Small Christian Communities: A New Danger to the Parish
by John Vennari
Small Christian Communities (also called Small Faith Communities) are a relatively new fad springing up all over the country. It is a group from a parish that meets together at least once a week for prayer, and for what they call "faith sharing". It is to be no more than 6 to 8 members per group.
The following is a sample from Quest: A Reflection Booklet for Small Christian Communities, Fall, 1997. The booklet follows the liturgical year according to the new calendar. The program includes the participants reading the Gospel and Lessons from the Sunday Mass of that week. Then there are a series of "faith-sharing" questions where each member of the group, one-by-one, shares his feelings and experiences in relation to the general theme of the Gospel.
In truth, it is simply a Rogerian encounter group structure where there are no right and wrong answers.
After the Scripture passages are read, and the written commentary from the booklet recited, members of the group are encouraged to discuss "faith sharing" questions. What follows was taken from the November 2, All Souls Day section:
1. What frightens you about death? 2. Recall one personal experience that reinforced your belief in life after death. 3. What is one practice surrounding death that helps you believe what Jesus teaches about death? 4. Confronting death helps one to live life fully. How true a statement is this in your experience?"
Notice the emphasis: You, you, you, you!
After this "faith sharing", where each member has bared his soul, revealing his innermost feelings on sappy discussion questions, the group is then encouraged to "Response in Action". The first suggestion of this November 2 outline recommends:
"Read an article or book about Cardinal Bernardin's life and death. See when you can identify your experience with his."
We see, then, that this is a subjective, experiential based religion where a group of parishioners meet once a week in order to pool their collective ignorance.
Modernism: The Religion of Experience
The phrase "experientially based" religion comes directly from "New Evangelization" literature. Paulist Father Kenneth Boyack, in his book Creating the Evangelizing Parish, says that for Catholics, evangelization must be "experientially based, open to the whole range of human life".
This novel emphasis on religious experience, which is a hallmark of the Vatican II Church, bears a disconcerting resemblance to the Modernism explicitly condemned by Pope St. Pius X.
In his Encyclical Pascendi, Pius X warned that for the modernist, religious experience is primary:
"For the modernist believer" (as distinguished from the modernist as philosopher, Ed.) "... it is an established and certain fact that the reality of the divine does really exist in itself and quite independently of the person who believes in it. If you ask on what foundation this assertion of the believer rests, he answers: in the personal experience of the individual."
This new emphasis on religious experience - especially within Small Christian Communities - should keep any serious Catholic at arm’s length from these novel fads which no longer resemble traditional Catholic doctrine and practice.
A New Way of Being Church
Those who promote Small Christian Communities boast that it is a "new way of being Church". It claims to encourage strong connection to the parish, and the actual stated goal is to restructure the parish so that it becomes a "community of communities". What they call the restructure of the parish, however, will actually be the dismantling of the parish.
In 1997, I attended the "Creating Evangelizing Parishes" meeting in Western New York to learn of these new practices first hand. One of the seminars was entitled "Small is Good" by Father Ron Bagley who was promoting Small Christian Communities.
Father Bagley said that if he had a choice between sending people to catechesis or to Small Christian Communities, he would send them to Small Christian Communities. Once again within this new religion, we have the primacy of sentiment and experience over doctrine.
Father Bagley also said that he is part of a Small Christian Community of prison chaplains, and then told us, "I'm the only Catholic member."
We see, then, that the Small Christian Community is essentially a modernist and ecumenically-based structure. One of the many dangers of this new movement is that it opens the door for the establishment of "faith-sharing" cenacles composed of Catholics and members of false religions. Father Bagley's interfaith group of prison chaplains is a prime example.
This ecumenism, however, was condemned by Pope Pius XI in his great encyclical, Mortalium Animos. Interfaith activity was also condemned, among other places, by Pope Leo XIII who said:
"Since the Catholic religion is the only true religion, to put the other religions on the same level with it is to treat it with the gravest injustice and offer it the worst form of insult."
The Call to Action Connection
At this 1997 seminar, Father Bagley praised the Quest booklet mentioned earlier, and also strongly recommended the works of Father Art Baranowski of Detroit who has developed and promoted Small Christian Communities in the United States. Father Baranowski says that Small Christian Communities are a means to "re-invent the Church".
Significantly, this same Father Baranowski travels within the circles of the notorious Call to Action syndicate, and is a regular speaker at the annual Call to Action (CTA) conference, whose list of lecturers include celebrated revolutionaries like Charles Curran, Rosemary Ruether, Tissa Balasuriya, Matthew Fox, Theresa Kane, Bishops Thomas Gumbleton and Raymond Lucker.
Some of the lectures at this CTA Convention were entitled "The 21st Century Parish, A Practical Model" (on Small Christian Communities), "Gay/Lesbian Spirituality", "A Feminist Liturgy", "Imagining Future Church: Small Christian Communities", "The Catholic Lesbian and Gay Agenda, What Do We Want?"
It is no small matter, then, that the most notorious cadre of radicals in the Church, Call to Action, recognize Small Christian Communities as complementary and necessary to their overall agenda of restructuring the entire Church on the basis of "progressive Catholicism" - which is simply another name for neo-paganism.
It must be noted that Small Christian Communities are a main ingredient in a new ecumenical/pentecostal program being introduced in entire dioceses called SINE, Systematic Integration of the New Evangelization.
Fr. Art Baranowski also receives favorable press from the radical National Catholic Reporter. In 1993, that newspaper wrote a glowing report about a conference on Small Christian Communities held in Saint Paul, MN in August of that year. Baranowski was one of the speakers. Also present was Peter Eichten, pastoral administrator of St. Joan of Arc parish, Minneapolis - one of the few commentators who really gives the game away regarding the true purpose of Small Christian Communities.
Eichten observed that some of the small groups mistakenly see themselves as merely "extensions of the clergy's ministry." He then said that Small Communities, in contrast, "take the Second Vatican Council seriously" and "see their ministry based in baptism" - which, in this context, means the erroneous over-emphasis of the importance and authority of the laity to the detriment of Catholic doctrine on the importance and authority of the sacramental priesthood.
By contrast, the traditional (pre-Vatican II) Papal teaching on the Lay Apostolate and Catholic Action emphasizes that the laity must live the life of sanctifying grace, be well formed in the traditional doctrine of the Church, be nourished by the sacraments, and then exercise an uncompromising Catholic influence in the world. Within this true teaching, the proper distinction between priesthood and laity is meticulously safeguarded.
Hence it can be stated that the true goal of these Small Christian Communities is the establishment of a lay-led church. Its purpose is to give permanent structure to the modernist "priesthood of the people" delusion.
It is no surprise, then, that radical groups like Call to Action zealously promote Small Christian Communities. As one Call to Action board member boasted, "We are beginning to create a new church instead of fixing the old one" - and Small Christian Communities are major building blocks of this new construct of apostasy.
This is digested from a 4-part series by John Vennari entitled "Catholicism Dissolved, The New Evangelization," printed in Catholic Family News, Oct. 1998 through Jan. 1999.