The Need for Small Groups in the Eucharistic Revival
In my previous blog post, I made an argument that we anticipating the fullness of Eucharistic Revival need to pray for and expect Eucharistic signs and wonders. Before anything else, we need an encounter with the Lord in the Eucharist…or a re-encounter with the profundity of that truth. This 70% of Catholics not believing in the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist didn’t happen entirely because of poor teaching. I’m going to say it: most of the time, I will bet people were taught the right theology, at least in basic. They were last taught it in second grade, mind you, but taught correctly.
What happened after second grade?
–Sports (and more sports and more sports), an education without God, increasing cultural pressure to achieve, scientific proofs for everything, politics naming the ethical questions. Besides that, family life for good or ill, first kisses, betrayals, abuse, anxiety, hope, determination, community, aloneness.
In short, a LOT happened after second grade. The sheer volume of noise could overwhelm the voice of that earnest teacher in that second grade classroom long ago. The distraction factor is real.
Additionally, it is likely that everything learned since second grade has actively countered the mystery of the Eucharist. Secular culture does not value mystery. Secular culture continually says God is NOT present. Secular culture argues that we do not exist to receive, we exist to do things. Everything in secular culture pushes against the teaching of the Lord that he is fully and truly present in the Eucharist, and that our greatest joy is stopping to adore and receive him as gift.
When I say the Eucharistic Revival must pray for, invite, and faithfully expect signs and wonders, I say so in part because Catholics suffer congestive heart disease from breathing in the toxic elements in this culture, and the poison of it has clogged our arteries. The first thing you do to someone with congestive heart failure is you get out the defibrillator. You shock that heart back into life. This is revival in its most literal sense.
But while that may save your life, continuing to breathe in that toxic counter-messaging, you will need more. You need to live with that divinely renewed heart, body, and soul. This is where the deep healing comes, as Paul tells his new Christians:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.Romans 12:2
Unless you become a hermit, you are called to live in this secular culture, and it will have a lure on you. But we can strengthen ourselves and our faith. First, by continuing to encounter the Eucharistic Lord and receiving him in a state of grace. Second, we need to talk about the Lord, out loud, with others.
The USCCB is encouraging small group work in the parish year of the Eucharistic Revival, and I am glad for it. Small group work so obviously encourages faith sharing and discipleship that every parish should have a healthy small group initiative as a matter of course. But how will the small group initiative deepen and spread the Eucharistic revival? How will they help the heart continue to beat for life in God?
- Begin at the beginning: friendship in the Lord. Too many people are lonely, disconnected, and do not have friends. They may have interest partners, work colleagues, neighbors, but not friends. One of the greatest gifts after salvation is the friendship of life in Christ together. Small groups cultivate this friendship. Pope Francis and the USCCB have used the term accompaniment a great deal, and that is an essential part of the discipleship walk. But we need friends before beginning the work of accompaniment. Small groups that focus on growth in the Lord together is an ideal place to start.
- The encouragement of sharing. Friendship in the Lord requires actually talking about your faith life. Our parishes do not necessarily encourage this outside of liturgy. We need to get comfortable with sharing our prayer with others, our faith walk with others. It requires some vulnerability. But when we do, we realize sharing is a powerful joy, and others will see it is not taboo to talk about the Lord and their own walk. We can encouragement each other simply by sharing that we are all on the same road. And that is right and just to talk about Jesus Christ.
- The opportunity to learn as an adult Christian. It is true that there is confusion about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and small groups are an ideal way to learn about this together–as adults, not second graders. But–incredible to say–there is so much more to the Eucharist than the doctrine of real presence. We can unpack the Mass and the meaning of the liturgy. We can share together how to live out of the Eucharist. We can learn that we were created for union with Christ and scale the heights of prayer. In any case, learning the theology and spirituality of the Eucharist is so much better when shared.
- The truth becomes our own when we say it out loud. This may almost be the most important piece of small group work. When we talk about our spiritual life out loud, it is powerful in a way that is hard to describe. The Holy Spirit can speak through you (you are his temple!) and convict you of what you are saying in important ways. It is good to pray silently to the Lord, and to think quietly about the Lord. But we are called to speak of his goodness to us out loud. Others need to hear. We need to hear ourselves saying it.
As I have argued in my book and other places, if you are going to do a small group initiative, ideally it should be a spiritual multiplication model–set up a model where those groups organically grow and spread. I personally think Discipleship Quads have all the right pieces in place; Evangelical Catholic does great work in this arena, and of course FOCUS and Saint Paul Outreach on college campuses. But even without spiritual multiplication, we need to receive the Lord with intention and share that life in small groups of disciples. This will not just revive the exhausted and weak heart, but stabilize the body and soul for growth and holiness.
Next time: the role of radical hospitality and proclamation in the Eucharistic Revival.