Accompanying young people. They need to be treated seriously

Fulgencio Espa Feced-April 11, 2017-Reading time: 10 minutes
Young person at a mass.

To suppose that spiritual accompaniment has its roots not on earth, but in heaven, and that it produces its fruits in history, is to play with an advantage. Basically, any reality that deals with the supernatural is susceptible to being interpreted in this way. In fact, the image of the inverted tree that takes root in heaven and bears fruit on the altars was fecundly detailed during the patristic era in reference to the Eucharist. The sap runs down the trunk of the cross and is poured out in the Eucharistic gifts, made the body and blood of Christ. 

The letters are marked, therefore, by the stamp of the supernatural. I speak of spiritual accompaniment from a perspective of grace, of supernatural gift. We are going to describe the essential features of an encounter between brothers or, if you prefer, between a son and his father. Spiritual paternity and Christian fraternity are at the origin of this spiritual practice. In the accompaniment there are no clients, as in the coachingThere are no patients, as in psychiatry; there are simply brothers and sisters. In the spiritual colloquy there is no therapy, as in the legitimate and profitable world of psychology; there is openness of heart, fraternal dialogue, filial conversation. 

When you want to carry out any study of any kind, the first question of any essayist or researcher is about the sources. Where will you find knowledge? What bibliography should be consulted? What articles have been published recently?

I write about spiritual accompaniment for young people, and I confess that the fundamental source for these letters has been the young people themselves. In other words, to describe this tree of grace that is spiritual accompaniment, I begin - why not? - by detailing its marvelous fruits in young hearts. In these years of pastoral life, I have seen many of them grow in the heat of spiritual dialogue. In this reflection it is necessary to take off our shoes, because we are treading on sacred ground (cf. Ex 3:5): the task of grace in souls is so delicate that it deserves our primary attention.


An unproductive plant is not defined by its fruits. If one takes the trouble to look up the evangelical term "tares" in the dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, one will not find the word "fruit" in it. It is said to be a toxic plant, difficult to remove without also uprooting the good seed, which alone can damage entire harvests.

On the contrary, if one searches for "wheat", the reference to its beautiful "row of grain and fruit" is almost immediate. The fruit says a lot about the plant, to the point of being able to qualify its existence as beneficial or harmful.

Now, what is the fruit produced by spiritual accompaniment in young souls? Above all, love. I know it sounds generic to the skeptical ear, and since it is in my spirit to make him a believer, we will go down to detail what love means in this context.

It begins, even if it is not sought (perhaps because it is not sought), with a right love for oneself. Many girls and boys have learned to respect themselves through spiritual accompaniment. When dialogue is extremely delicate, it leads to that respect that begins with oneself. The boys begin to think that they are capable of something. Too many times they have heard words of reprobation, unwise - and perhaps false - judgments about the goodness of past times, reproachful sentences about their fickle will. Finally, someone believes in them, and I am not referring to the spiritual companion, but to God himself. Little by little, one arrives at the impressive conviction that something is waiting for me from him who existed before the mountains were born or the orb of the earth was begotten, and from everlasting to everlasting is God (cf. Ps 89:2).

Love is always about sharing something. Amans amato bonum velitsaid the classics. In other words, to love is to share the good. To discover to the young soul that it has something to share with God is to open it to the exciting world of prayer. The heart becomes great in the dialogue of prayer, because youth - as long as it is young - does not notice the difficulties when it perceives the greatness of love, the beauty of a loving ideal. All this is revealed when one perseveres in prayer, and spiritual accompaniment is synonymous with words of encouragement in this regard. 

In the spiritual colloquy we learn to pray, we grow in our relationship with God, and we try to put ourselves "face to face" with God (cf. Ex 33:11). Like Abraham, we want to listen to his voice (cf. Gen 12:1). At first we may not be aware that this listening may also imply leaving our land. It does not matter. God does not ask for anything that he does not give first. The periodic dialogue with the companion is fundamentally oriented to fulfill His will; God's will. The main and first topic of the spiritual conversation is prayer, prayer, complaint and thanksgiving to God: the intimate dialogue with Him.

The light of grace received in prayer brings out the divisions of the soul. What does this mean? As the preparatory document for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people details, "the human heart, because of its weakness and sin, normally presents itself divided because of the attraction of different, or even opposing, claims". The young person becomes aware of this opposition, and distinguishes, once again, the fruits of those branches that sink their roots in heaven, from those that are born by and for the worldly. Spiritual accompaniment awakens in the young person a yearning for the best, and opens his heart and his intelligence to a life of prominence. 

