The Prayer Group:
birthplace for Trinitarian life
In previous articles and editions weŐve said that Padre TOMISLAV VLASIC was the spiritual director of the prayer group which Mary led in Medjugorje through messages given to Jelena and Marjana Vasilj. We asked Fr. Tomislav to tell us - in the light of this experience - how best to form a prayer group according to MaryŐs guidelines.
ŇI receive numerous requests from people who desire knowing how to pray. They ask this after having been on pilgrimages to various Marian Shrines, including Medjugorje. Some are leaders of prayer groups; and since it is not always easy for some to continue along the spiritual journey undertaken, they ask how the group in Medjugorje prays. I shall therefore attempt to trace out a path.
First of all, it should be said that Ňby praying one learns to pray.Ó The important thing is not the method of prayer, but rather, a sincere desire to find God and to live in communion with Him. This is the basis for the formation of a group: it is important that group members seek God. A group needs a leader, and where possible a priest to accompany the group. In any case, a group must be able to refer to a priest, and through him, to the Church.
Members should also have a clear idea of what type of group they wish to form. A serious group which desires journeying towards Christian maturity and holiness requires a solid base. Hence, members must be serious, mature, and decisive, to allow GodŐs communion to develop amongst them. Small groups are better than big groups.
Prayer groups in Medjugorje enjoy an atmosphere of special grace, so they can serve as models for others, and their experience can be useful for others. Hence, considering the grace of Medjugorje and the events of Medjugorje as guide-lines, I have drawn up two prayer schemes as indications.
First and fundamental prayer scheme
In the parish of Medjugorje the events which have been unfolding over the years can be grouped into a Ňtriangle.Ó Seeing this will help us comprehend and accept the spiritual dynamics of these events.
The vertexes of this triangle are three very precise places. One is Podbrdo where Our Lady first appeared on the 25th June 1981. Another is Krizevac, the mountain of the Cross which was erected in the Jubilee year of 1933. The third one is the parish church where GodŐs people gather together. These three vertexes are part of an unending vortex of grace. Whatever happens in one recalls what is happening in the other two.
Podbrdo, place of apparitions by Queen of Peace
The Most Holy Virgin attracts us to Herself. She is our Mother, the Mother of ChristŐs Church, the Mother of God. Mary is the dawn of salvation, the Immaculata, the redeemed creature. Mary is GodŐs grace for us. Each personŐs life begins in his motherŐs womb, so also in our spiritual life we turn first of all to the Mother, entrusting ourselves to her Immaculate Heart, so she can lead us to God. It is a step everyone should take, independent of whether there is a special Marian presence or not at a particular place.
At Biakovici (in the parish of Medjugorje) six visionaries received the special grace of seeing Our Lady and receiving messages from Her. The essence of these messages is to entrust ourselves to Our Lady, and to journey alongside Her so we can reach our destination which is life with God. I cite the following very eloquent message; the others are similar: ŇDear Children, also today I invite you to complete conversion, which is difficult for all those who have not chosen God. I invite you, dear Children, to turn completely to God. (...) I pray for you every day, and I desire bringing you ever closer to God, but I cannot unless you also desire it. Thus, my dear Children, place your lives in the hands of God. I bless you..Ó (25 Jan. 1988).
So to begin a journey of prayer, one must decide for God above all else. ŇThe time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the GospelÓ (Mk 1:15). A personŐs soul can thus journey towards God and his glory without worrying about immediate needs. ŇSeek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as wellÓ (Mt 6:33). When our yes to God and to His plan of salvation is sincere, complete and entrusted to Mary, she will protect and guide it with motherly care. When truly open to Mary one perceives Her protective and guiding hand.
There is no need to look for crosses, as life presents us with plenty. Christian wisdom is knowing how to face them, and trying to overcome them without losing peace of mind. When tried, a Christian turns his gaze to Jesus nailed to the cross. To look at Him helps to understand the mystery of life. Those who are united to Him are lifted up and brought to enter the full life (Phil 2:5-11).
Mary walks alongside us as we journey up the way of the cross. She unites herself to ChristŐs sacrifice and she entrusts us to Him, so that together we might reach the Father.
