How can we go about building basic ecclesial communities in a suburban setting? By creating bible cell groups in every street and in every area (subdivision or development area) covered by the parish’s jurisdiction. I am aware that this is easier said than done, but unless there is an existing cell group that truly meets the criteria for an ecclesial cell community, there could be no basic ecclesial community as such. This cannot be realized by planning. The law of life is "graduality". As in the natural growth of bodies, a cell grows by division. In building a basic ecclesial community, one begins from a cell group of eight to ten persons and help it to mature. It begins to bear fruit in accordance with the botanical model the Lord himself spells out: unless a grain of wheat falls and dies, it remains alone; when it dies, it begins to bear fruit (cf. John 12:24-26; 15:5-8). The cell group must — in its members — "die" first, before it can bring forth fruits, "fruits that will last." One cannot program or plan when a cell group is already mature. But one can program and plan for the creation of "seed" cell groups and their on-going "nutrition."
Creating "Seed" Cell Groups
"Seed" cell groups are the first cell groups that one can establish, promote and form so as to become the source of of "newer" cells. It is also from these groups that one can pick out "leaders" that will later on help the newer cell groups grow. "Seed" cell groups can be drawn from already existing religious organizations and charismatic groups. The best source for these are those who graduate from the Parish Renewal Experience. The following norms should however be imposed on any group that wishes to be treated as a "seed" cell group.
1. A group should have at least five but not more than ten members. The main reason for this limitation in number is follow-up. It is easier to gather ten members and make them come to meetings regularly than if there were twelve to fifteen members.
2. Members of a group should be living in the same street. By definition, a basic cell community is a stable community with members living in the same locality.
3. The members should meet regularly on a weekly basis. A cell group will be meeting to prepare themselves for the Sunday Mass. It is the group’s primary duty.
4. The cell meeting will revolve on the Gospel reading of the coming Sunday. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines has made it a guideline for Filipino Catholics to constantly keep before their minds the words and deeds of the Lord. The only way of doing this is to keep oneself immersed in the Gospel. The basic cell community takes this as its commitment. Lessons from this group study of the Bible can become the basis for one’s personal appropriation of the sacred text in prayer and meditation.
5. Members of the cell group should make themselves small incarnations of the Church in their locality, obedient to the Word, loving in its members, diligent in service. The force of the Gospel is in changed lives. At the end of each meeting, members of cell groups should make concrete resolutions in accordance with the Gospel message heard. That will be their "service" for the week. It is not enough to say: "I will be more faithful to my Sunday obligations." One should say: "On all the Sundays of the rest of my life, I will attend the Mass on time." It is a concrete resolution: there is an indicative verb, a time-span (when), and an adverb that describes the action ("on time"). Resolutions can be "personal" (for self-improvement), "relational" (for improving the quality of relationships one has with one’s family and other people), "social" (for contributing to the betterment of one’s neighborhood and society as a whole), "parish-related" (for a more effective presence in lay ministry). The practice of making resolutions verbal is so that the other members can act as a support group for the one making the resolution.
6. Members of the cell group will pray daily for their co-members. It would be a good practice for members to submit to the group their prayer petition during a portion of the meeting that is specially intended for this. It is also for this reason that bringing notebooks and pencils to meetings should be required.
7. The existence of the cell group should be made known to the parish priest for purposes of visitation and follow-up. Each basic cell group is ultimately under the care of the parish priest through the delegation of authority.
PREX Cell Groups
The most ideal candidates for the formation of "seed" cell groups are those who newly graduate from the Parish Renewal Experience. The PREX has internal "controls" designed to keep the new graduates "in". First, there is the lead couple which takes charge of each newly graduating batch. Second, there is the "8th Day Meeting" (the meeting held a week after the last session of the PREX). Third, there is the graduating batch’s first activity as a group: prepare for the next PREX. Finally, there is or rather, there is supposed to be — the monthly batch meeting, an activity which is easily taken for granted. Each PREX graduating batch has internal controls for follow-up sessions. What actually happens is that when PREX participants finish their course, they are directed to join other parish groups. Some do this. Some don’t. Those who join other parish groups increase the membership of these groups and, if they persevere, become regular contributors to the life of the parish later on. There are those who don’t join groups or who fall away from the groups they’ve joined. Some resume their lives as Catholics who perhaps attend more Sunday masses than their "inactive" counterparts, but who don’t receive the proper "Church support" they could have if they were attached to a mandated organization or a charismatic group. When a Catholic no longer undergoes "on-going formation", he⁄she either falls back to being an "inactive" Catholic or look for "on-going formation" in other groups. This is the reason why there are a lot of PREX graduates who have gone back to being "inactive" Catholics or worse, have joined religious sects and cults.
The key to helping newly graduated PREX participants, is to provide them with an avenue for "on-going formation", the environment plus a set of activities that will help them sustain the first flush of a newly formed Christian commitment. The "environment" is a faith-community made up of other PREX graduates. It is a community that extends the fraternal experience the graduate has come into contact with during the PREX sessions. The set of activities are the same ones that make up a PREX session: prayer, reading and explanation of the Gospel and the sharing of experiences. These are also the same activities that make up a bible cell meeting. The last element here, is required for the sustenance of a cell group: one who will guide the group in their weekly meetings and provide each member spiritual direction. Within the setup of the PREX, this person should be the parish priest or his delegated minister. All this — environment, appropriate set of activities, personal follow-up and spiritual direction — can be provided in bible cell group meetings.
Bible Cell Groups: Three Criteria
Bible groups are recognized as basic cells of the greater community of faith — the parish community — if they have the following qualities:
1. Members have resolved to become "practising" Catholics and are decided on keeping themselves as such.
2. Members have the capacity and are able to attend the weekly meetings of the cell group they are attached to.
3. The group has a leader that is known to the priest-in-charge of the BEC project and is designated to minister to the group.
The above criteria need no longer be explained. Nor are they difficult to understand. "Practising Catholics" is a label given to those who, in contrast to the majority of Catholics, frequent the sacraments and sustain a particular devotion. Mandated organizations and charismatic groups have as their goal the creation of an environment whereby their members become "practising Catholics." It is the minimum requirement for any cell group. Second, members should be able to attend the weekly meetings of the cell group. This is a sine-qua-non for every group. As already explained above, the weekly meeting is an integral element in the cell group members’ on-going formation in the faith. Lastly, the group leader should be designated by the priest-in-charge of the program, The cell group is intended to be the reflection of the life of the greater community of faith within their own street and neighborhood. It cannot be that unless they have a minister that extends the presence of the priest in their area. At the same time, the cell group that is known in this way, becomes an opportunity for the pastor to visit them where they are. The cell group that operates according to the above criteria actually contributes to the growth of the parish community when its members, dying to old sinful habits, gradually begin to live in the Spirit nourished by the Sacraments and constantly reminded of what the Lord has done for them (cf. Rom. 6:4-6.8;1 Peter 1:18-21). Programs can later on be established for the training and further enhancement of the skills of the cell group minister, but for the cell groups as such, it is enough that their group becomes the community of faith in which the Risen Lord can be recognized and where His gifts of peace and the Holy Spirit are received (cf. John 20: 19-23).
Update: April 15
The current article is available for download in two formats: RTF (Rich Text Format) and PDF (Portable Document Format). The first can be opened up with your Windows WordPad (or MSOffice Word), the other with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader, or an application like the Sumatra PDF Reader). Both are in a compressed ZIP archive. (You should have a utility like WinZip or the no-nags freeware AlZip from Altools).
Download the TheBECProject.zip (259 k)
Originally posted 2008-04-13 19:52:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter
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