Friday, September 27, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 17

Letter to Kerry Zmatick, (Must he drone on and on and on?)

Glossolalia as I said in my last thrilling installment, is verbal non-mental prayer. In this it has some commonality with the Rosary. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans,  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through unexpressible groans.”  Sometimes you just don’t know how to pray,  or even what to pray for.  That’s the primary practical use of glossolalia. 

Glossolalia is a spontaneous, though not uncontrolled, experience. I first spoke in tongues after hanging up a phone. I was so filled with joy after the conversation in which I learned about this whole business that when I ran out of hymns to sing I started praying in tongues. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world. An old college roommate was very unsettled one morning. He looked at me and said “Not only do you pray in strange sounding languages when you are awake, but now you are singing in them in your sleep!!!” 

I noticed the other day when I dropped by a church to go to confession that the Blessed Sacrament was on the altar. (For non-Catholics, The Blessed Sacrament is another way to say the consecrated communion wafer that we believe is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the whole Christ. Sometime we bring the Sacrament out of the tabernacle, a little box where it/He is kept, and we spend time in His company. You should try it even if you’re not Catholic. It is very sweet to spend a quiet hour in prayer with Jesus present physically as well as spiritually. It is like a taste of heaven.) Where was I? Oh yes I noticed that the blessed Sacrament was on the altar and I knelt to pray, and after a few minutes I noticed my lips were moving and I was quietly praying in tongues. No shouting. No rolling on the floor. No waving my hands around. Just a simple quiet mumbling that couldn’t be heard by anyone except for Him. My spirit was praying before I knew I was praying. The Holy Spirit was helping me in my weakness.

Long before I was a priest I was keeping company with a young woman. (On the up and up. We were both good Catholics at the time). She had been a non-believer when I met her, but had come with me to some prayer meetings and had encountered the Lord. Being a doctrinaire Pentecostal with a capital P at the time, I nagged her about “when are you gonna get ‘baptized” in the Holy Spirit. She would glare at me and say, “When and if God wants to!” Well she “got baptized in the Holy Spirit” but did not speak in tongues. I nagged her again. “When are you gonna get the gift of tongues? Again she glared and said, “when God wants to give me the gift of tongues!!!” A while later as she was riding the subway, she noticed that she was quietly praying in tongues. All my nagging had nothing to do with it. Wisely, we drifted apart. I would have made her crazy in the long run.

There is nothing contrived or forced about glossolalia if it’s the real thing. There is a lot out there that seems to me anything but the real thing. Remember a month or two or three ago when I explained that the crazy politics of the American colonies insisted that in order to be a citizen of a religious colony one had to give proof of “election” that is of being among the chosen? Since then, certain sects have become obsessed with the “evidence of salvation”. 

I know someone who was raised in a very Pentecostal sect that believes in order to be counted among the elect, that is to be able to say I am saved, it is necessary to speak in tongues at least once in your life. It’s perfectly logical. In order to be saved you must be able to say that Jesus is Lord. The Bible says that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit, and if you don’t speak in tongues you must not have the Holy Spirit and therefore  cannot possibly be saved. Eazy peazy! A=B=C=CRAZY.  When people tell me they “have the Holy Spirit", I tell them I am much more interested in whether or not the Holy Spirit has them. 

That’s the real meaning of glossolalia. It’s not evidence that one has the Holy Spirit. It is a way, among many, to let the Holy Spirit have you. This is true of all the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They exist not for evidence, nor for individual advantage, but for the common good. By the way, the above mentioned friend is now a devout Catholic and a professor and I do not believe he has ever spoken in tongues. I do suspect that he is still heaven bound. He and his wife are a lot holier than I am.

Some of God’s special friends think speaking in tongues is an absolute requirement. If you don’t “have” the gift of tongues, you don’t “have the Holy Spirit, and you are not a member of the club. These people will back you into a corner until they are convinced you have spoken in tongues. I remember a preacher whose specialty was helping people to “release the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” He would have people repeat — and mind you I am not making a word of this up --- He would have people repeat the phrase “come and take a ride in my Honda.” Soon they would be babbling away and, hallelujah! they had received the gift of tongues. 