Our life reaches maturity, and it enters the fullness of life when we are able to offer ourselves and others, and when we unite all our sacrifices to ChristŐs sacrifice, and become a part of His prayer. Through this we are lifted up to the Father, and SatanŐs power is annulled. ŇMy Children, also today I desire inviting you to pray and to surrender yourselves totally to God. You know that I love you, and out of love I come here to show you the way of peace and of salvation for your souls. I want you to obey me, and not to let Satan seduce you. ..Satan is strong, hence I ask for your prayers ..offer them to me for those under his influence, that they might be saved. Witness with your lives; sacrifice your lives for the salvation of the world. (..) DonŐt be worried; if you pray Satan cannot hinder you in the slightest, for you are GodŐs children and He keeps watch over you. Pray! May the rosary beads be always in your hands, as a sign to Satan that you belong to me..Ó (25 Feb. 1988).
Everything in us and through us, in union with Jesus Christ, is thus raised up to the Father.Ó
(to be continued)
PRAYER GROUP :
Birthplace of TRINITARIAN LIFE
We continue the publication of FR. TOMISLAVŐs testimony on the formation of a prayer group, according to the suggestions Our Lady gave to Jelena Vasilj and Marijana Vasilj (not related) for the benefit of the group which She herself guided at Medjugorje.
THE PARISH CHURCH
When on Krizevac a personŐs soul experiences a sense of weightlessness; it blossoms and flies upwards. The experience of offering oneself together with Jesus is the same experience of lifting oneself up to the Father and of entering into a living relationship with Him.
This opens oneŐs horizons in all directions, leaving the soul free to breathe (to breathe in faith, hope and love), and leaving it free to experience resurrection. It is precisely what the disciples experienced when they, with the Blessed Virgin, started on their way to the Upper Room. It was here that the Holy Spirit descended upon them (Acts 2), making of them the first Christian community. This happens for each of us.
In the Church the Holy Spirit leads us to fullness. ŇI still have many things to say to you, but they would be too much for you now. But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking as from himself but will say only what he has learnt; and he will tell you of the things to come. He will glorify me, since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine. Everything the Father has is mine; that is why I said: All he tells you will be taken from what is mine.Ó (Jn 16:12-15)
In the Church, Christians take part in the Trinitarian life; they live in communion, they listen to the Word of God; they participate in the sacraments to become a redeemed people. ŇDear Children, God desires making you holy; He therefore calls you, through me, to total surrender. May Holy Mass be life for you! Try to understand that the Church is the house of God; it is the place where I call you out of desire to show you the way which leads to God. Come and pray!
DonŐt observe the others, and donŐt criticize them. Instead, may your life be a witness to the way of holiness. Churches are places worthy of respect; they are consecrated because God, Who became man, abides in them day and night. Therefore, my Children, believe, and pray to the Father to give you greater faith, and then ask for what you need. I am with you and I rejoice for your conversion. I protect you with my motherly mantle. Thank you for responding to my call!Ó
It is right that the faithful, after offering the sacrifice of praise, should continue to journey onwards, ever certain of and surrendered to GodŐs graciousness. (Mt 6:24-34)
VORTEX OF GODŐS LIFE
Once out of the church the faithful bless God; and with Him they bless everything and everyone. They go back home, and back to their daily lives, but their inner journey of faith continues to advance towards God. Life in God can never be stagnant, for it is a part of the perpetual motion belonging to creation, redemption and sanctification, which is the work of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
All those who desire undertaking a journey of prayer become part of this motion. But when a person, or group, or a movement stops, it comes to a standstill, it gets weighed down, and loses its fecundity. This brings death to a soul even if the person continues in the practice of religious rites and devotions.
To go back home means also to depart for oneŐs mission. ŇDear Children, I invite you to complete surrender to God. Pray, my Children, that Satan may not sway you about like branches in the wind. Be steadfast in God. I desire that through you the world might come to know the God of joy. Witness with your lives to the divine joy. DonŐt be anxious or worried; God will help you and He will show you the way. I desire that you love everyone with my love Đ both bad people and good people. It is the only way for love to reign in the worldÓ (message: 25 May 1988).
