Preview - The Evangelical Catholic

Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Session 1: Friendship with Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Session 2: Prayer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Session 3: Sacred Scripture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26
Session 4: The Eucharist: Intimate Friendship with Christ . . . . . . . . . . 34
Session 5: Christian Community . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
Session 6: Initial and Ongoing Conversion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61
Small Group Discussion Guidelines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Your Role as a Facilitator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67
Materials to Have at Your Small Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
“Come, follow me.” Matthew 4:19
Jesus spoke these simple words to his disciples long ago. Jesus speaks the
same words to us today. We can hear it in the restlessness of our hearts
amidst the frantic pace of modern life. We can sense it in our most
honest yearnings for purpose in a world inundated with distraction.
This introductory small group guide is designed to beckon wih this
same call, “Come, follow me.” All of us are called to pursue “the way,
the truth, and the life”(Jn 14:6) that is not a something, but a someone:
the Word made flesh, God incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ.
In his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), our Holy
Father Benedict XVI reminds us: “Being Christian is not the result of
an ethical choice, or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person.” This person is of
course Jesus Christ, the
“Christ is the foundation
cornerstone of our faith
and center of history;
and the reason for our
He is its meaning and
hope. Pope John Paul
ultimate goal.”
II proclaimed Christ
as “the foundation and
Pope John Paul II
Novo Millennio Ineuente, 5
center of history, its
meaning and ultimate
goal” (Novo Millennio
Ineunte, 5). This person — Jesus Christ, the center and ultimate goal
of human history — is the foundation and focal point for all studies in
the CONNECTIONS series.
Our purpose here is to stimulate an actual encounter with the living
God, with Jesus Christ risen from the dead. In communion with the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we hope that the following reflections will help people “consciously grow in the life of Christ through
experience, reflection, prayer and study” (USCCB, Our Hearts Were
“So that all parishes
may be truly
communities of
Christians, local
ecclesial authorities
ought to foster...
small, basic or
so-called ‘living’
communities, where
the faithful can
communicate the
word of God and
express it in service
and love to one
another; these
communities are
true expressions
of ecclesial
and centers of
evangelization, in
communion with
their pastors”
Pope John Paul II,
The Lay Members of
Christ’s Faithful People
Burning Within Us). In addition to a
presentation of truths regarding Our
Lord and his Church, Connection to
Christ seeks to facilitate a deeply personal, yet at the same time communal
encounter with God.
We all long for deep friendship with
our brothers and sisters in Christ. These
types of friendships form when we can
gather together to express and solidify
that which bonds us for eternity — our
faith and hope in God through Jesus
Christ. Our common baptism binds
the Church together and makes the
way for Christian community. It is
hoped that for each participant, Connection to Christ might become an
avenue for truly intentional Christian
community — one that reflects the
manifold gifts of the body of Christ,
one that nourishes real growth in each
disciple of Jesus, one that responds to
the call of Christ to be a light unto the
world (Mt 5:13).
John Paul II promoted small Christian
communities as a means of evangelization, an instrument for effectively sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in
the world. Being a part of a thriving small group promotes substantial
spiritual growth and even conversion, and this sort of holy vitality quite
naturally spills over into the lives of others. As Pope John Paul II noted,
“Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep
him for themselves, they must proclaim him” (Novo Millennio Ineunte,
Matter of fact, mature disciples who are continually enlivened by their
encounters with Christ are positively brilliant when it comes to sharing
the Gospel. There is perhaps no one who is more excited to share the
beauty of Jesus than one who has just met him. In the same way we are
compelled to impart good news or fortune with those around us, there
is nothing more natural after having received the ultimate “good news”
(or Gospel) of Jesus Christ than to burst forth and share this great gift
with the world. This is the heart of Catholic evangelization.
It is our continually confirmed experience that effective small groups
can facilitate deep, personal encounters with God which will bear
the fruit of evangelization for years to come. Small groups can help
re-awaken the evangelical impulse of our tradition and reposition
evangelization as the “center of the Church’s mission and her deepest
identity” (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14). After a personal and
life-changing encounter with Christ, we cannot help but share with
others the Good News. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Matthew 12:34
Effective small groups
facilitate a deeper
“These communities are a sign
and more penetratof vitality within the Church, an
ing experience of the
instrument of formation and
principle means by
evangelization, and a solid
which we celebrate
starting point for a new society
based on ‘civilization of love.’”
intimate union with
Christ – the liturgy.
Pope John Paul II,
Connection to Christ
Mission of the Redeemer, 51
can and should be understood in light of its
ultimate connection
to the Church’s worship, belief, and activity. By digging into the sacred sources–Scripture
and Tradition–we are better able to unearth the profound mystery of
Emmanuel–“God-with-us.” The engagement in the Christian mystery
through small group prayer, study, and discussion, better enables us
to embrace and appropriate God’s supreme gift to us through the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Sacramentum
Concilium, 47).
