The First Step: Beginning With Intentional Prayer. I have become convinced that St. Monica Parish will not thrive and grow without a foundation of organized, intercessory prayer. Eventually a parish-wide endeavor needs to be in place where St. Monica is known as a place where everyone has the opportunity to encounter Jesus through multiple types of prayer and prayer experiences.
In the book, Becoming A Parish Of Intentional Disciples, Keith Strohm writes that, “Intercessory prayer is more than simply coming before God with our prayers and requests. When we engage in intercession, we participate in a sustained and intimate pleading before the Lord for someone else.”
Intercessory prayer is important at all stages of spiritual growth, but especially for people in two groups. One is those people who are just beginning to be more open about their faith. A group of intercessors need to be praying for the Holy Spirit to “break through” in the life of these spiritual neophytes so that they receive encouragement and progress further in their faith. The other group are people who are more advanced in their faith. They are feeling a call to share their faith with others and use their God-given gifts and charisms in very specific and intentional ways to “redeem, restore and heal” the world around them (For example: at work, in school, at sports venues, while shopping). These people need “prayer warriors” praying for discernment, fortitude and protection against powers of darkness.
Intercessory prayer is certainly important for an individual, but most don’t realize that it applies to the parish as a “body” as well. This is a stretch for most parishes today. A few months ago, I established my own Intercessory Prayer Team. Through organized, corporate, intentional intercessory prayer, my hope is that God would begin to change the spiritual atmosphere of the parish and neighborhood, that more graces would be received more frequently, that my spiritual openness of my and others around me would increase, and that this would rub off onto all that we meet, especially those parishioners of St. Monica who have been away for a while. I am also encouraged by groups in the parish (Walking With Purpose, Legion of Mary, individual parishioners who pray the Rosary and novenas after Mass) who have told me that they are intentionally praying for me and my intentions as well as the spiritual growth of St. Monica.
Second Step: Move On To Scripture. With the new renovations/repairs, a solid temporal foundation has been established at St. Monica. Where should St. Monica go from here? How do we know that “we’re getting it right” in the eyes of God? The answer is actually rather simple, but hard to implement.
We start with the two items received directly from Jesus in the Bible: The first is The Great Commandment – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18). The second is the The Great Commissioning – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”. These statements are the benchmark on which God will hold St. Monica accountable.
In addition, I have been trying to consult the Scriptures concerning practical advice concerning my day-to-day activities. A tremendous resource for me has been The Topical Bible website. The website features an alphabet at the top of the page. Consider a topic (For example, in my homily recently I referenced fact that many people struggle and confess a “lack of patience.”). Click on the letter “P.” Scroll down and click on the the subject, “Patience.” You will see a listing of Scripture passages dealing with the subject (Example, Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer;” Romans 8:25, “But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience;” Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”) The passages are listed in the order that people have found the passages most helpful. It also has a feature to allow you to offer your own vote as to which passages have helped you.
“What does Jesus want the Parish of St. Monica to look like in 5 years?” That is the question with which I am currently wrestling. Next week, I shall outline the next two steps in a strategy I am following to discern the direction of the parish to answer that question.