Give me a break. I don’t think the Lord works this way. Perhaps I am wrong, but I suspect that if you force something it is certainly not a gift, and probably not a manifestation of anything, except perhaps a need for an increase in one’s medication. I remember the story of a Presbyterian minister who went into a Pentecostal church to see what all the hubbub was about and before the night was over the congregation had pounced on him with the laying on of hands to get an actual Presbyterian baptized in the Holy Spirit. They weren’t going to let him go until he had been baptized in the Holy Ghost, and that wasn’t going to happen until he spoke in tongues. After a half an hour or so he decided to end the nonsense by praying the Our Father in Greek, having studied Classical Greek in divinity school. There were shouts of acclamation and they let him leave. Later that night, in the privacy of his own home, the Lord filled him with His Presence and the fellow quietly and peacefully began to pray in tongues as the Holy Spirit prompted him. 

Speaking in tongues has a certain sign value, but its greater value is a quiet means of speaking from the heart. Its primary use is for intercessory prayer, as it often is with the Rosary. St. Paul make this clear in his First Letter to the Corinthians (14:2 and following)

"Anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them they utter mysteries by the Spirit. ...I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy....Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church....If I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful.  So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding...When you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else say ‘Amen’ to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified....I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

St. Paul makes it clear that, while he considers this a useful gift, it is not the most important thing. The belief that it is in any way necessary for salvation or even for a full spiritual life is exactly opposite to the sense of Scripture. Above all, St. Paul does not consider this a liturgical gift. It seems in the early Church there were instances of enthusiastic praying in the Spirit such as Pentecost or the house of Cornelius the Centurion and a few other instances, but the idea that glossolalia was used liturgically is unfounded. It is a remarkably quiet gift which can also be used communally in a kind of prophetic worship.

I am often asked is glossolalia a real language? I have no idea. Once many years ago, before I had studied Polish, I was at a prayer meeting, a real barn burner of a meeting. A little old nun cam up to me and asked me if I spoke Polish. I said no, and she said “You’ve been praying in Polish for the last half hour!” 

I remember the testimony of an Irish priest who had spent years with an obscure ethnic group in Africa. He was one of the few outsiders who could speak their language. His assignment was over. He had been reassigned to Boston and was feeling very much alone. He was out walking one evening, and from over a garden wall, he heard that language that he had spoken for so many years and now longed to hear once again. He rushed to the garden gate and the under a tree he found a man, obviously not African, who knelt with eyes closed, pouring his heart out to the Lord. The fellow it turns out had just been prayed over and had receive the manifestation of glossolalia. 

I could go on and on with stories, as you well know, but suffice it to say there is something real and precious about glossolalia. There is also something that is borderline wacko about a fixation with it. I have no idea if glossolalia is a real language, my suspicion is that it is as much a gift of ears as of tongues. On Pentecost the hearers didn’t say, “These men are speaking our languages.” They said, “We can HEAR them in our own languages.”   

I know of no instance of someone recording glossolalia and  identifying a known language. I have heard linguists who study the phenomenon say it certainly has the cadence and feel of a language, if it is a genuine experience, and not just “wanting to ride in a Honda.” Glossolalia is not necessarily a supernatural ability to speak a foreign language, though this has been recorded in the history of the faith. It is a language of the soul that cries out to God. If you want to know more about the whole business, read John Sherrill’s book “They Speak with Other Tongues.”  It’s a classic, not the best theology, but a classic nonetheless. Better still, if you want to know more, ask the Holy Spirit. 

Just don’t let anyone take you for a ride in their Honda.

(I sincerely apologize. I am not done. More next week)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 16

Letter to Kerry Zmatick, the Grand Finale (Which should only take two or three weeks — four or five at most. Probably)

When one think elephant one thinks “trunk”.  When one thinks of things Pentecostal/Charismatic, one thinks of speaking in tongues. There is a lot more to elephants than trunks and there’s more to Pentecostalism than speaking in tongues, but still, it wouldn’t be an elephant without the trunk.