In this way, Connection to Christ strengthens the relationship between
worship and belief. The same process of reading and prayer that we use
in each week’s Connection to Christ group can be used in our personal
prayer at home. Time, set aside to focus on God, opens our eyes to realize how amazingly close he is to us in every moment. Christ’s presence
at Mass comes alive to us. As we learn to see him in our daily lives, we
see him better at Mass, especially as we receive him in the Eucharist.
While the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy is the principal place we
encounter God, grow
strong in faith, and are
“Those who have come into
equipped for mission
genuine contact with Christ
in the kingdom of
cannot keep him for themselves,
God, a small Christhey must proclaim him.”
tian community is a
natural complement
Pope John Paul II,
and enhancement of
Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40
these ends. We hope
that this introductory
small group guide will help you further encounter Jesus Christ, the
center and cornerstone of our faith, giving your life “a new horizon and
decisive direction.” We pray that these studies will inspire you to place
Christ at the center of your lives and help you to grow in the likeness
of the One we call both friend and savior.
All in all, our goal through Connection to Christ is none other than
to help you to discover and rediscover that “God is love, and he who
abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16).
We follow the pastoral principle which frames the whole life of the
Church and all her endeavors — “Whether something is proposed for
belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made
accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian
virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at
love” (Roman Catechism, Preface, 10). Our prayer is that your love may
“abound more and more” (Phil 1:9) and your witness to Jesus Christ
might plant the seeds for a “new springtime of evangelization” (JPII) in
the Church and throughout the world. Hear the words of Jesus today,
“Come, follow me,” and experience the truth that will set you free (Jn
“One way of renewing parishes, especially for
parishes in large cities, might be to consider the
parish as a community of communities.
“It seems timely therefore to form ecclesial
communities and groups of a size that allows
for true human relationships. This will make it
possible to live communion more intensely,
ensuring that it is fostered not only ad intra, but
also with the parish communities to which such
groups belong and with the entire diocesan and
universal Church.
“In such a human context it will be easier to
gather to hear the word of God, to reflect on
the range of human problems in the light of
this word and gradually to make responsible
decisions inspired by the all-embracing love of
Pope John Paul II,
The Church in America
Session 1: Friendship with Christ
“I no longer call you servants...
Instead I call you friends.” John 15:15
Opening Prayer
Invite all participants to pray aloud the following prayer by Saint
Anselm of Canterbury (1033 A.D. -1109 A.D).
O Lord, our God, teach our hearts this day where and how
to see you, where and how to find you.
You have made us and remade us, and you have bestowed
on us all the good things we possess, and still we do not
know you.
We have not yet done that for which we were made.
Teach us to seek you, for we cannot seek you unless you
teach us, or find you unless you show yourself to us.
Let us seek you in our desire; let us desire you in our
Let us find you by loving you; let us love you when we find
you. We pray through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Sharing Our Experience
Take a couple minutes to turn to a partner and tell them about your
best friend. Use the following questions as loose guidelines for your
• What is your best friend like?
• What first attracted you to your best friend?
• How do you spend time together?
• Talk about your conversations — why are they so good/interesting?
• What makes your friendship solid?
• What habits do you need in order to cultivate your friendship?
• How have you changed since you met your friend?
• What could endanger your friendship?
Group discussion to summarize together.
• What stood out to you during your conversation?
• What then are the key elements to a good friendship?
• What are some things that get in the way of good friendship?
• Have you ever considered God to be a friend? Why or why not?
• Compare the key elements of a good friendship to your relationship
with God. On a scale of 1-10, how would you assess your “friendship” with God (1 being “don’t even know him” and 10 being “best
friends”)? Explain.
Scripture and Tradition
Please invite a participant to read the following passage aloud.
Reading: No matter where you may be with God, he calls each of us
into deeper communion, a closer relationship, and yes, even an intimate
friendship with him. Yet many of us find it challenging to think about
God as our friend. It somehow feels too familiar, too irreverent or even
childish. We are more comfortable with a loftier God, a more cosmic
Christ, a God marked more by transcendence than familiarity. Reflecting upon the divinity of Christ, St. Paul wrote to the community of
believers in Colossae:
Reading: Colossians 1:15-20
“15He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;
for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible
and invisible, whether thrones or
dominions or principalities or au“Christ is the foundation
thorities — all things were created
and center of history;
through him and for him. 17He is
before all things, and in him all
He is its meaning and
things hold together. 18He is the
ultimate goal.”
head of the body, the church; he is
the beginning, the first-born from
Pope John Paul II,
Novo Millenio Ineunte, 40
the dead, that in everything he
might be pre-eminent.
