Small Faith Communities are the Hope of the Church
By Frank Summers
Since the Puebla Conference of Latin American Bishops, with John Paul II, in 1979, the Church has encouraged the formation of small community groupings for Christian formation and missionary outreach.
The Puebla bishops noted that Paul VI saw these small communities as “the hope of the Church,” and John Paul II highlighted these small communities as one of the “Paths of Mission”: “These groups of Christians…come together for prayer, Scripture reading, catechesis, and discussion on human and ecclesial problems with a view to a common commitment. These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on a ‘civilization of love’.
“These communities decentralize and organize the parish community….[They are] a leaven of Christian life, of care for the poor and neglected, and of commitment to the transformation of society. Within them, the individual Christian experiences community and therefore senses that he or she is playing an active role and is encouraged to share in the common task.
Thus, these communities become a means of evangelization and of the initial proclamation of the Gospel, and a source of new ministries.” John Paul II, Mission of the Redeemer, 51.
In my experience serving in a variety of settings around the world, I would say that by far the best evangelization and conversion, Christian formation and encouragement to the apostolate, and support for the long-term are only available to those Catholics who gather regularly in these small faith communities. Really, these are the people who develop full and well-balanced Gospel lives.
Look around for an existing group that attracts you (there is so much diversity), or invite friends to form one with you. Find a good site to meet (homes of the members) and a good time (one evening every week or every other week). Gather as friends; spend time sharing what is happening in your lives; designate a coordinator, then begin with prayer; declare the name of Jesus and ask the Holy Spirit to “come”! Sing God’s praises. Go around the circle giving thanks. Sing another song of praise and thanksgiving. Select a reading from Scripture, read it aloud. Have each person share what the Lord is saying to them in the reading.
After sharing this way for a number of weeks, the group may want to seek God’s Word on some particular aspect of Gospel values, living or ministry. At that point, add selected readings from a particular book or other document dealing with that matter. Keep at it, let the Lord disciple you.
After the reading segment of your meeting, let each person petition the Lord (go around the circle) for the things he/she needs and intercede for the needs of others.
Close with an Our Father and Hail Mary, and ask for the prayer support of your favorite saints.
THIS SAME FORMAT CAN BE USED FOR YOUR FAMILY PRAYER.
Go out and share your faith experiences with others – give witness by the way you live and with spoken words. Evangelize others into your small community, and form other small communities – BE MISSIONARIES!
Recently, a young man wrote to me asking how he should proceed with his new-found interest in God. This is how I responded:
“I was blessed to receive your letter and have been waiting and praying about how to respond. We just returned from a short-term mission into Mexico. While there I told the people (as we tell all our FMC missionaries) that in order to live always in God’s King- dom there are 5 practices that should be part of our daily lives: Prayer, God’s Word, Sacraments, Community, and Service.
“Prayer – We need to develop a daily prayer time, with Bible reading. Find a quiet place and regular time to talk with the Lord and listen to Him, for about 30 minutes to 1 hour each day. Follow the outline for prayer that Jesus gives us in the “The Lord’s Prayer”:
(a) Begin by acknowledging God’s presence and praising and thanking Him. – “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” (b) Commit yourself to do God’s will and be His servant – “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Listen to the Lord. Read God’s Word in the Bible and believe it and put it into practice. (c) Pray for all the things you need – pray with faith that you will receive what you ask – “Give us this day our daily bread.” (d) Ask the Lord’s forgiveness for all your sins and forgive everyone who has offended you (love everyone, including your enemies) – “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (e) Struggle against all temptation and evil – “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
“God’s Word – Jesus is the “teacher.” We are His “disciples” – i.e., “students”. You have a lot to learn from Jesus; let Him teach you. Read the whole Bible (beginning with the New Testament and Psalms) for the rest of your life. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Choose good spiritual books on religious subjects that interest you – always be in the process of listening to the Word of God..
Sacraments – Go to Mass every Sunday and during the week from time to time. Go to Confession regularly. Live in the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.
Community – Find Catholic friends who are living their faith. Meet regularly with them to pray and share.
Service – How does the Lord want you to serve Him? Go out and do something to build His kingdom, share your faith with others (evangelize) and help people in need.
I will pray for you.
In Jesus, Frank