Practical Facilitating for Small Groups

The above program is being organized by the Archdiocesan Biblical Apostolate (ABA), and while it is primarily focused on bible group sharing it is open to all members of parish ministries in the Archdiocese who are involved in or wish to get involved in facilitating small group sharing.

When: Saturday 13th June and Saturday 20th June 2020 from 9 am to 12.30 pm. (2 sessions)

Where: On-line via ZOOM- details of log-in will be emailed to registered participants.

Register via this link:

https://bit.ly/2XvcrJ0

Questions may be directed to ABA at aba_secretariat@catholic.org.sg  attention Miguel Manuzon .

Cost: nil

Good facilitators are critical to the functioning of small groups and the building of community. This session provides practical tips and examples on how to and how not to go about the facilitation of small groups. (Suitable for those who have never facilitated a group sharing before or those who just want to refresh their skills.)

Presenter Jane Lau – Jane Lau is a founding member of the Harvesters, a Bible-based faith-sharing adult community. She has conducted many workshops on small-group facilitation, including a presentation on faith-sharing communities to the Asian Bishops at the Bishops’ Institute for Lay Apostolate on Youth. She is the former Executive Director of the Office for New Evangelisation (ONE) and former Associate Director of the Office for Catechesis (OFC). Trained in Law and Television, she has over two decades of experience as a Broadcast Journalist, Presenter and TV Producer, during which time she has facilitated panel discussions for TV and ‘live’ events.

Pentecost NOT the Birthday of the Church-an article by Fr. Ferdinand Purnomo, OCD.

Pentecost is considered birthday of the Church by:

“Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the Christian church, and the start of the church’s mission to the world.”

“because Pentecost is when the apostles went out among the people and began spreading Jesus’ message, thus establishing the beginning of the Church”

“According to the account in Acts, about 3,000 people were baptised following Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:1441). For this reason, Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church – Peter, the first Pope, preaches for the first time and converts thousands of new believers.”

“the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 is the only biblical event that meets the criteria as the time when the first people ever were “baptized in holy spirit””

“The resurrected Jesus himself orders the apostles to stay in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  It is then that they will receive the “power” that they need to carry out their mission (Acts 1:8).  It is an empowerment of a group, not of isolated followers. […] Paul calls the “church” “the body of Christ” and each one “individually members of it” (1Cor 12:27-28).  This body of Christ is the group that was born at Pentecost where the gift of the Spirit was first received.”

“On Pentecost, the Church was born with an unprecedented degree of freedom. As God had once given the law to Moses, so now he gave his own Spirit to the Church.”

(Ernest T. Bass made the only comment on this blog: “With all due respect, being a pre-Vatican II cradle Catholic, I remember being taught specifically that the Church was born on Calvary when the side of Christ was pierced with a lance, and Blood and Water flowed forth: signifying the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Pope Pius XII was very clear about this, as were many early Church fathers, especially St. Augustine. I never heard anything about Pentecost being the birth of the Church until after Vatican II.”)

According to Fr. Stephen Freeman, a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pentecost is NOT considered birthday of the Church. However, his reason is not that the birthday is some other moment in the Bible, but that the Church is eternal like the Holy Trinity. (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/05/28/pentecost-is-not-the-churchs-birthday/)

The ‘birth’ of the Church from Jesus’ dead body on the cross

CCC 766

The Church is born primarily of Christ’s total self-giving for our salvation, anticipated in the institution of the Eucharist and fulfilled on the cross. “The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus.” “For it was from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death upon the cross that there came forth the ‘wondrous sacrament of the whole Church.’” As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross. [St. Ambrose, In Luc. 2, 85-89; PL 15,1666-1668]

Pius XII, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, 28: “That He completed His work on the gibbet of the Cross is the unanimous teaching of the holy Fathers who assert that the Church was born from the side of our Savior on the Cross like a new Eve, mother of all the living.”

How can we understand the parallel between Adam and Eve, and Christ and the Church?

RSV John 19:32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him;  33 but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.  34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side [Greek: pleura = rib (cf. Genesis 2:21 when God made Eve out of Adam)] with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water [cf. Mishnah, Pesahim 5:5-7 on blood and water that poured out from the Temple when the Passover lamb is sacrificed].

Are there issues with treating Pentecost as the birthday?

The issues would be similar to celebrating the birthday of a person on the day he/she started talking instead of the day when the child came out of the mother’s womb. By celebrating the birthday of the Church on Pentecost:

  • The identity of the Church as the “Body of Christ” (1Cor 12:27; Eph 4:11; 5:23; Col 1:18,24) would not make much sense, since if the Church were born of the Holy Spirit, why would she be called the Body of Christ? Whereas if the Church was in fact born from the actual body of Christ hanging on the cross, then it would make more sense to call the Church the “Body of Christ”.
  • We ignore the fact that the Church already existed before Pentecost, even when the apostles and disciples were afraid and were hiding; and when they prayed persistently together in the upper room together with Mary the mother of Jesus for the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:13-14).