Those who journey on the way of prayer need to depart again and again. Our Lady expresses this concept extremely well in the same message of 25 May 1988: ŇDear Children, you are mine. I love you, and I desire that you surrender yourselves to me so that I can lead you to God. Pray constantly so that Satan is unable to take advantage of you. Pray, that you might understand that you are mine. I bless you with the blessing of joy. Thank you for responding to my call!Ó
SECOND PRAYER SCHEME
This scheme is drawn up according to the experience of the prayer group led by Jelena and Marijana. Both experienced inner locutions, through which Mary spoke to the group and showed them how to journey to God, and how to be open to the Holy Spirit. In the end, Jesus spoke too; and all came to its conclusion in his relationship with His Father.
This scheme is identical to the one above. The difference is that here we indicate the concrete elements of the faith journey experienced by the group during the prayer meetings. The fundamental element that unites the two schemes is Mary Immaculate.
With her motherly love and her openness to the Holy Spirit, She leads souls to Jesus so they can be raised to the Father.
The basic elements of this prayer groupŐs experience (elements which Our Lady presented to the two young locutionists) are those which make up the Eucharistic celebration (the rite itself, its redeeming aspect, and its impact on a soul which attends daily Mass). Hence, we could call the faith journey undertaken by the group the Ňliving EucharistÓ given that it refers constantly to the celebration of the Eucharist which is the wellspring, the summit and the cardinal point of all spiritual movements.
It is important that prior to joining a group, or to forming a group, one should make a decision. Decide what? There is need to decide for a life which is full, mature and integral Đ that can be attained only in God. Therefore, one has to decide to become holy, otherwise it is not possible that a person could attain the fullness of life. All Christians are called to this fullness of life (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, by John Paul II).
Without this fundamental decision, it is inevitable that the group (or community) should become nothing else but a gathering of people, a format; for when decision is lacking the state of belonging (to a group or to the Church) is distorted, and this impairs progress.
Jelena Vasilj refers that Our Lady wanted those who joined the group to be willing to follow a journey that leads to God, and be willing to entrust themselves entirely to Her Immaculate Heart. Our Lady gave them a month to pray and reflect on Her request. Afterwards, She did not form the group immediately, but limited Herself to indicating the essential things required by a Christian to advance along his faith journey. These essential things are prayer, fasting, confession, Holy Mass and fraternity. In particular, Our Lady stressed the universal love of God (Lk 6, 12-38).
A look at two brief messages helps us understand what Our Lady meant when She spoke of leading the group through prayer. The first is: ŇPrayer is conversation with God. In your every prayer you should hear GodŐs voice. You cannot live without prayer. Prayer is lifeÓ (message of 30 Sept. 1984). The second is: ŇPrayer is necessary for you because afterwards things are clearer to you. To pray means to know what happiness is. Prayer is necessary to help you learn how to cry; how to blossomÓ (message of 22.11.84).
In another message Our Lady explains the dynamics involved in praying, and what it means for those who pray, and for God, for Our Lady, and for the Saints. Lack of decision and lack of participation and of dynamic fidelity in oneŐs faith journey which leads to God makes His love vain, or puts limits on it. But when oneŐs response is full it is united to GodŐs love and this allows God to develop His plans for that person.
In a message Our Lady said: ŇHave you ever stolen anything? Perhaps you have. While your conscience torments you, you multiply your justifications and you tell yourself: ÔNo. No, I donŐt want to acknowledge it.Ő How your sins burn within you! How bold your sins are! When a man kills another man, he burns within that sin, but he doesnŐt want to humble himself.
In the same manner I burn with love. I burn entirely with love. But no one wants it, no one, no one. I am inflamed completely by this love, but no one wants it. So it burns within me because no one wants it. I suffer because not even you want it. My burning will not cease till you convert. I will burn till you understand that I am your Mother. I am your Mother and I always will be. I will show you that I truly am.Ó (message of 22 November 1984).
I will not mention other messages which belong to the groupŐs faith journey. Christians are given messages and promptings in abundance. The important thing is to continually decide, step after step; to enter into a complete relationship with God, one that involves all the levels of the soul and of oneŐs very existence. On the basis of this decision both individuals and groups are able to advance along the journey towards God and reach their goal.
(to be continued)
The Prayer Group:
where Trinitarian Life is Born
We continue with the publication of the testimony by Fr. Tomislav on how to structure a prayer group according to Our LadyŐs suggestions to Jelena and Mirjana for the Prayer Group which She herself led at Medjugorje.