Speaking in tongues or with tongues — also called the gift of tongues, glossolalia and, by some, babbling in Babylonian — is ridiculous, embarrassing and undignified and these are merely a few reasons why it is a very good thing. Glossolalia is a Greek word that means “speaking in tongues”. It is the word preferred by snobbish pseudo-scholarly people and — being a snobbish pseudo scholar — I will now employ the word instead of the less impressive “speaking in tongues”. 

People regularly tell the Lord, “I give you everything I am and have.” When the Lord confers glossolalia on a person he is taking the last shred of their dignity. They babble like children spouting nonsense words and surely we don’t want to be like little children. Who would even ask such a thing? (cf. Matthew 18:2-4) I have spoken in tongues on a daily basis for just short of 46 years and it is still embarrassing to admit it, even as I write this, the thought crosses my mind, “What will my eight faithful readers think of me?” 

So, what is glossolalia? Once again, let us repair to the Bible, that big book on the coffee table. 

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.  And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?  Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”  And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.  For these people are not drunk, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.’”
The text goes on to say that three thousand were converted and baptized that day.
When I was a lad, we were taught that glossolalia was a means by which the apostles were able to preach in languages they didn’t know. That’s not what’s going on here. Everyone who was gathered outside the “house” where the disciples were gathered had at least two languages in common, many had three, some had four. There was no need for a gift of foreign language in the context. Everyone there spoke Aramaic and Hebrew, and probably Greek. Many would have added Latin to the three they already could recognize. What was happening at Pentecost was the symbolic reversal of the tower of Babel.  Human beings had been divided by different speech and culture. The Church that was founded by Jesus became universal, in Greek “Catholic” that day. It became apostolic, that is missionary, an outreach to the whole world and not just to one ethnicity. This is why the Catholic Church has always regarded Pentecost as its birthday. 

The next clear discussion of glossolalia we have in the text of scripture comes later in chapter 10, verse 44 of the Acts of the Apostles.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 
In both instances, Pentecost and the encounter with Cornelius you are seeing what you might see at a good rollicking prayer meeting: everyone going nuts and babbling away and shouting “praise the Lord!” among other things.  It seems that this is not unlike what the prophetic bands and schools of the prophets did in the Old Testament. As a pastor, were I to see a band of prophets coming toward me I would hide quaking in one of the confessionals. Just listen!  

 And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets? And one of the same place answered and said, But who is their father? Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 10:11-12)
 And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:24)
At least this sort of thing doesn’t go on among Charismatics.... I hope. Prophesy is a messy business, all the manifestations of the Holy Spirit are prophecies in a certain sense. Jesus didn’t heal the sick so they could go back to their bowling league. He healed them in order to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Think about it. All those who were healed by Jesus ultimately became ill again and died. Even those he raised from the dead die again. Jesus worked His signs and wonders to say with more than words that the Kingdom of God was at hand. 

Glossolalia is jarring. That is its purpose. It is jarring to the person who prays that way and jarring to the person who hears it. No one leaves a good Pentecostal meeting saying “It was a lovely service, Reverend.” They usually say something like, “All you people are out of your minds!!!”  Then they come back next week to figure out the nature of the insanity. If you’ve ever witnessed someone standing up at a meeting and loudly proclaiming something that seems to be a language but it’s utterly unintelligible to all the hearers, you don’t forget it. All true prophetic words and actions stop you in your tracks. You want to get out of there and go some place normal. That is precisely the point. The Kingdom of God is not business as usual.  One thing a real Pentecostal meeting isn’t: boring. Weird, yes — but never boring.
Shock value is certainly not the only purpose of glossolalia. It is also a very useful way of praying. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul says,

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through un-expressible groans, and He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26, 27)
Let me translate into English. Sometimes you just don’t know how to pray, or there are no words to express your gratitude and wonder. The Holy Spirit gives us a way to pray that is beyond words. It is verbal, non-mental prayer. In this sense it is not unlike the Rosary. PAY ATTENTION! I AM NOT SAYING THAT GLOSSOLALIA IS THE SAME AS, OR AS GOOD AS, OR BETTER THAN THE ROSARY!!! I am simply saying that glossolalia occupies a similar place in the human psyche. It too, in part is verbal non-mental prayer. 

