Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into close connection with you.
~ St. Augustine of Hippo
Jesus’ ministry modeled the importance of a closely-knit, relatively small group of ordinary people (early disciples) who could later branch out and form similar communities where God’s Grace was clearly present. I myself have benefitted immensely from the support and spiritual sustenance that small groups offer. Small groups that I have participated in include: my family, the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society Board, the Social Justice Commission, rosary groups that meet daily or weekly (like Build the Faith), the Faith Formation Teachers Group, and “Small Groups,” which are faith sharing groups that meet weekly during the fall and during the season of Lent, to reflect on Scripture and the connected experiences of group participants.
These small faith sharing groups, known as “Small Groups,” have been particularly impactful in my life. In my experience, Small Groups facilitators – though they are not trained theologians – are generous and open to learning about the best ways to welcome others into their homes and facilitate insightful group discussions. Through Small Groups, relationships are formed and prayerful connections sustained. These groups, even as COVID restricted in-person gatherings, helped connect us to each other and grow our faith.
The Small Group formula is relatively straightforward. Readings are used (often from the lectionary for the following Sunday) and a focusing question is asked related generally to a theme in the readings. There is no expectation that anyone (especially the facilitator) provide theological insights. In fact, facilitators are trained to resist the temptation to answer questions directly. Instead the group is asked to reflect, and as they get more comfortable, pray extemporaneously.
As Christians, we are called to build meaningful communities where we can encounter Jesus in our worship, our outreach to others and our relationships with each other. For St. Paul, the ability to be truly free to love and serve others joyfully is possible because Christ showed us the way. Recognizing God’s presence in these small communities is one of the best ways we grow in virtue and faith ourselves. The love and appreciation St. Paul voiced for these communities as he began each of his epistles is obvious. True friendships are often the result of small group sharing.
Like St. Paul, I enjoy the comradery of being with others who share my faith. Meeting Small Groups members after Church on the weekends is exciting because they are so keen to be connected to others in the Body of Christ. As a result of Small Groups, the annual parish retreat is so much more meaningful and participation in parish drives, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and many other parish initiatives are more successful.
In Small Groups the Word is discovered; new meanings and connections are made. The invitation to closeness with Jesus is made available to everyone. Small Groups participants understand that sharing the Word is also sharing in the lives of others…. a sacred trust and a joy.
Colm Is a Deacon in the Archdiocese of Boston and a prison Chaplain. He and his wife Julie have 4 adult children and 2 grandchildren. His Catholic faith has always been a central part of his family and work life and is a source of endless joy.