“19For in him all the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all
things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of
his cross.”
• How do you think about or understand God? Is God more distant
for you or is he close? Familiar or removed? Personable or inaccessible? Explain.
• What are some of the fears we all share in opening ourselves up to
a friendship with Christ?
Please invite a participant to read the following aloud.
Reading: You might find that Paul’s image of Christ in this passage
reflects the way you feel about God. This majestic portrait of Jesus
Christ is wondrous, awe-inspiring, and absolutely true. Yet it would fall
short of revealing the fuller nature of God if it did not also disclose the
thoroughly personal, familiar, and human side of the Lord. While most
of us are very comfortable with God as Creator, many of us don’t know
what to do with God who calls us into intimate friendship with him.
Reading: Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Homily
“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully
into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that
He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid
to give up something
significant, something
“Do not be afraid!
Throw open the doors to Christ!
that makes life so
Pope John Paul II,
beautiful? Do we not
Inaugural Address, 1978
then risk ending up diminished and deprived
of our freedom? “And once again the Pope (John Paul II) said: No! If we let Christ into
our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes
life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors
of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience
beauty and liberation.
“And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis
of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people:
Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you
everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold
in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find
true life. Amen.”
• What spoke to you from this passage?
• What challenged you from this passage?
• What fears might you have or have you had about an intimate
friendship with Christ? Explain.
• What does Pope Benedict XVI say will result if we open ourselves to
the Lord?
Reading: John 15:1-11
“1I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every
branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3You
are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. 4Abide
in me, and I in you. As the branch
cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it
abides in the vine, neither can you,
“I consider everything
unless you abide in me. 5I am the
a loss compared to the
vine, you are the branches. He who
surpassing greatness
abides in me, and I in him, he it
of knowing Christ Jesus
is that bears much fruit, for apart
my Lord. . .
from me you can do nothing. 6If a
man does not abide in me, he is cast
I consider them
forth as a branch and withers; and
rubbish, that I may
the branches are gathered, thrown
gain Christ and be
found in him. . .”
into the fire and burned.
Philippians 3:8
“7If you abide in me, and my words
abide in you, ask whatever you will,
and it shall be done for you. 8By this my Father is glorified, that you
bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. 9As the Father has
loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s
commandments and abide in his love. 11These things I have spoken to
you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
• What is the main message of the passage?
• What are some of the recurring phrases?
• What is the relationship between the vine and the branches? How
does this metaphor help us to understand what Jesus is saying to us
• So, what does it mean to “abide in” or “remain in” Christ? Does the
passage give any practical guidance for ways to remain in Christ?
What from your conversation about your closest friend might also
apply here?
• In Jn 6:56, Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
abides in me, and I in him.” How does Jesus’ teaching in John 6:56
compliment this passage?
• How would you explain pruning from God’s (the vinedresser’s/gardener’s) perspective? How would you explain pruning from your
perspective (a branch)?
• What kind of pruning have you experienced in your spiritual life?
Describe what it was like to go through the pruning. What was the
• Did the pruning and the results of the pruning have an impact on
your friendship with Christ?
• Where do you see yourself in this passage? You may want to
include elements regarding your connection to the vine of Christ,
pruning, and fruitfulness.
Connecting to Christ This Week
St. Augustine understood the human condition as restless until finding eternal peace in God, our Creator. To this restlessness Jesus speaks
today – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will
give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Take some time this week to come to Jesus
with your anxieties, your weariness, and your burdens. Call out to the
One who knows your need and who longs to bring us fulfillment and
eternal joy in him.
Readings for reflection this week
• Psalm 139
• John 14-1-14
• Matthew 11:25-30
• John 8:28-32
• Isaiah 55:1-3; Proverbs 3:5-6
• Philippians 4:4-9
• Prepare for the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy by meditating on the
Scripture readings from Mass.
To find the readings go to
Closing Reflection & Prayer
The following is a reflection by the Missionaries of Charity Fathers written
as God speaking to us. Please invite a participant to read it aloud. Then take
time for any spontaneous prayers of petition, praise, and thanksgiving.
I Thirst for You
It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night.
Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it
could be me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of
your response, even the least whispered invitation that will
allow Me to enter. And I want you to know that whenever
you do invite me, I do come – always and without fail.
Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love,
and bringing the many gifts of My Spirit. I come with My
mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a
love for you beyond your comprehension – a love every bit
as great as the love I have received from the Father. I come,
longing to console you and give you my strength, to lift
you up and bind all your wounds…Come to Me with your
troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved…
Open to me, for I thirst for you.