I learned this from a very holy bishop who was trying his best to figure out this Charismatic business. He realized that when the Charismatics prayed in tongues they were doing the same thing he did when he prayed the Rosary. It wasn’t the words that mattered. It was simply that he was allowing the Holy Spirit to give him a way to express the wonder of God’s love by repeating the angel’s greeting to our Blessed Mother, who is the very model of true. It was verbal non-mental prayer. There the similarity ends. St Paul says, “I will pray with the spirit, I will pray with the mind also.” (1Cor.14:15) The Rosary is both verbal/non-mental and mental prayer. We are invited to meditate on the Mysteries of the life of our Lord as well as to speak in prayer. There are people who try to say the Rosary, precisely, carefully, consciously. My hat is off to them. In actual Catholic practice, the Aves and Paters and Glorias that make up most of the Rosary are said thoughtlessly and lovingly. It is just good to be in the Presence of the Lord. I would say that the little Rosary groups who linger after Mass are wonderfully spirit-filled.

Next Week: How this glossolalia business works.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 15

Letter to Kerry Zmatick, continued (please, won’t somebody put a stop to this endless harangue?)

Let us again refer to St. Paul.   

“When you come together, let each of you have a psalm…” 1Cor. 14 26.   

This will never work. You can’t just let anybody sing at a prayer meeting. A prayer meeting has to have a music ministry, the purpose thereof, to get the people going and to make the whole thing a better experience of worship.  (What this really means is that a meeting without decent music can be numbingly boring.) We are a spectator society. We want to have someone else do the work for us. 

When I was a lad, we still used to learn how to play a musical instrument and would sing while we dried the dishes. Now we put the dishes in the dishwasher and watch television. The Charismatic Renewal has a strong element of the consumer culture. 

“How do you expect me to pray without someone leading worship and a decent music ministry? I come to prayer meetings to be uplifted.”   

Oh. I thought you came to praise the Lord. I have actually heard people say, “Tonight we’ll have to cancel the prayer meeting . We don’t have any music!” What they actually mean is that they have no one to play instruments. The old ladies I mentioned earlier who would lock themselves in church for the night with pillows and coffee pots had music. They had it in their hearts and souls. They would come armed with nothing but tambourines and determination and they would sing for hours as the Holy Spirit prompted them. I am not against good music, but again, one can structure the brains out of a prayer meeting. 

The point of a prayer meeting is to hear from the Holy Spirit. I have been to prayer meetings that seem more like a show with five or six acts. If there is a lull in the doings the choir gets up, goes to the microphones and sings an inspiring number and when they are done the prayer group leader says “Let’s all stand up and really just praise the Lord.”  

When I was a lad and first involved in these things, our group had an out-of-tune piano and an old lady for the music ministry. Somebody in the meeting would start an old chorus like, “We see the Lord, He is high and lifted up..” The piano would chime in exactly on key. (I call this the charismatic gift of ukalalia. For the humor impaired, I am joking.) We would sing those words from Isaiah over and over again, because in our hearts we did see the Lord, high and lifted up. (Isaiah 6:1) I remember a night of wonderful testimonies and as each of us shared a story of what the Lord had done in the past week, we would break into the old chorus “In the name of Jesus, we have the victory...” It was schmaltzy,  it was childish and it was wonderful fun. Nothing was planned, no two songs were alike, and no one led music.

As I said, I have nothing against good music, or even bad music for that matter. My problem is with self-aggrandizing music.  I remember a retreat for all the prayer group choirs in Frostbite Falls. I asked if any of the choirs ever went into the church privately and serenaded Our Lord in the tabernacle. Of the thirty or forty prayer group choirs present, one said they actually did that regularly. I was shocked that one choir actually had thought of it. I expected no one to have made music just for the Lord. 