If Church was born from the dead body of Jesus on the cross, and Holy Spirit only came on Pentecost 50 days later, then there was this period of time when the Church did not have the Holy Spirit?

Correct. There is a moment when the Church was born (Good Friday) and there is another moment when the Church started her public ministry (Pentecost). This parallels the life of Jesus himself. He was born in Bethlehem and lived a hidden life for about 30 years. When the time came for him to start his public ministry, Jesus was baptised and the Holy Spirit descended upon him. Now, the Church as the Body of Christ was born from the crucified Christ on the cross on Good Friday and lived a hidden life for 50 days. And when the time came for the Church to begin her public ministry, the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles.

The twoperiods of time in the life of the Church and of Jesus (hidden life and public ministry) also correspond to the two dimensions of discipleship. Mark 3:14 ESV: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” Notice the two intentions of Jesus in forming the Twelve:

1. To be with him;

2. To be sent out to preach.

From Good Friday to Pentecost, the Church was in stage 1, being with Jesus in prayer. It was the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost who launched the Church into stage 2 by empowering her and sending her out on her mission.

Now that we accept that the Church was born on Good Friday, what is the meaning of Pentecost?

CCC 767: Pentecost was the public manifestation of the Church to the nations

“When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church.” Then “the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun.” As the “convocation” of all men for salvation, the Church in her very nature is missionary, sent by Christ to all the nations to make disciples of them.

Why the fuss of getting it right about the birthday of the Church?

  • Christian doctrines are supposed to be coherent. One doctrine is not supposed to contradict another doctrine. But if we were to say that Pentecost were the birthday of the Church, i.e. the Church was born from the Holy Spirit, then the biblical expression of the Church as the “Body of Christ” would not make sense anymore.
  • The Catholic understanding of the Church is that the Church is not simply a group of disciples of Jesus who preach the Word of God to the nations (if this were so, then Pentecost would naturally be accepted as the birthday of the Church). However, the Church is also the mystical Body of Christ; the Church as a whole is a Sacrament, i.e. a visible reality pointing to the invisible reality of Christ. And this can be discerned only if we recognise that the Church was born from the body of Christ hanging on the cross as the Lamb of God, the New Passover sacrifice. So the Church is not only functional (to preach), but also mystical in the sense that she is the Body of Christ.

What about the 9-day novena in preparation for Pentecost?

It is not simply a pious practice invented by the Church, but is attested explicitly in the Bible.

Acts 1:14 ESV: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”

Examples of 9-day novena prayer in preparation for Pentecost:

How to make sense of COVID-19 Pandemic? An Updated Biblical Reflection on the COVID -19 Virus- by Fr. Ferdinand Purnomo OCD, Spiritual Director of the Archdiocesan Biblical Apostolate.

Wake-up call to repentance and intercession

I personally believe that the COVID-19 global pandemic is a wake-up call for all the peoples of the world to recognise their (and our) sins, to have “contrite heart and humbled spirit” before God, to “put our whole heart into following [God], into fearing [God] and seeking [God’s] face once more” (cf. Daniel 3:25,34-43, the first reading of today’s Mass: Lent Week 3 Tuesday).

God does not cause people to sin, but God can do many things that people consider evil/bad: disease, plague, calamities. Just look at the book of Exodus, for example. In the book of Job, Satan could send calamities to Job only because God gave Job into Satan’s hands in order to test him. Throughout the book, Job would attribute his predicament to God, never to Satan.

Have you read a small little book called Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence? It explains that God is in control of everything; there is no other god besides him who could do anything against his will. We have to surrender to God’s will because it is always for a good purpose and directed towards the ultimate good. Here are some biblical quotations cited in the book:

  1. Isaiah 45:6-7 RSV: “6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.  7 I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.
  2. Deuteronomy 32:39 RSV: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
  3. 1Samuel 2:6-7 RSV: “6 The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.  7 The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.”
  4. Amos 3:6 RSV: “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?”
  5. Sirach 11:14 RSV: “Good things and bad, life and death, poverty and wealth, come from the Lord.”

While I do not deny the idea of divine chastisement/punishment, I find that kind of terminology unhelpful with most people because it makes people focus on God’s wrath rather than on the response expected from human beings. Cardinal Reinhard Marx said that seeing coronavirus as God’s punishment leads to a “very difficult and negative image of God”[1]. He must have forgotten Hebrews 12:5-6 (see the text in the New Testament section below).

