This weekend we held the first prayer meeting of a new type. It is a spirit-filled group and is the beginning of what I am writing a little pamphlet on. We call it the Ezekiel 37 group for we seek to put the flesh of faith back on the bones of daily life.
The hallmark of the group is simplicity and a sense of “Go forth.” We want everyone who comes to be with hope and to then, go forth and spread that hope through living the ordinary. We do it different because we believe that it is important to fortify each other in a spirit-filled meeting, but also feel that much of the charismatic movement has succumbed to spiritual infections that sometimes rob people of hope, create a sort of contest over who can appear most holy, and act as arbiters of grace, as Pope Francis recently warned them against. So we agree with the principle of calling the Holy Spirit forth, as charismatics are wont to do, but want to avoid the barnacles of vanity that have attached themselves to the movement.
Later this week I hope to put up a video of a brief presentation from the meeting, which centered around Family Life as a Participation in Trinitarian Life. Over the next few months. we will work on refining the meetings. and I will keep you advised. Following are the basic principles we started with:
Ezekiel 37 Group
Ezekiel 37 is a spirit-filled prayer group. We seek to build each other up, not to tear each other down or show each other up. Enflamed with the joy and love that is in Christ, we seek to share that with others that they may fall in love with Our Lord and Our Lady anew, then go forth and and do the same for those they meet, living the evangelism of the ordinary with extraordinary joy.
Several of our practices are different than other spirit-filled prayer groups you may have encountered. Here are some highlights of how we live our faith in public prayer.
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” – Jesus to the Apostle, Thomas, John 20:29
God sends mystical experiences for a variety of reasons. It can be to foster a mystical union with Him, to give direction, to give consolation, or even to give hope to a sincere soul who is too spiritually immature to believe without it.
In some groups, mystical experiences are treated as a sure sign of God’s favor. An unhealthy competition arises to see who can claim and describe the most such experiences in their lives. The vanity of such a competition leads some away from God and crushes hope in others who do not get such experiences.
There are saints whose whole lives were marked by mystical experiences, but there are others who are almost bereft of them. St. Therese of Lisieux had next to none; Blessed Mother Teresa had next to none; St. Thomas Aquinas had none until near the end of his life – and it ended his capacity for useful public work.
God defines His saints not only by what He gives them, but by what He withholds from them. What He withholds often causes them to reach out all the more strongly. God has an intimate call for each of us. Union with Him is defined not by the details of how He manifests that call, but how well we live His call to us.
There are times when describing a mystical experience can be a sign of hope to those around us. We encourage offering signs of hope. But to avoid vain competitions that quench the spirit of hope, we encourage people to treat public display of the intimacy of mystical experiences with the same refinement and discretion with which they treat intimacies with their spouse – as Pope Benedict XVI recommended in his book, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
“For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” – Mark 10:45
God always heals those who ask Him with sincerity. But His healing is always for eternity, for the health of our immortal souls. Sometimes our souls are healed through the instrument of a physical infirmity.
In order to prepare ourselves to receive God’s healing, we must first have faith. Like the man with the withered hand, we must “stretch out our hand to Christ.” Then we must trust that whatever God allows after we have submitted ourselves to Him in faith for healing is for our good or the good of other souls. Finally, we must abandon ourselves to Him and whatever He sends us, becoming willing partners with Him in the spreading of His grace. If we can do that we become a walking miracle.
The centurion at the foot of the cross may not have known how Jesus lived. If he did, it did not convince him of the Lord’s divinity. It was watching how He died that led the centurion to proclaim, “Surely, this was the Son of God!” We should never seek suffering and always seek physical healing. But if we must suffer for a time, how blest we are if we live it in a way that draws more people to Christ and opens channels of grace for others!
Some say that the Lord never is involved in physical ailments or infirmities. Who, then, put the scales on the eyes of St. Paul? Surely the same God who removed them when they had accomplished what was needful. How blest the infirmity that helped give us the Apostle to the Gentiles!
We seek testimonies of how God has moved in peoples’ lives, particularly in motivating them to help others. If a physical healing is involved in that, thanks be to God, but we will not let that eclipse the more terrible – but often more fruitful – grace that is entwined with temporal suffering. Pray for healing, never waste suffering, and give God thanks for whatever He sends when you abandon yourself to Him. Follow that and conversions and hope will fall around you like ripe fruit.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” – John 13:34
There is such a rich wealth of formal community prayer available to us. We focus on Eucharistic and Marian prayers at our meetings, but encourage all forms of pious Christian prayer and devotion.
We recognize that ours is an evangelical faith and don’t limit the definition of prayer to formal prayer. The Lord commands us to go forth and love one another, going so far as to say that the world will recognize His disciples by our love for one another.