The young person who authentically allows himself to be accompanied spiritually escapes from conformism, and no longer acts alone if he "pays" or "does not pay". In his heart nestles something more than sensuality and comfort, which has nothing to do with a heavy ideology, but rather with a burning love. 

The young man who prays sincerely, and delves unceasingly into it, makes his soul shine with the most beautiful sparkles. He does not allow himself to be deceived. He discovers the hidden pearl, and is capable of selling everything he has in order to acquire it (cf. Mt 13:45-46). He is much more than a young man with values; he is a young man with a supernatural life. He has found the hidden treasure of God's love and observes a different world: he does not see strangers, but brothers and sisters; he does not experience difficulties, but trials in love; he does not know complaint, but the challenge of self-giving.

In life's journey, the document cited above affirms, it is important to decide, "because we cannot remain indefinitely in indeterminacy. But it is necessary to equip oneself with the instruments to recognize the Lord's call to the joy of love and to choose to respond to it". The most supernatural fruit that spiritual accompaniment can produce in youth is the discernment of one's own vocation, because it implies the serene conviction of an extraordinary love of God who, in his infinitude and omnipotence, has made reparation for my poverty. 

"Listen, daughter, look, incline your ear; the king is fascinated by your beauty; prostrate yourself before him that he is your Lord". (Ps 44:11). This, and no other, is the context of every vocation: a dialogue of love in which one has something to give. This is the beautiful thing: that God wants to beg something from the young soul. And this is the exciting thing: that this boy, this girl, can give it to him. Can a fruit of such extraordinary beauty be rooted in a place other than heaven itself?

Branches and stem

These marvelous fruits "fit" into a very concrete personality: a humanity that wants to grow. Youth is a time of ideals, and whoever thinks that this has ended with the last century is, in fact, not treating or not knowing how to treat young people. To lose hope that youth can be the age of dreams is to lose hope in the whole of humanity. 

"Youth is not made for pleasure." the poet Paul Claudel rightly affirmed, "but for heroism". Today, as always, young people need someone that reminds him of his greatness. Those fruits that are the noble hearts of young people hang from branches that need to be pruned, from a stem deserving of the most exquisite attention. In short, young people need to be seriously dealt withand not as morally deficient or, worse, psychologically incapable. Youth should be synonymous with greater generosity, not with a stunted life.

Men are needed who understand what really interests young people and can move them to the finest love. They say it - they ask it! - themselves. Spiritual guides must be persuaded of the heroism of youth. 

"We were able to respond."said an elderly priest to the group of priests crowded around him, "because someone got their hopes up for us". Boys and girls need that someone And they often learn this not so much as a result of long lectures, but as a consequence of a true passion for them in a thousand ways: their ideals, their tastes, their songs, their values, their concerns. Quererles

Because someone got their hopes up for us. Those who accompany spiritually should engrave these words in their hearts if they sincerely wish to help young people. To be excited about youth, to be excited that a young person is called by God to an unreserved dedication, to be excited that all of them can reach the highest heights of God's love. Having a passion for youth makes young people nobly passionate. They soon notice who has the desire to live, the commitment to be joyful and the confidence in youth. When the priest or the spiritual director has enthusiasm for the young people, he succeeds in communicating their aspirations naturally, without pretenses or strange things. They finally find an adult who understands them and speaks to their heart, who does not want to take out nothing about them but only wants them to find true happiness: their own (and higher) way. There is no suspicion, on the contrary: they know that they can talk to him about their most intimate things, because it will never seem too much to him. That man, that woman, continually teaches by word and deed that to be of God is a gift, and that he who has been chosen by God is privileged. 

We were able to respond because someone got their hopes up for us. Returning to the agricultural simile, the plant of youth must be cared for at the cost of the greatest efforts, although the greatest of all is to love them sincerely and wholeheartedly. With his love and his word, the spiritual companion will free the young person from the many plagues to which he is exposed: human respects, fierce criticism, prochasticity, sensuality and lack of roots. 

Fear of God

In spiritual accompaniment, the mastery of a bonsai keeper is necessary. Extreme delicacy in dealing with the Christian soul. The course of the spiritual conversation will deal with various questions: prayer, faith in God, doubts and worries, the sacrifices of the day and the circumstances of everyday life. Each person has his or her own way of engaging in this conversation, although in all cases the most sincere and truthful encounter with God should be sought. It is the task of the spiritual accompanier to listen and to place the young person before God so that he/she does not do what he/she most desires, but what leads to the greater love of God. It is the task of the teacher to open horizons of righteousness and love that are the driving force behind the most difficult decisions; to move souls to communion with God in order to bring heaven to earth. 

