

Cy Kellett:

Vince Lombardi. And you think, well, this is a person who preached love of gay people and people who act-

Tom Nash:

Like his brother struggled with it.

Cy Kellett:

People who act like this. This is some ancient prejudice that the church has always, and it just needs to overcome it. Now, this is all phony, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real in the experience of families. The whole question that we’re struggling over is how is the church to accompany those precious sons and daughters of God who are, they have the same sex attraction? That’s what they’ll say is their orientation. I realize all of this is controversial.

Tom Nash:

Sure.

Cy Kellett:

Everybody wants to be controversial over every word. Look, that’s just speak plainly and not worry too much about that. The gay person, how do we accompany that person and how do we answer the world that says you’re bigoted towards those who are gay?

Tom Nash:

Yeah. I would think the example of courage, our president Chris Chuck his brother, father Paul was the chaplain for courage for a good number of years. And I would point out to people that they have true brotherhood there, and there’s a great documentary called Desire the Everlasting Hills that focuses on three people who were in the homosexual lifestyle and came out of it and returned to their faith.

And so I would say this is where people, we need to be good brothers to the men who are struggling with that and also with the women, they need to have good support of true brothers of the same or two people of the same gender, in this case, brothers or women with the sisters. And so this is where we talk about true accompaniment is going to mean I love you and it’s not I love you but, I love you and therefore I want to show you what true love is and true, authentic, brotherly love or sisterly love, and that you can have your needs met in a way that’s not going to be self-destructive where you think you need this emotional or supportive help back.

Actually with fellowship. And for people who are in a heterosexual situation and say, “Hey, what is it, sex or the sacrament, what’s more important?” And if you believe in the power of the sacraments, the power of sacrament, reconciliation, confession, as well as the power of the Eucharist and the support network of your faithful Catholic friends and a good prayer life to go along with the sacrament, the sacramental life and support of good friends, that you can carry that cross and be at peace then and you’ll be at truly at peace. The peace which the world cannot give John 14:27, verses some kind of a fleeting or ephemeral piece where you have a lot of anxiety. It’s not really peace because you are fulfilling some primal need, some lustful desire that is not congruent with true love and true relationships of a committed nature.

Cy Kellett:

Tom Nash, what’s your latest book? What’s the latest one?

Tom Nash:

I’m going to be having a second edition of a book that I did a few years ago that I put out during the quintessential of the Protestant Reformation because I want to have a charitable Catholic response. It was called What Did Jesus Do? The Biblical Roots of the Catholic Church and St. Paul Center, our friends, Emmaus Road and Scott Hahn. They are going to be coming out with the second edition later the spring, and it’s called, to Whom Shall We Go, the Biblical case for the Catholic Faith. And I’m glad that they have bolded whom, because it’s really because if you can talk about Catholicism, as I said, it always begins and ends with Jesus, whether it’s our love for the Pope, the Blessed Mother, etc. It all goes back to Jesus Christ. And so you can understand Catholicism properly without understanding that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior and he founded this church as his instrument of salvation, the fulfillment of the family of Israel.

Cy Kellett:

Thank you, Tom. I really appreciate it. If you came in, I’m looking forward to the new edition of the book from Emmaus Road Publishing. Maybe we’ll have you on talk about it when it comes out. Look forward to that. And thank you to our listeners. We’d appreciate that you spend this time with us. We also appreciate that you help us. One way to do that is to give us those five stars and maybe a nice little review wherever you listen that helps to grow the podcast. If you’d like to support us financially, you can do that by going to Givecatholic.com and anytime you want to communicate with us, you can do that by sending an email to Focusatcatholic.com.

Focusatcatholic.com.Maybe you’ve got an idea for a future episode, maybe you’d like to comment on this or some other episode. Maybe you just want to communicate with us. Focusatcatholic.com is the place to do that. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. Thanks again for being with us. We’ll see you next time. God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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