Living your daily work with extraordinary joy and love is a particularly refined form of prayer that engages the mind, soul and body. The mother who spends her day washing and folding clothes, changing diapers, taking the kids to the park is living prayer fully. The father who does his work well, who takes time to play games with his children is living prayer faithfully. The neighbor who helps a shut-in do the shopping or make small repairs or just visits and shares a few laughs and a few stories is living prayer well. Do all before God and do not impoverish yourself by limiting your prayer only to formal prayer. To do so is to make the sanctuary a sort of ghetto. Christ calls us to go forth and carry His word through how we love one another.
We cherish all forms of prayer, but have a special devotion to spreading the prayer that is so neglected, the apostolate of the ordinary.
Speaking in Tongues
“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the Church” – I Corinthians 14:4
Publicly speaking in tongues has become common in many assemblies of Protestant Fundamentalists and Catholic Charismatics. St Paul encouraged the gift of tongues in private prayer and did not forbid it in public, but he set specific rules for its use in public assemblies, rules that are routinely disobeyed by almost all Christians who engage in the practice. His rules are simple and direct.
First, let only two or – at most – three speak in tongues at any public gathering. Even then it is only allowed if there is a reliable interpreter. If no one is there to interpret, no one is to publicly speak in tongues at an assembly. Paul writes that this is a command of the Lord and any who do not recognize it are not recognized themselves as followers of the Lord. (For detailed information of Paul’s instructions on tongues and public assemblies, read I Corinthians, Chapters 13 and 14.
We follow St. Paul’s instructions. During moments of private group prayer that are not addressed to the whole assembly, Paul does not forbid the private use of tongues – and neither do we.
The use of tongues, though, has been a source of vanity, triggering some to compete with each other over who can do it the most. If the spirit moves you to speak in tongues during a private prayer at an assembly, by all means, do not quench it. But understand that pretending to speak in tongues for vanity’s sake is an invitation to dark spirits to enter the assembly.
“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country…and greeted Elizabeth” – Luke 1:39,40
It is in the ordinary that we most often encounter the Face of God. Though she was pregnant, herself, (and with the Messiah, no less) Mary went forth to help her cousin, Elizabeth, with what might be a difficult, late-in-life pregnancy. Her simple care for helping another drew forth the blessing of the Magnificat, one of the most beautiful prayers ever uttered.
We do not just receive the Word, but live the Word with our neighbors in a way as ordinary and homely as Mary going to help a cousin with a pregnancy. We ask that all do what they can to strengthen the bonds between neighbors, with an emphasis first on those little souls given into your care by God, your children and family. Is there an older person whose stoop is in need of repair in your neighborhood? Help her – or find someone who can. Then stick around to visit a while. Do you know of people in a retirement home nearby who may be lonely? Get to know a few. It will brighten yours and their day. Do you have a neighbor overwhelmed by the demands of raising the kids? Why not offer a little something…mow the yard, make a picnic meal and get to know them better. To be a friend is a greater, richer thing than just to be friendly.
We do not propose to lay burdens on anyone or add requirements. Rather, we ask simply that you help others lift their burden when you can. Such is the evangelization of the ordinary – living solidarity and friendship with each other. There will be no checklist, no reporting of what you have done, who you have met and inspired joy in while receiving joy back. We ask that all just actively “Go forth…” according to their circumstances and when they can and give of the joy you have received. Do this simply and a flame of love and new hope will engulf the world.
Understanding that many are parents or have work and other obligations, our meetings will last an hour and a half – and under no circumstances will run longer than two hours. After the prayer service, the organizing committee will stay for an hour so that any who want to talk or share further fellowship may enjoy each other’s company and testimony.
Whenever possible, meetings will begin with the procession and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Keeping Christ truly present throughout the meeting will help keep people focused on Him – and keep dark forces that seek to assault the assembly at bay. It will always be opened with a Marian meditation, such as the Rosary. Organizers will take turns at different meetings leading the assembly and introducing those who will speak or lead prayer, so that there is little danger of meetings degenerating into a cult of personality. It is Christ and Mary who lead our meetings – speakers just facilitate the encounter.
We claim Christ. Knowing that satan is utterly powerless before Him, we do not recite long lists of things to renounce, lest we deceive ourselves that it is by our power that satan is rebuked. We reject all things which could seduce us to let go of Christ and so be vulnerable to satan. Among those are any sort of mysticism that includes any sort of “emptying” or “centering” meditation or prayer, whether or not it pretends at compatibility with Christianity. All our meditations and prayers are centered on Christ and His saints. As Christ Himself said, it is not enough to clean and empty the house of our spirit, for if we do that, the unclean spirit we swept out “…finds it empty, swept and put in order. Then he goes and finds seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” – Matthew 13:44,45. We claim Christ and fill the house of our spirit with Him – that satan remain powerless.
In all cases at all times, our aim is to ignite the reality of the hope and joy that is in Christ for all – and encouraging those who attend to go forth and do the same, spreading the living flame of Christ’s love to their neighbors and, hence, the world.