Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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“Where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20)
The central act of group prayer, of course, is the Mass, the Christian community assembled to hear the Word of God in the Scriptures and to receive the Word of God in the Eucharist. The group prayer we are considering here is distinct from the Mass, and from groups in which the content is already determined, as in the Rosary and the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The prayer group we are considering is mostly unplanned and spontaneous. The subject of prayer may be a passage from Scripture, a question of morality, or of the liturgy, or anything that demands communal discernment. There is no standard format. No one is to be embarrassed or pressured to say anything. On the other hand, no one is to monopolize the conversation. All who wish are given an opportunity to share. And all listen in a non-judgmental way.

Group prayer is important because we no longer live in the supporting culture of a believing Christian community. Rugged individualism and privatization are characteristic of our culture. We want to be independent, self-sufficient, and do it all ourselves. This rugged individualism and privatization has crept into religion. Salvation is often thought of as a completely individual affair. Such a culture which is diametrically opposed to our religion puts a heavy strain on our perseverance. In group prayer Christians support one another by making their faith visibly and effectively present. It is a genuine remedy for the loneliness of a believer in an unbelieving world.

But group prayer has a value of its own. It provides the experience of relationships within the experience of prayer. Ordinary group experience is illuminated by prayer and also leads to prayer. What we say and do mediates God’s grace to one another in a truly sacramental way. Only when we find warmth and love in a community do we begin to take off our masks and come down from our pedestals. Then we reveal our true selves and admit that we are wounded and need help and forgiveness. There is a great sense of liberation to be able to come together with others for the express purpose of acknowledging the beautiful mystery of our being, and seeking a deeper communion with the divine source of all growth, healing and love.

And the paradox of paradoxes is that community is not based on the things we prize most about ourselves, our talents, virtues, strengths and accomplishments. These promote competition, pride and division. Community is based on our weakness, our finitude and our falls from grace. Our strengths divide us, our weaknesses unite us. As St. Paul says, “When we are weak then we are strong.” We are all wounded and we can all become wounded healers. This is the principle and foundation, and the secret of the success of the 12 step programs.

By sharing the experience of the work of the Spirit in us and listening to the experience of the work of the Spirit in others we are able to discern how God is actually working in our lives. It will also help to deepen our sense of awe and gratitude to God, our respect and trust of others, and the awareness of our unity in our obvious diversity. We will learn that prayer unites and that it is theology that divides. It will open us up to a more honest admission and acceptance of our weakness and personal sin so that we may forgive and accept forgiveness, love and accept being loved.

Group prayer will also teach us the art of dialogue and the virtue of tolerance. It will enrich our point of view and introduce us to a healthy pluralism. It will deepen our faith by challenging us to conceptualize it and articulate it. It will help us to become the unique person God created us to be and to give God the praise, service and love that only we can give.


© 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J. all rights reserved