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What Are You Longing for This Lent?

“Is that all there is?” asks the song of the ‘60s. It is a fact that so many are longing for more—more time, more peace, more health, etc. What is it that you long for? Lent is a time when Catholics traditionally have fasted and prayed with the hope that they would have time to think about the more important things in life. Why not try something different for Lent? In your parish, you can have the opportunity to gather in small groups of eight to ten people, once a week for six weeks starting the week of Ash Wednesday. When the small groups gather, members read Scripture, pray, and share their faith. This experience can provide more than you can imagine. You will not be sorry.
Is your heart ready to be changed? Lent is a time to change one’s heart. That is not an easy thing to do. Jesus, in the midst of activity, always took time for silence and prayer; we realize how important it is for us to do the same. Why not take some time this Lent for quiet, prayer, and sharing in a small community? The change you will find will be well worth the time.
Why small groups? That is a reasonable question as we live in a culture that is so inclined to the philosophy of individualism. There are two reasons:
First, small groups are biblical. Jesus chose his small group—the apostles
(Mark 3:14-15).
Members of the early church followed Jesus’ example. They gathered regularly in their homes for small-group fellowship (Acts 2:42).
The Apostle John stressed group fellowship (1 John 1:7). The Greek word John used for fellowship, koinonia, means much more than a kind of social interaction occurring in many fellowship halls or at church potluck suppers. It is a very intimate, life-sharing type of association. Koinonia is the sort of in-depth camaraderie Jesus shared with his disciples.
Second, scholars recommend small groups as extremely beneficial. For most of history, group life was a given. But in today’s fast-paced global society, the culture is very different. Community scholars concur in describing people in contemporary society as alienated, rootless, lonely, and lacking a sense of belonging. This is heightened because most of us will never get back to the extended family, the parish, and the village of our earlier lives. That’s why there is such a proliferation of support groups in our country for all kinds of causes—a positive development that speaks of the human need to be in community. Sociological studies and scholarly opinions support this.
For example, pastoral psychologist Robert Leslie says:
God is not found in objective law, in sterile formulas, in impersonal rules. God is found in participation, in involvement, in celebration. God is found in relationships, in encounters, in the joys and sorrows of human experience, in the give and take of dialogue. In the miracle of relatedness we discover that we are no longer strangers, but members together in a household, bound together in common loyalty to God.
What happens in small groups? In many church small groups the participants share their experiences in trying to understand and live the Word of God. They experience an openness to talk about the more important things in their lives—to listen and care, to provide support and strength. Group members experience sufficient freedom to be themselves without judgment from others. From such openness and acceptance, including prayer for one another, they experience a powerful kind of bonding or warmth that brings growth and change—a feeling of being rejuvenated.

Fr. Abraham Orapankal is pastor of St. John Neumann Parish, Califon, NJ. He is a member of the RENEW International Board of Trustees. Previously, Fr. Orapankal was a member of the RENEW International
Pastoral Services Team.

What People Are Saying About Lenten Longings
Here are some testimonies from men and women who have experienced
Lenten Longings:
Lenten Longings helped our family connect with cousins, siblings, and each other. We especially enjoyed the trust we built as a group and the singing we shared. We learned more about the importance of reading Scripture before Mass and felt more prepared for Easter as a family. Lenten Longings pushed us out of our comfort zones and challenged us to commit to action in our lives. God always gives us what we need. He provided this tie of fellowship so we could see him at work in our home and in our hearts.”
“The sharing of faith, family, and God’s presence in our lives is already making a positive difference in our daily activities.”
“We are a lively group. I am deeply impressed by the quality of the members’ responses which I find highly spiritual and thought-provoking. We have had such a profound spiritual experience; we now feel we have a much closer tie with the parish community, with each other, and most specially a greater love for our God.”
“The faith sharing has been very helpful in that the readings become more relevant and actionable when discussed from different viewpoints. These are some of the actions that our group has put based on the Lenten Longings experience:
-Greet someone new at church on Sundays. Stay a little longer after Mass to talk
to people.
-Send in food items that are in high demand at the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry.
-Volunteer as a group at the food pantry where a team member volunteers.
-Prepare a meal as a group for the Women’s Shelter.”

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