Small Faith Communities

AS writes: “I have always been a believer in the value of Small Faith Communities and was very alarmed when I read the following article on web. I would appreciate your comments on this article.”

The article AS sent to us, What to Think of “Small Faith Communities” by James Likoudis outlines many problems that have arisen with Small Faith Communities (SFCs) around the world.

For those who are unfamiliar with this movement, SFCs are small groups or “cells” of people in a parish who gather regularly to study the faith, deepen their commitment to the Gospel and share how they are living the faith in everyday life. It’s a throwback to the early days of the Church when essentially all Catholics were members of a SFC because there were no parishes yet. 

In the last few decades, these groups have been springing up again in parishes around the world as a way to spawn a kind of grass roots renewal in the Church. They are organized into national groups, such as The North American Forum for Small Christian Communities, from where member communities can draw resources and ideas for their members.

In an article written for The Tablet, the UK’s premier Catholic newspaper, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, writes about how impressed he was with the idea of SFCs after reading a book by the French Dominican Yves Congar entitled Lay People in the Church during the 1950s.

In this book, Congar stressed the need for small Christian communities that allowed people to rediscover the Church. “The Church’s machinery, sometimes the very institution, is a barrier obscuring her deep and living mystery, which they can find, or find again, only from below,” Congar writes. “Through the living reality of little church cells wherein the mystery is lived directly and with great simplicity, it was possible to experience the Church as it most truly was, the hierarchically structured people of God to whose life all its members contribute and which is patterned by give and take and a pooling of resources.”

There are many different kinds of SFCs – bible studies, Altar and Rosary societies, Holy Name Societies, the Legion of Mary, etc. All of these groups serve a vital mission in the Church and have won the praise of numerous Popes.

However, not all SFCs are good. “Problems have occurred in other small faith communities when they have promoted inaccurate or vague Catholic doctrine, often substituting personal experience for objective truth,” writes Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), which is itself a SFC comprised of numerous “chapters” throughout the U.S. 

As Likoudis’ article explains in more detail, many SFCs in the U.S. “have assumed the need to take over from ‘defunct parishes’ and to establish a democratic ‘lay-centered Church’ that is focused on Leftist-liberal struggle for ‘social justice’.” 

Some go so far as to want to “liberate” Catholics from the “restraints of Catholic dogma,” to free them from the “shackles” of priests and bishops, and even to control their own liturgies, Likoudis writes.  There is disregard for Church teaching on contraception, abortion and homosexuality in some of these groups, with members substituting “freedom of individual conscience” for the Magisterium.

It was not hard to find evidence of these renegade groups. An SFC member named Joelle Morgan wrote an article appearing in the June 1, 2003 issue of Catholic New Times in which she states that her first encounter with the concept of SFCs was at a meeting of the country’s most notorious purveyor of dissent – , Call to Action.

Even more frightening is an expose on the use of SFCs to deconstruct Church teaching on homosexuality written by an ex Jesuit named Dr. Robert Goss (he left the order after falling in love with a fellow Jesuit). The book entitled, Jesus Acted Up, went into detail about how crucial the SFC (he called them Queer Christian Base Communities) is to the development of a new and more “inclusive” Church.

An article about this book, also written by Likoudis and entitled  Ex-Jesuit’s Book Links Dissident Theologians to Homosexual Movement, is available on the EWTN website.

In his book, Goss explains that SFCs are “a new way of envisioning and expressing a Christian presence among oppressed exiles. Base communities become nurturing alternative forms of community practice that challenge homophobic power relations in churches and in society…. By witnessing to the gospel of God’s preferential option for the oppressed, they replicate Jesus’ <basileia> action and indicate God’s saving initiative….”

He goes on to call for the creation of “hundreds and thousands of gay/lesbian affirming base communities of faith that practice God’s justice. It is time to break the grip that homophobia/heterosexism exercises upon the discourse and practice of churches. It is our moment to radically challenge churches to practice God’s solidarity with the oppressed…. Gay and lesbian believers must no longer submit to the belief that their relationships do not reflect God’s love and justice. Making love and doing justice have become synonymous for gay and lesbian people.”

The bottom line about SFCs is that they can be a great asset to families, parishes and dioceses, but only if they are faithful to living and teaching authentic Catholicism and not serving as a cover for dissent.

“Small faith communities have a responsibility for the evangelization of their members that will lead beyond the group, to their parish, and out into the world,” writes the CUF.

“They will be effective so long as they remain connected to the larger Church communities (e.g. parish and diocese) rather than attempting to replace them in authority. In this way, they will positively contribute to the growth and development of the Church throughout the world.”

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