I once read an old article from a Boston newspaper that read, “At yesterday’s gathering the Rev. Doctor Blatherworth delivered the finest prayer ever offered to a Boston audience.” It could also have read “the finest hymn ever sung to a prayer group.” If you have a music ministry that is absolutely in love with the Lord and which sings and plays solely because they love the Lord, that’s great. If you know of such a group, I’d like to meet them. You know how to tell such a group? I’ve already said it. Take away their microphones. I have had more difficulties with prayer group choirs than I care to remember -- power struggles, hurt feelings when a lead singer is replaced, choir directors storming out, recriminations about failure to attend practices, fights about money and record profits. You can tell when a Charismatic music ministry is on the skids spiritually. They decide to record an album. Then they get invitations to go to other meetings get invited to do conferences. They have finally made the big time. Incidentally, one can buy their recordings at the book table. 

“But Father, we are doing this to help people. They can listen to our music at home and in their cars and feel closer to the Lord.” 

They may feel closer to the Lord, but God would rather they BE closer to Him by obeying His perfect will. When it’s about how you feel, it’s no longer about the Lord.

Church choirs need practice, but I would venture that a real prayer group choir shouldn’t practice, except when they are going to sing in a locked church before the Tabernacle with no spectators present. Offer the best to the Lord, but let the Holy Spirit inspire the prayer meeting. No practices, no microphones, no adoring fans. Do it for the Lord. If there are no musicians, sing songs yourself -- flat, out of key, rasping, cat-howling songs. If they come from the heart and are inspired by the love of God, Heaven will really enjoy them, just as you enjoy songs that your children make up. A prayer meeting is a gathering of the people of God for the free exercise of the gifts of God. It is not a polished liturgical performance for the amusement of the congregation. So, dump the music ministries. Keep the music but dump the music ministries.

Next, the absolute worst idea of all! Dump the Charismatic Mass. It is a liturgical abuse of the worst kind. Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of Calvary, not of Pentecost. Mass is the solemn Sacrament, the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ. 

You must be tired of my telling you that the Latin word Sacramentum means an “oath to the death.”  I go to Mass to swear my blood oath to give my life for Christ and His Bride, the Church. I certainly receive at Mass, if I am properly disposed to God’s grace, but that is not why I go to Mass. I go to offer my life with His on the altar. That’s why we call it the sacrifice of the Mass. We don’t call it the sacrifice of the prayer meeting. Mass is a covenant ceremony and as such it is a carefully and beautifully structured liturgy. 

“But I get so much more out of a Charismatic Mass! I am so bored at those regular Masses.” 

You sound like the kind of person who, standing at the foot of Christ’s cross, would have gotten bored about an hour and a half into the crucifixion and gone off to see if there were a concession stand nearby. If Christ had been crucified in a mega-church, at least then you could have gone out to the lobby and gotten a cappuccino. 

There is nothing spontaneous about Mass. Everything should be spontaneous about a prayer meeting. It seems that sometimes Charismatics want spontaneous Masses and structured prayer meetings! Have a prayer and praise session before Mass. Pray for the sick after Mass, but please let Mass be Mass. To conform Mass to a particular modern taste is to cut it off from the well springs of history and the communion of the Church. Mass is something we do in fellowship with a billion people alive today and with billions more who have left this world or have not yet entered it. At Mass we are made one with all believers in space and in time and beyond time. 

At a prayer meetings we struggle to hear the Holy Spirit. Mass is worship. A prayer meeting is not worship. A prayer meeting is wonderful in its prayer and praise, but Mass is true worship, because there is no worship worthy of the Majesty of Heaven, except the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God on Calvary. My hand clapping enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but it cannot compare to the Blood shed on the altar of the Cross. 