To this extreme delicacy corresponds the most total sincerity. A sincere person is one who says everything he knows, and this represents at least three aspects of utmost interest. In the first place, it means that nothing is hidden out of shame or fear of looking bad. It never looks bad in spiritual direction if the truth is told. For this, the companion must never show disappointment, because such an attitude would not be evangelical in any case. Did the Father of the prodigal son ever show a shadow of disappointment?

Secondly, to be sincere means to deepen and grow day by day in one's own knowledge. Say all what one knows does not mean knowing it all. In order to let oneself be accompanied, it is opportune to have a deep spirit of examination that helps to a progressive self-knowledge.

Finally, to be sincere means to be docile to the indications. If one always says everything and never listens to advice, it will be difficult to find in accompaniment an effective instrument for one's spiritual life.


The root is in heaven; or rather in heaven that became earth: Jesus Christ. He is the first exemplar and absolute paradigm of all spiritual accompaniment, which is expressed in the totality of his humanity: the loving gaze (the vocation of the first disciples, cf. Jn 1:35-51); the authoritative word (the teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum, cf. Lk 4:32); the ability to become a neighbor (the parable of the Good Samaritan, cf. Lk 10:25-37); the choice to walk alongside (the disciples of Emmaus, cf. Lk 24:13-35); the witness of authenticity, without fear of going against the most widespread prejudices (the washing of the feet at the Last Supper, cf. Jn 13:1-20). 

Through the humanity of Jesus, grace came to the first disciples, to the inhabitants of Nazareth, to those who listened to his teaching, to the disciples of Emmaus and to the Apostles. Through spiritual accompaniment, torrents of grace continue to flow to young people, bringing them out of the dullest anonymity, and bringing them to the highest heights of God's love: as to Peter and James, as to John and Andrew, as to Mary Magdalene.

The goal in this case is the origin. Spiritual accompaniment, which is rooted in God's grace, has God himself as its goal. Many people seek to be well. So do young people. It is reasonable; no one likes to feel bad. Spiritual accompaniment undoubtedly contributes to inner peace, but its goal is more transcendent. Ultimately, spiritual accompaniment wants to lead the young person to holiness, and for that reason is for every Christian soul. In the last Council we were reminded of this universal call to holiness, and linked to it we could legitimately underline that there is also a universal call to spiritual accompaniment.

It is true that spiritual accompaniment is not the only means to holiness. The means of sanctification are infinite, as infinite is the love of God for every creature. But, as a young soul emphasized, spiritual accompaniment is a fine rain, a delicate suggestion, a gentle indication that strongly moves hearts and makes souls fruitful. In fact, spiritual accompaniment is not the only means of sanctification, but it is one of the most privileged.

A youth community where there is recourse to spiritual accompaniment that is rightly lived speaks clearly of a whole and of a well-oriented individual. The periodic conversation with the spiritual man or woman puts each soul and the whole community in the right direction. 

What we have seen with our eyes (1 Jn 1:1)

"The Jews were able to behold miracles." said St. John Chrysostom in one of his catecheses; "you shall see them also, and greater still, more dazzling than when the Jews came out of Egypt." 

The miracle is a beautiful harvest; that is what our eyes saw and our hands felt. A divine harvest, which speaks of dedicated young people, totally modern and fully Christian. The same fruit (the path to holiness) expressed in very different ways: souls consecrated to the religious life, young people dedicated to the priesthood, boys and girls who embrace apostolic celibacy and dozens and dozens of young people who form families according to the love of God. Indeed, miracles more dazzling than when the Jews came out of Egypt: the triumph of the love of the New Covenant (grace) in the young soul.

"More than ever we need men and women who, from their experience of accompaniment, know the processes where prudence, the ability to understand, the art of waiting, and docility to the Spirit prevail" (p. 6).Pope Francis stated in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, "to take care of the sheep entrusted to our care from the wolves that try to break up the flock". (n. 171). 

Protect the flock, take care of the plant.... and make it grow. "In the commitment to accompany the new generations the Church".The preparatory document for the 2018 Synod sentences, "welcomes his call to collaborate in the joy of young people, rather than trying to take over their faith (cf. 2 Cor 1:24). Such service is ultimately rooted in prayer and in asking for the gift of the Spirit who guides and enlightens each and every one of us.

The authorFulgencio Espa Feced

Parish Priest of Santa María de Nazaret (Vallecas, Madrid)

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