The basic elements for a group, indicated by Our Lady are:
1. Enter into Prayer
Through Jelena, Our Lady explained to the prayer group that Ňmany pray but few enter into the prayer.Ó To enter into prayer there are two steps:
i) offer up your sins, and the sins of those around you. This means to renounce sin, to detach them from the soul and offer them to Jesus so He might remove them. OneŐs entire being must be involved in this, and be active in expressing to God in the silence of the heart that which concerns one intimately; and in public that which concerns fraternal communion or the sin of the world.
ii) entrust to God all problems so you might blossom from within and also in your relationship with others, in an attitude of serenity, of trust and of love (Mt 6:14-34).
This is a big job for the group leader, who must gradually help deliver all the members of the group from inner closures, fears, passivity, false spontaneity, fanaticism, arrogance, and emotional evasion. These open wounds and lead to a state of pathos. The leader must be able to promote individual members, without allowing individuals to cover the passivity of others, and he himself should never substitute the others.
The priest fulfils the same tasks and comes to comprehend the soulŐs motions during confession or in private conversation. He offers everything up in his prayer and in particular in the Holy Mass. Entering into prayer doesnŐt end here, but at every step of the journey it is developed and brought to perfection, and opens up to the infinity of GodŐs action and to the originality of individuals and the group as a whole.
2. Be open and active in the Spirit
This is an important, delicate and simple step. It doesnŐt have anything to do with charisms or ÔextraordinaryŐ things, or theory or expressions of religious emotions. All it is, is opening the heart and listening with oneŐs soul to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and accepting them and living them. It takes honesty, sincerity, humility, simplicity, and elevation above all interests, for the glory of God. It takes fidelity to GodŐs life in the soul.
Mary, Bride par excellence of the Holy Spirit, will introduce us into this relationship if we are ready and if we entrust ourselves to Her. After Her yes, and with our yes said together with Hers, the Holy Spirit descends (Lk 1:34-35). Our Lady, Mother of the Mystical Body of Christ, will help us live our baptismal graces the most effective way possible.
In various ways and in various parts of his Letters, St. Paul helps us understand how the Holy Spirit relates with us. Particularly in his Letter to the Romans we read: ŇBut you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to himÓ (Rom 8:9). And: ŇIt is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of GodÓ (Rom 8:16). ŇLikewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of GodÓ (Rom 8:26-27).
At the end of chapter 8 (Romans) St. Paul introduces us into the triumph of the life in the Spirit through ChristŐs love.
The group leader should not worry about the eventual lack of Ňprivileged instrumentsÓ in the group, but rather, should occupy himself with leading the members to the freedom and the activity of the Holy Spirit.
In August of 1984 I was transferred to Vitina. Prior to leaving Medjugorje I prayed: ŇMary, help me to understand how I can help you in the future when I will be far from Medjugorje!Ó Jelena heard Our LadyŐs voice say: ŇLove! I came from the Love of God; I act in the Love of God. Now I am here, in every family, all over the world. Love and do as I do.Ó This is difficult to accept for a person used to measuring with his own metre and at the same time is so threatened by Satan. Yet this is the pivot for all our activity.
In the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ are united and there they communicate with each other. In this communion we find Mary Most Holy, the Angels, and the Saints. In this communion the group is open to the grace which rises from other groups. The presence of the Holy Spirit will be expressed in the fruits: ŇThe fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no lawÓ (Gal 5:22-23). From these will be born GodŐs gifts and instruments.
It is very important to be open to the Spirit, and to accept the grace and with Him to remain faithful to the spousal relationship on all levels! This is where true Christian maturity by the group leader is expressed. The priestŐs role is to Ňtake care of the soulsÓ and as such will pray with simplicity and will help to understand and to accept the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Sharing amongst group members means to avail of the dynamics of GodŐs life in souls and in the group which are brought out through those same elements we have already considered, that is: enter into prayer, be open to the Holy Spirit and be active in Him.
What is to be shared? The Word of God and all the inspirations that come from Him. Everything culminates, is verified and is brought to perfection in the Word of God, in His teachings and in His Person. It is the Person of Jesus Christ that gives value to His teachings, otherwise the word would remain theory, ideology; it would be void without the Person of Jesus who in the Holy Spirit leads us to the Father.