When people invite me to say a Charismatic Mass, I always say, “Sorry, I only know how to say a Catholic Mass," and I mean exactly that. The structured nature of the Mass makes it universal. I am doing what they do in India and Africa and China and in Heaven. A prayer meeting is a wonderful thing. In a sense, it is the opposite of universal. It is local. The Holy Spirit makes the universal and unchanging Word of God specific to the needs and the situation of a small local group. This is a good thing. 

The intimacy of the prayer group is wonderful. It should not be made liturgical. It is not meant to have a structure. It is meant to be spontaneous. A good prayer meeting can make the Mass more meaningful but it is not the Mass. Don’t confuse them. Dump the Charismatic Mass, no matter how nice it is and how good it feels.

Next week: What is this speaking in tongues nonsense?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 14

Letter to Kerry Zmatick, (as if anyone is still reading this nonsense.)

Once again, the best definition of a prayer meeting: "A gathering of the people of God for the free exercise of the gifts of God."

We have already dumped the microphones and, more importantly, the teaching and the teachers. There is still a problem. Prayer meetings have always attracted a group of people whom I call the “Sacred Screwballs,” or the “Loons of the Lord.” They have a tendency to see the prayer groups as their own private therapy group. Shouldn’t there be leaders to pounce on them when they begin to dominate the prayer group? This question is related to the wider problem which I call “the Church oughta do something about this...”   

People come up to me all the time and say, “Father, you need to tell that lady in the eighth pew on the left who wears enough perfume to gag a goat that she should tone it down.”  

To which I respond, “Have you told her that?” 

To which the complainer usually responds, “Oh no, Father. That would be impolite. I would never dare to do that. What would she think? You’re the pastor. Isn’t it your job?” 

No, it is not my job. It’s your job. My job as pastor is still two steps away.   

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.  If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matt: 18:15-18) 

That means you talk to them, then if they don’t listen, go to them with a couple other people in the group and then if they still don’t listen. Discuss it publicly in the group. Right there in the prayer meeting. Right out loud. In front of everybody!!! But isn’t that impolite? No, it’s honest, and it’s what Jesus tells us to do. No one person should be able to foist his agenda on a group of people. That’s not what a prayer meeting is for. 
Let us consider some scenarios.  One of God’s little helpers comes to the prayer meeting with the express purpose of getting everyone into the "Eighteen Hail Mary Every Leap Year Devotion" that
St. Baldric received during an ecstatic vision and which he explains for us in his third locution for
St. Swiven’s Day. It becomes evident our devotee of St. Baldric is going into a rant of more than two or three minutes. 

If you ("Who me?" "Yes, you.") are uncomfortable with the direction of the rant, take authority. Raise your hand and say, “We don’t have teachings at our meeting. Perhaps you can share this with us over coffee.”  Say it with a smile. Pretend to be open-minded and tolerant. If they refuse to shut up at that point, then a couple of you can ask to see the Locutor outside, and explain the situation. If the Locutor is still intent on taking over your prayer group, bring it up in front of the whole group. This is the Biblical “One, Two, Three or More Ecclesial Heave Ho” approach. 

Pretty soon people will stop using your little prayer and praise group as private therapy. It’s hard at first, but it really works. When someone wants to take over the group let him know right away, that is not what we are here for. You have no teaching. Maybe a brief testimony, two or three minutes, a prophetic word, but never more than two or three of those. That’s what St. Paul says. (1Cor. 14:29) 

I get the biggest kick out of those conventions where five or ten prophets line up at the microphone with their prophetic note books in hand and start off with “My little children....” Haven’t these people read the Bible? If someone writes a prophecy down, you can pretty much count on it not being a prophecy, unless of course it’s Isaiah or Habakkuk or one of that crowd. 

What about prayer for the sick? 

I would suggest that if someone asks for prayer, let the group pray for them. If a lot of people ask for prayer, pray for the sick and the needy at the end of the meeting. But by no means allow a collection to be taken up at any prayer meeting. Any money collected must be accounted for by the parish office. That’s the law. 
“But how will we meet expenses?” 

What expenses? 

"There’s always cake and coffee at the end of the meeting. How does that get paid for?"

