Hope through companionship
Friday, February 01, 2013


Catechists receive no money for their work; they serve their people selflessly in a million pastoral ways from birth to death. In Africa, they are the heart of the day-to-day Catholic Church, the tall trees of faith, Yei, South Sudan (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
Brussels, 1 February 2013 – "I am here with you, knowing that being with my brothers and sisters and you, Father Gary, I shall be given strength." Those are the words of Flabius, words of grief and hope after the death of his daughter, the words of a man who had already lost to war and disease his wife and seven of his children.

When people suffer massive pain, they are at risk of becoming isolated, the prisoners of their own trauma, excluded by those who fear to share their fate, unable to communicate, although they long to experience and hear there is life beyond the pain. Those are times when we need others to invade our space and tell us there are good reasons for us to move beyond the entrapments of trauma.

It may be very hard, but to those for whom hope is the only path left apart from despair and loneliness, the first step is to open up to others who know about their pain without being its prisoners: friends who suffer with them and are at the same time capable of perceiving the world beyond pain. The first step on the road to hope is to become aware of such friends, fellow human beings who pull us out of our isolation.

For all of us, the first step is also to become friends, as the compassionate Samaritan, to move out towards suffering fellow human beings. Hope, as Flabius reminds us, is about such life giving companionship, about friendship and community building at life-sharing depth. Gracefully, hope reveals that suffering does not inevitably isolate people: it can become a creative source of deeply shared life that changes our being together.

The real threshold is that first movement out of the tempting isolation and self-victimisation, not only for those who suffer exclusion, but for all of us. Blessed are those community builders who dare to proclaim, demand and practice this "move out of isolation", who trust that the response to our suffering is through the presence and strength of others, who surround us and take away the veil of our blindness.

Jesus of Nazareth's authority and his impact on people rested to a large extent, I imagine, on his capacity to foster friendship, His practice of community-building through the de-isolation, by sharing the fate of the suffering and excluded, who then could become the soul of renewed life together.

This is a multi-facetted effort. It requires sympathy with those who suffer and are in danger of isolation, particularly when this isolation is triggered or maintained by our societies and communities. It trusts those who proclaim the vision of another possible world without traumatic violence or exclusion, or better: it looks for the signs of the times, those delicate events when people do not give in to the temptation to be imprisoned in valleys of tears, and when they touch the resources of life in themselves.

The effort towards this new community may be dangerous, as it confronts power structures and self-interest groups that attempt to maintain the societal status-quo, which bring benefit to some of us, even when it causes the suffering of others. The strong resistance Jesus experienced during His life as soon as He started paying attention to the excluded, as well as His death on the cross, remind us of these dangers.

The authority of Jesus emerges not only in the words and actions through which He restores our com-munities by opening them up to those we so readily exclude, but also in the proclamation of a dream, the Kingdom of God, which He likes to compare to a banquet that all of us enjoy together. It seems an impossible dream, a horizon that can never be reached, but Jesus' faith in a God who comes forward out of that horizon and makes it reality, is contagious.

When he asks the tricky question: "who do you say that I am?", we may come to share the joyful hope that will make us commit ourselves to change our broken reality, that turns us into dreamers who discover the vision while embodying it and who become friends. We may also come to experience the companionship with those whom we encounter as Christ on our way: those who share Jesus' marginal place, His traumatic suffering and, as we hope, His resurrection. We receive strength from one another, as a gift from God in each of us, for all of us.

Dr Jacques Haers SJ, is a Jesuit, member of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven