The practice of the early Christian communities contrasted sharply with the worship to Roman gods which demanded individual responsibility for the offering of sacrifice. This new faith in Christ was manifested in community and solidarity.
‘God does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another… Christ instituted [a] new covenant, in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and Gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God… established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Lumen Gentium, 9).’
Viewing the parish as a ‘community of communities’ can have a transformative effect. The encouragement of participation in small groups feeds into the principal parish celebrations and develops a spirituality of communion.
‘A spirituality of communion indicates above all the heart’s contemplation of the mystery of the Trinity dwelling in us, and whose light we must also be able to see shining on the face of the brothers and sisters around us. This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43).’
Prayer and the reading of Scripture
Scripture is the heart of small groups (communities). They are places where members become familiar with the word of God and be nourished by it. It is the task of each member of the parish to come to see the Eucharist as the ‘source and summit’ of their life of faith. Living ‘Eucharistically’ cannot be confined to an hour on Sunday but affects the rest of the week and all aspects of our lives. To continue our celebration and to prepare for the next small groups allow us the space to be further nourished by the Word of God. Praying and sharing as a group is a different experience from what we get at Mass or when
praying alone. People who participate agree that the experience is rewarding and positive.
‘Praying with Scripture may leave us open to unexpected ways of meeting God, as one might when praying with a parable. Praying with others may deepen our empathy and ready us to meet others with affirmation rather than judgement. Out of [praying in] silence may come an openness to listen and to learn’ (Richard M. Gula, The Shifting Landscape of Moral Theology, in Church, Spring 2009).
With a thousand and one things to do and only so many hours in the day we are forced to prioritise. In our busyness we frequently do what we have to do but not necessarily what we need for our spiritual selves. Respite from email and mobile phone calls comes around all too infrequently. When an opportunity arises, however, we must grab it with both hands. Small groups offer just such an opportunity, the discipline of meeting with and for others, of sparing time is helpful for our growth and theirs.
‘Saint John, in his Gospel, gets to the heart of the matter: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not”. This refers first and foremost to Bethlehem, then it refers to Israel and truly, it refers to all mankind. These words refer ultimately to us, to each individual and to society as a whole. Do we have time for our neighbour who is in need of a word from us, from me, or in need of my affection? For the sufferer who is in need of help? For the fugitive or the refugee who is seeking asylum? Do we have time and space for God? Can he enter into our lives? Does he find room in us, or have we occupied all the available space in our thoughts, our actions, our lives for ourselves?’ (Pope Benedict XVI, 2007 Midnight Mass homily).