By Fr. Tomislav Pervan, OFM Former Pastor of Medjugorje (1982-1988), former Provincial of the Franciscans (OFM) in Hercegovina (1994-2001). For the past twenty-five years, Medjugorje has been an actuality on the world scene. Today, it has its zealous advocates;...
“Renew prayer in your families and form prayer groups. In this way, you will experience joy in prayer and togetherness. All those who pray and are members of prayer groups are open to God’s will in their hearts and joyfully witness God’s love.” (09/25/2000)
“Prayer groups are powerful; and through them I can see, little children, that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world.” (06/25/2004)
“Without doubt, the fact is clear that many prayer groups that have started in the world have been founded by Medjugorje pilgrims. This has happened and is happening at the explicit desire of Our Lady to establish groups. It is difficult to find out the exact number, but there are already thousands of prayer groups.” (Fr. Rene Laurentin, the famed Mariologist.)
A prayer group is a fellowship of the faithful who meet once a month in order to pray. It is a group of friends, who pray the rosary together, read Holy Scripture, celebrate Mass, visit each other and share prayer experiences. It has always been counselled that it is better for them to be guided by a priest, but if that is not possible, to hold the prayer meetings in simplicity.
The meetings consist of singing, praying the rosary, reading Holy Scripture and the messages, simple prayer and sharing of experiences, teachings, and testimonies. Once in a while the spiritual director comes and spiritually directs the group.
The biblical-theological foundation of the prayer groups is found, in addition to other sources, in the word of Christ: “Amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:19-20).
The first Medjugorje prayer group was founded on July 4, 1982, one year after the beginning of Our Lady’s apparitions. That group is still alive today. It is still something special in itself. The visionary Ivan testified that Our Lady requested those who desired it, to come together and pray, and that she would be with them in a special way, and that she wanted prayer groups to be founded in all parish communities to help her with their prayers to accomplish the plans that the Lord entrusted to her.
These meetings, accordingly, have their significance for the programmes that the Lord has entrusted to Mary, his humble servant, but also for the personal edification of each individual member.
When asked the question, “What does participation in the prayer group mean to you?” Ivan answered, “Participation in the prayer group at this time is very important to me. I learn to pray in the group and I cannot imagine my spiritual growth without the prayer group.”
In the beginning, Jelena Vasilj, the locutionist, brought the following message. “Our Lady says, ‘I want a prayer group here. I will lead the group and will give the group rules of consecration. Everyone else in the world can consecrate themselves according to these rules: First of all, let them renounce everything and place themselves completely into God’s hands. Let each one of them renounce any fear because, if you surrender yourself to God, there is no place for any fear whatsoever. All difficulties that they will meet will be for their spiritual growth and for the glory of God. I invite the young and single people, because those who are married have their obligations. But anyone who wishes to participate in this programme can follow it at least partially. I will lead the group.'”
The visionaries always emphasized that the first and most important prayer group is actually the family, and that it is only then that one can speak about a proper prayer education which is continued in the prayer group. It is requested of every member to be active in the group and to make the contribution of one’s prayer and experience. Only that way can a group live and grow.
Certainly there also exists a sociological reason for prayer groups, particularly at the present time. Every individual should take care of one’s own spiritual growth, but in that growth, due to the psychophysical structure of the human person, fellowship is irreplaceable. It is particularly important today because the individual can easily get lost in the rhythm of these modern times. The group obliges and, therefore, it is easier to remain faithful to the rhythm of prayer. A group assists in the spiritual growth, but it also corrects and inspires it. The experience of one person enriches and illuminates the experience of another. The one who stays by himself is in danger of developing without any control. It is easier to overcome every difficulty in the group and they are transformed into rich spiritual experiences. The group aids in fostering and directing charisms.
If we briefly recount the activities that we know Our Lady requested from the prayer groups in Medjugorje, then one can say that, first of all, it is a fundamental decision for daily prayer and participation in Holy Mass, monthly Confession, to become a witness, and to be active in the parish.
The relationship of Marian prayer groups toward parish communities can easily be defined. It is clear that the prayer group is not the liturgical-pastoral supervisor of the pastor’s activities. And this is a great temptation for groups that enter a difficult terrain with the parish pastoral personnel, a case that is not uncommon. Namely, there is a certain resistance from many priests who do not accept prayer groups in general, and then, in particular, those started through Medjugorje. If one does not take good care, a negative, criticizing spirit develops in the groups toward everything undertaken by the parish priest, and they alienate themselves and go to extreme limits where they are exposed to the direct danger of even excluding themselves from the parish community.
I do not want to go into the problematic of the relationship between the parish community and prayer groups, but I certainly want to emphasize that a prayer group of Marian spirituality must never allow itself to be provoked and driven to extreme limits, from where it is easy to go left or right, or into a sectarianism that, in the end, is harmful both to the parish community and to the prayer group.
Certainly, another danger, which easily occurs with Marian prayer groups, is an apocalyptic, catastrophic atmosphere. It happens that such prayer groups think they know everything about future events, catastrophes, and cataclysms and they spread the spirit of fear and anxiety. They nourish their supposed knowledge by continuously chasing after persons who bring such messages. It easily happens that these groups feel they know much more than Jesus himself knew in the Gospel about future events. The fact of the existence of secrets contributes to such an apocalyptic, catastrophic spirit which imagination, often unhealthy, then transforms into definite news about the future.
If the group succumbs to either one of these two dangers, it does not correspond to the Marian spirit. Mary is a mother, and a mother never spreads fear and anxiety among her children, but she educates them for peace and trust.
A prayer group must be in communication not only with the parish priest and pastoral personnel, but it should be the heart and soul of every parish community. Marian groups in themselves are the “the maternal cells” of each parish community, which, by living a life of prayer, develop maternal activity in the parish. From these “maternal cells” new believers with conviction are born, families are renewed and preserved, the youth are educated, religious vocations are fostered, activities develop in all spheres, in the liturgical-pastoral, just as in charitable deeds of caring for the elderly, the infirm, the forsaken, and imprisoned.
All this can be expressed in the words of Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life, which we should “respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life!” (Cf. no 5). Marian groups, as maternal cells in the parish, function according to those criteria that Jesus expressed and recorded in Mt 25:31-46, where one thing is completely clear, that all prayers, fasts, Masses and Confessions must serve the development of love toward each person and the courage to serve everyone. A maternal spirit and heart recognize the needs of her children and react tirelessly and invincibly to those needs, apart from all laws and regulations. Today such groups in the modern Church will certainly bring in a true renewal of Christian life and will show the true face of the Church, which is danger of being distorted.
[Adapted from medjugorje.hr]