Faith Alive!-No. 10 STORIES Mar-6-2006 (590 words) xxxe
Why form groups for prayer?
By Father Herbert Weber
Catholic News Service
My first experience of praying with others was as a child. Our family, like many in those days, would gather in the early evening to pray a family rosary. I am sure there were times I wanted to do other things, but even then I knew that praying together gave our family a bond and gave me a feeling of belonging.
Praying aloud with others is a unique way to bring people together. It provides a unifying element for those who gather. That sense of unity carries over to the Sunday celebration of Mass.
Before committing themselves to group prayer, however, most people need to discover its potential value for their spiritual lives. For those accustomed to saying and reading prayers alone, there may be a hesitation because group prayer often turns to spontaneous outpourings from the heart. Another problem is that some people settle for gentle discussion with each other instead of actually engaging in communal prayer with God.
A few years ago our pastoral council made a commitment to "really pray" -- as they put it -- during the first part of each meeting. The prayer was not to be just a preliminary, but a significant part of the agenda. At first it took effort to plan the prayer, using Scripture, song and a prayerful setting. It also took some self-discipline on each person's part.
We found that people shared at their level of comfort, but virtually everyone shared in some way. Sometimes the prayer took up a half-hour or more of the council's meeting time.
As the years passed with this sort of prayer, I regularly heard from council members that this experience was unlike that of any other committee they had served on. The most frequent comment was that a community had formed. Even parishioners who had not previously known each other felt connected.
This communal bond became something that was carried over into Sunday liturgy. As one person explained, "We are practicing being church before we go to church."
Interactive prayer can be an activity of various groups that already meet or it can take place in special prayer groups or small faith communities.
It was in a Lenten small group that David started to make a personal commitment to his faith. As he told the story, he had attended church regularly all his life. Yet he always felt like he was on the outside looking in. As the group talked and then prayed together, the concept of church started to make sense to him. In a sentiment similar to mine when I was a child praying the rosary, there was a feeling of belonging.
A group of mothers formed their own group, Mothers of Young Children. It didn't take them long to attract others. Although some joined because of the social and support elements, they discovered that many were seeking an avenue for spiritual growth. So they incorporated prayer as part of each meeting.
Besides feeling more bonded with each other, groups that pray also discover a new understanding of praying. Their prayers become broader and more inclusive. In listening to each other, they start asking more blessings for one another. They become more conscious of the needs of the world outside themselves.
Admittedly, it takes work to organize group prayer opportunities, just as it also takes a willingness to overcome one's hesitations. However, the end result of praying with others is certain to bless both the individual and the whole church.
(Father Weber is pastor of Blessed John XXIII Parish, Perrysburg, Ohio.)
Copyright © 2006 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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