Have people bring a coffee cake. Don’t take up any kind of collection. Few things corrupt a group faster than petty cash. If you have to have any committees, make it a cleanup committee. Remember?  Jesus said that true leadership is about being a busboy or busgirl. (Is that a word?) If some representative of the group needs to be sent on a mission, it should be a member of the clean up committee. 

Speaking as pastor, I can tell you these are our favorite committees. If somebody does clean up, I tend to listen to them. If someone comes in and says, “Roving Avars have stolen everything we own,” and asks to take up a collection. Don’t do it. It is against diocesan and IRS rules and 99.999% of the time it is a scam. 

I remember a poor fellow who would come to a prayer group with his desperately ill son in a wheel chair and weep as he explained his plight. Outside, after the meeting his kid would get out of the wheel chair, pack it in the car’s trunk and move on to the next prayer group. You are on for charity in your private lives, but not at the prayer group. You are not a church. You are a prayer group. Nothing more, nothing less. Remember what the Lord said, “Where you find the corpse, the vultures will gather.” (Matt. 24:28) Believe me I’ve known a lot of vultures who never missed a prayer meeting.

How will we make decisions? 

What decisions? Decisions on theology are the responsibility of the church, not the prayer group. Decisions such as what time should we start the meeting -- the meeting starts when the church hall is opened and someone starts praying. 

How will we decide when the meeting is over? 

It’s over when people have prayed long enough. If you want to pray for an hour and a half, pray for an hour and a half. If someone else want to stay praying until midnight, what harm is there in that? Go home. Get some rest. Do what the Spirit prompts you to do, not what everyone else is doing. ( I would, however suggest that those who want to pray through the night be automatically made members of the clean up committee.) If there is a decision to be made, ask the Holy Spirit. If that fails, ask the pastor. That will surprise him.  

How do you ask the Holy Spirit? 

It’s easy. Someone in the group asks the question: “Lord, should we have blueberry muffins or walnut muffins after the meeting?" Then pray. If a consensus forms, you’ve got a decision, a consensus being two thirds plus one. If it’s good enough to elect a pope, it’s good enough to decide on pastry. If there is a majority, that’s not good enough. Don’t do anything until you’ve got a consensus. Remember what the disciples said in the Acts of the Apostles. “It seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit...”  (Acts 15:28)

Also, smaller is better. All you need for a prayer meeting is two or three people. Small can be a good thing. Remember, you’ve got no microphones, so if the group gets too big, start a second group. Meet in your homes until there is no more room, then meet in the church hall or in a classroom. DON”T MEET IN A CHURCH!!! (unless you are going to behave yourself.) 

In the presence of the Blessed Sacrament there is no conversation, no shouting, no prophecy. You are in the Great Presence. Everything should be directed at the Lord, present in the Eucharist. Prophecy is directed to the hearers, not to the Lord. We are in the presence of the Lord in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Our prophesying is imperfect. Let the perfect Presence speak in its silence without you kibitzing. 

A prayer meeting is not to be confused with Eucharistic Adoration. They are two different things. If you are going to have a prayer meeting, meet downstairs where you can swing from the chandeliers, shout at the top of your lungs, jump up and down, share testimonies about the Lord’s wonders and have coffee in Styrofoam cups along with your blueberry (or walnut) muffins. I love that kind of prayer meeting. It is abhorrent, however, to do all that, especially the Styrofoam cups, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. 

“But the prayer meeting is so wonderful with the Blessed Sacrament present! There are so many blessings!” 

Fine, go upstairs and be blessed, just mind your  manners, because when you are in the presence of the Sacrament, you are not at a prayer meeting. You are in the presence of the Great King. Behave that way!

So let’s get this straight: dump the teaching, dump the microphone, dump the leadership, dump the collections, dump guest lecturers invited and uninvited, dump the time schedule, dump meetings in the church. (I suppose meetings in the church are okay if they really are prayer and praise.) 

What will this bozo want us to dump next?   

I’ll tell you what this bozo really wants! Dump the music ministry.

Next week: “Be still and know that I am God.”