Sharing each otherŐs inner experiences enables us to walk with the Lord, and to face everything within us that isnŐt yet redeemed. Our journey leads us to the death-resurrection experience while being open to Pentecost, which is to say the special graces of the Holy Spirit which continually bring life in the soul to perfection.
Even though we still journey towards complete redemption, we can still have faith, hope and love acting freely within us. The Holy SpiritŐs prayer becomes alive, and is expressed through the person, enabling the person to blossom (Rm 8:26-27).
The group leader should simply discern ways and means of communication for the benefit of the members. He will take care that all the elements so far mentioned are made to work correctly, and that communion with the Mystical Body of Christ is sought. He will leave space for the positive intentions of individuals, and he will guide the group so that tasks, intentions and the groupŐs path are singled out. He will also pay attention that the sharing does not slide back to the human level of giving vent, thereby losing the action of grace.
On his part, the priest will become ever more silent, as the Lord does when entering into the mystery. He will lead the persons into the depth of the faith journey. With his openness to the Spirit he will know how to indicate the way to reach profound communion with God. He will pray silently, whilst following what is said, and intervening with discretion. All that is moved within the interior of the group will make up the substance of his prayer and it will be expressed in the Holy Mass which he will lift up to God.
Prayer should be simple and spontaneous and it should flow forth from the Spirit who moves persons to a complete involvement whilst respecting the stages of journey of the individual. The whole group should be involved, so that no burden remains within a soul, so that no stone remains unturned. The group leader needs to be attentive to the limits and needs of the individuals, and when necessary, to deal with them separately. His sincere willingness to serve God through Mary will open the ways for the group and its members. Prayer should not remain the exclusive property of the individual, but ought to be open to all the needs of the group, of ChristŐs Church and of the world.
Prayer enables us to depart, in the Holy Spirit, for a mission in the universe. With Jesus we advance towards the Father. Prayer is summed up and is projected towards Christ. It is in the name of Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, that the group lifts up its prayer to the Father; He is the springwater of life and it is in Him that our life culminates.
If a priest is present in the group he should lead the meeting to its climax; through GodŐs action in his soul he is drawn to sum up everything in the Holy Spirit and to pray in the Name of Jesus. It is the priest who sums up the meeting in Christ, and who immerges everything in the life of the Father: the inward motions of souls, the groupŐs communion, the needs of all men and of all creatures.
Even if he should be absent, the priest will Ňgather upÓ all the groups under his direction and present them to God in the Holy Mass. In the priestŐs absence, the group leader will act in his place, in spiritual communion with the priest. It is good for the LordŐs Prayer to be sung. In the liturgy, this prayer is recited whilst standing. The six visionaries of Medjugorje say that when Our Lady prays the ŇOur FatherÓ she stretches her arms upwards and looks upwards at the Father. It is good if we do the same.
5. The Blessing
The word bless is related to the Latin word benedicere which means to Ňsay well of,Ó or to Ňpraise.Ó The blessing transmits the message of salvation; it transmits the life of God which flows through souls. It is the Holy Spirit Who communicates the blessing to us; He makes it effective; and this can be seen in our smiles and in the joy expressed in our desires and thoughts. All oneŐs being becomes an expression of our One and Triune God, and it is transmitted to others and to the universe as a whole.
The priest thus grants the blessing and the life of God and of the Mystical Body of Christ which is in God. With the blessing the priest intends to reach everyone, in particular the group and its intentions and plans, that they might be made fertile for the glory of God. And he sends the group (out to the world) just as the Lord sent the Apostles.
6. The leave-taking
This does not consist in saying, ŇSee you next time.Ó If this is all it were, the group would stagnate; the seed would not produce fruit, with time the group would become passive, participation would become burdensome, and the members, instead of receiving the Holy SpiritŐs promptings, would stay closed up within themselves. It is here, then, that the response and responsibility of members and of the group must emerge.
Members go back home and pray, using the grace received to make it fruitful. They face difficulties and involve others of good will in their faith journey; and they acquire experience which they take back to the group so that together they might advance. This way the journey continues and is expressed in the vortex of the Trinitarian life.
Members accept the grace of the Holy Spirit; they walk down the paths of everyday life together with Jesus towards the Father. United in the dynamics of the Trinitarian life they receive new graces to go out into the world and make them fruitful in the name of God and for His glory.
ŇAnd they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied itÓ (Mk 16:20).