When people focus on divine punishment, they tend to think that God is being unreasonable or unmerciful; they think that human beings do not deserve such pandemic because we are innocent. They forgot that human beings are sinners, that grave sins have been committed and continue to be committed, that human beings are destroying the world and many other good things that God has been creating, including life itself (e.g. in Jan 2019 New York celebrated the promulgation of state law permitting abortion up to birth; years of clerical child abuse in Catholic Church and complicit bishops; idol worship during Amazon Synod and in many other forms throughout the world).

When people blame the devil for the global pandemic (because they think how can God send such evil thing), they unwittingly make God to be a passive and distant observer of the world who is summoned by the prayers of the people to help medical workers and scientists do the ‘firefighting’.

Instead, we should learn the correct response to any calamity from what the Bible reveals to us about how the prophets and other men and women of God responded to biblical calamities. Here are some examples from the Bible:

  1. David repented after conducting census of his people (cf. 2Samuel 24:1-25; a subset is read in Ordinary Time Year 2 Week 4 Wednesday)
  2. The prayer of Azariah in the furnace (cf. Daniel 3, Catholic Edition only; Lent Week 3 Tuesday)
  3. The prayer of Daniel (cf. Daniel 9:1-27; a subset is read in Lent Week 2 Monday)
  4. Public confession of the people of Israel, led by Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 9; never used in Mass)
  5. The martyrdom of the seven brothers (cf. 2Maccabees 7, especially v. 18, omitted from Ordinary Time Year 1 Week 33 Wednesday)
  6. The prayer of Esther (cf. Esther 4:17, Catholic Edition only; Lent Week 1 Thursday)

In the above examples:

  1. None of them believed that they or their people were innocent
  2. None of them blamed the devil for the calamities
  3. All of them recognised God as the ultimate source of the calamities.

Even in the case of exile, even though it was the Babylonians who invaded and destroyed Judah and Jerusalem, the elders of the Jews recognised that God was the ultimate cause: “But because our fathers had angered the God of heaven, he gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this house and carried away the people to Babylonia” (Ezra 5:12 RSV).

However, recognising God as the ultimate cause of calamities does not mean blaming God. Instead, all of the above responses consist of turning to God in repentance, acknowledging human sins, begging God’s mercy and committing to be faithful to God again in the context of covenant relationship. This is the correct response to any calamity.

Turning to the New Testament, we find the following examples:

  1. Luke 13:4-5 RSV: “Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? 
    5 I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
  2. John 5:14 RSV: “Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.’”
  3. John 9:3 RSV: “Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him […]’.”
  4. Hebrews 12:5-11 RSV: “[…] ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ [Prov 3:11-12] […] 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

From these examples, we can learn that disaster or suffering can be a call to repentance. It can also be an occasion for the works of God to be manifest or an opportunity for other people to exercise charity towards the afflicted persons. Finally, it can be the means by which the Lord disciplines us because He treats us as His children.

Positive effects

2Chronicles 36:20-21 and Leviticus 26:33-35 link the exile with Israel’s failure to keep the Sabbath.

  1. 2Chronicles 36:20-21 RSV: “He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword […] to fulfil the word of the LORD […] until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. […]”
  2. Leviticus 26:33-35 RSV: “I will scatter you among the nations […] Then the land shall enjoy its sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest which it had not in your sabbaths when you dwelt upon it.”

When we have a narrow perspective on global events and focus only on the effects such an event has on human health, freedom and financial position, then something like COVID-19 would be considered entirely evil. But if we consider also the environmental impact of COVID-19, it is actually very good: the whole world has cleaner air and water; birds and sea creatures can breathe more easily; even humans who were usually suffering from the effects of air and water pollution are having the benefits of cleaner environment. An article in Forbes on 11 Mar 2020 by a senior contributor Jeff McMahon says that coronavirus lockdown may save more lives by preventing pollution than by preventing infection[2].

Suspending public Masses and closing churches

Bishop Athanasius Schneider: “As long as supermarkets are open and accessible, and as long as people have access to public transportation, one cannot see a plausible reason for banning people from assisting at Holy Mass in a church. One can guarantee in churches the same and even better hygienic protective measures”[3]. However, we must also take heed of what Fr Mike Schmitz said in a video “How Should Catholics Respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic?”[4]:

  1. It’s a luxury to criticise other people’s decision when we don’t have the responsibility to make the decision.
  2. Our sphere of interest is always bigger than our sphere of influence. We need to do what we can do given the current circumstances.
  3. We should not lament the suspension of Masses. Instead, we can pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the official prayer of the Church.

Why is there suffering at all?

See Fr. Antonio Ducay, “A God Who Lets Things Happen? The Mystery of Evil and Suffering”, https://opusdei.org/en/document/a-god-who-lets-things-happen-mystery-of-evil-and-s/, 31 Mar 2020.

Summary:

Evil stems from created freedom

In bringing us into existence God “puts us to the test,” entrusting us with the task of doing all the good we can. But often enough we don’t do so, or even do the opposite: we freely choose to do what is wrong. Humanity has done so right from the beginning, ever since that decision of our first parents [called original sin], which became the fountain head for all other evils. Everything evil in the world stems from a misguided use of freedom. Sin is the true evil we must fear. All the other evils in the world, in one way or another, stem from there.

Suffering as a trial or purification

But evil is not always the direct result of human guilt. When the good that should be present is lacking, evil appears. We suffer when we experience any absence of the good. In Sacred Scripture, the Book of Job shows us that the just and innocent suffer too. Job’s suffering represents a trial to test his faith, from which he emerges greatly strengthened. Sometimes God tests us, but He always gives us his grace to win out and find a way to grow in love, which is the ultimate meaning of good.

In Moses’ time, when the people were fickle and capricious. God purified them through a 40-year desert journey, guiding and teaching them until they were ready to enter the Promised Land. In our life, too, suffering can often lead to a change, a conversion, accompanied by an opening to others’ needs. Then suffering also becomes part of God’s ‘pedagogy’. He doesn’t want us to get lost on the way, wasting our time pursuing transient delights and worldly aims. God can turn this evil (suffering) into a means to attain our true good.

Suffering inscribed in nature

The fleeting nature of all creatures, who age and die; the lack of harmony in nature, seen in earthquakes and tsunamis that tear apart the very order of creation. These are sufferings that we cannot avoid or control; they are, as it were, inscribed in nature. Why does God permit disasters? One possible explanation is that, in God’s creative plan, the destruction involved in natural evils and disasters bears some relationship to our free will and our capacity to reject God, if only as an image of the harm that results when we separate ourselves from Him. With mankind, “the whole creation has been groaning in travail” (Rom 8:22), because creation too shares in God’s creative and redemptive plan. Creation too “cherishes the hope of being freed from corruption and enabled to participate in the glorious freedom of the children of God”(Rom 8:21).

Redemptive suffering

The meaning of evil is fully illumined only by the Cross of Christ. And together with the Cross, the Resurrection. Christ’s Cross shows us that suffering can be the sign and proof of love. Moreover, it can be the path to destroy sin. For it was on Jesus’ Cross that God’s love washed away the sins of the world. Sin has no resistance against the love that lowers itself and humiliates itself for the good of the sinner. On the Cross, Jesus’ suffering is redemptive because his love for the Father and mankind does not recoil before human rejection and injustice. With his complete self-giving, He gave his life for sinners. Thus his Cross became the source of life for them. Our sufferings too can be redemptive, when they stem from love and are transformed by love. It is not suffering in itself that redeems, but the love that imbues it.

The trump card

Although evil is an evident reality in our life here on earth, God holds the “trump card;” his is the final move in all that refers to each person’s life. It is his all-powerful Love that is the world’s true hope—a Love made manifest also in Christ’s Resurrection. No matter how great and incomprehensible life’s tragedies may be, the creative and re-creative power of God is much greater. Life is a time of testing; when it is over, what is definitive begins.

How can we help those who are suffering?

Oftentimes we feel powerless when faced with the suffering of others and can only try to do what the good Samaritan did (cf. Lk 10:25-37). We can offer our affection, listen sympathetically, accompany; that is, we can refuse to “pass by on the other side” without showing any concern. But sometimes we too need to be healed because something has wounded us. Many people have felt God’s caress precisely in their most difficult moments. These are opportunities for love to expand forcefully if God’s grace is embraced, which restores dignity to even the most extreme situations.


[1] https://novenanews.com/bishops-insist-coronavirus-not-gods-punishment/ [3 Apr 2020]
His full reply in German can be found here: https://www.merkur.de/lokales/muenchen/stadt-muenchen/reinhard-marx-per40473/kardinal-reinhard-marx-corona-keine-strafe-gottes-13608760.html [21 Mar 2020]
A lecture response by Fr Dominic Legge OP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqzZ55OV1ys  [8 Apr 2020]

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2020/03/11/coronavirus-lockdown-may-save-more-lives-from-pollution-and-climate-than-from-virus [11 Mar 2020]

[3] https://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/4826-exclusive-interview-bishop-athanasius-schneider-on-church-s-handling-of-coronavirus [27 Mar 2020]

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTP5P9PtYwA [18 Mar 2020]