A weekly process for small faith sharing groups, based on Sunday's Scripture readings.

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November 14 2012
Welcome to Celebrating the Word!

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"Celebrating The Word"
An Interview with Fr. Frank

In this article, Resurrection Bulletin interviews Father Frank Ruetz, CR who is the creator, author and editor of Celebrating the Word, one of the major ministries of Resurrection Center for Lifelong Learning. The above logo is the symbol used on each week’s publication which is sent to several thousand Catholics in Canada, the United States and abroad. The symbol signifies the bible as the primary light leading to a deeper understanding of God’s Word, God’s personal presence and God’s empowering Spirit.

Q. Father Jerome: I understand that you began this special ministry called Celebrating the Word, many years ago. Can you explain what prompted you to initiate it?

Fr. Frank: I have been asked that question many times over in the past 17 years. I find it helpful to turn the question around and ask a question of my own: “Why do you continue your faith practice? What keeps you coming to Sunday worship each week when so many are staying away?” The most common response I receive to such questions has been something like “ There's got to be more.” Or else, I ask, “As a parent are you not a little disturbed when your children show little inclination towards Sunday worship, or not expressing their faith in a manner you've been raised and taught? Do you not feel, as do many Catholics, that there has to be more to the faith life than you commonly experience?” They acknowledge that this kind of question is legitimate and needs to be addressed. Reflecting on the varied ministries of my 50 years of ordination I think it fair to say that this kind of statement has haunted me for most of my years: Who or What am I searching for? Who or what is missing in my life? Where is the more? How do I actually help people find the more? These are some of the restless questions that have driven me to create Celebrating the Word .

Q. Fr. Jerome : So what is Celebrating the Word?

Fr. Frank: Celebrating the Word is a six page resource publication designed as a guide for small groups of people of faith who meet weekly to address questions and concerns that commonly concern their lives and their communities. Stated simply, Celebrating the Word is a small group activity and process that allows people of faith to make meaningful connections between their ordinary life stories and the Gospel story. In this reflective interaction, it is the common experience of group participants that the Sunday readings become alive and are actually experienced as Spirit filled. This is startling Good News which we all have longed for.

Currently several thousand people from across Canada and the U.S. gather weekly to reflect on and share their life stories—their successes and failures, their hopes and their dreams—and they do this against the backdrop of Sunday's three scripture passages. In this relaxed but prayerful reflection and discernment, the assembled people acknowledge that they commonly find the meaning and the relevance of God’s Word (the weekly Scripture readings) not often experienced.

And remember most of these people have little or no formal training in the Scriptures and represent people of all age levels and all life experiences from 18 to 88.
Q. Father Jerome: People want to know what is it exactly that people do when they come together in the small group using Celebrating the Word?

Father Frank: They gather in groups of 6 to 12 in the home of one of members where they engage in a process that is simply called faith sharing. It is a small group process that is based on Jesus’ own invitation and promise: “ Where two or more are gathered in my name I am there in their midst.”(Matthew 18:20). During the hour and a half gathering, the participants, using a format that is simple and non-threatening, engage in a prayerful reflection, dialogue and discernment, trying to find meaningful connections between their personal life stories and the current scripture readings.

Groups have been using this resource for the past 17 years and the feedback remains the same. People commonly report that in this weekly gathering their faith is nurtured and their lives have become better managed and peace filled. But the crowning outcome which they prize most of all is that they experience the presence and power of God's Spirit in a way they've never known before. People report, time and again, that this experience is a most welcome and happy discovery and the most valued of spiritual gifts.

Q. Father Jerome: When did you realize the potential of Celebrating the Word as a process of faith development? for evangelizing ?

Father Frank: The concept and the process of Celebrating the Word evolved significantly in the first five years of its use. Beginning in 1992 it developed slowly and remained very much confined to groups in Southern Ontario. Gradually as I came to better understand the questions and the needs of people, and as I became more familiar with the sacred readings, Celebrating the Word evolved into the resource you now see.

In 1998, as the number of groups using the current material continued to increase, I decided that it might be appropriate and advantageous to invite a few church leaders to evaluate the general worth of Celebrating the Word. Personally I felt that Celebrating the Word was primarily an effective tool for evangelization, for spreading God’s Word and teaching the Good News. So I assembled a small booklet with outlines for the four Sundays of Advent for 1998 and send copies to several bishops and archbishops across Canada, inviting them to make whatever comments they chose. I was pleased with the responses I received. Archbishop Gervais (Ottawa) and Bishop John Sherlock (London) were especially helpful in providing me an encouraging critique of the both the content and the dynamic of Celebrating the Word along with suggestions for its use.

Q. Fr. Jerome: I am sure those responses gave you a tremendous boost, both personally and professionally.

Fr. Frank: Very much so, and as the formation of faith sharing groups grew rapidly especially among Third World countries, it seemed that Celebrating the Word was an ideal guide and response: the process was simple enough that almost anyone could be a part of it. And the fact that it did not require any scripture background no one was excluded.

It should be noted that Celebrating the Word has been designed as a useful format for the celebration of The Table of the Word. This means that in all those regions where there is no ordained priest to celebrate the Eucharist, the group participants engaged in Celebrating the Word can still have access to God’s empowering presence and power through The Table of the Word.

From the Church's inception, the Word of God has been her very life. In Christ, the Word
Incarnate through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is called to be ‘a kind of
Sacrament, or sign, of intimate union with God and the unity of all humankind.’”
(cf. The Synod of Bishops, Rome, 2008)

Q. Fr. Jerome: In your opinion is the Church in general, and especially in Canada, catching on to Celebrating the Word?

Fr. Frank: I am much encouraged by the interest shown in recent years. In 2002 I was invited to the national convention of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada. I was invited to lead 1,000 women in an experience of Celebrating the Word. Today, there are groups using Celebrating the Word in every province of Canada, in dozens of U.S.A. cities and towns, and in a number of locations overseas.

Q. Father Jerome: It is obvious that Celebrating the Word discussion/prayer groups touched the lives of several thousand people. How has it touched your life?

Fr. Frank: Celebrating the Word has become the heart of my spiritual life. I often wonder where my spiritual life would be without it. In fact, it is my personal experience of the power of God’s Word over such a long period of time, reinforced by the professed experience of countless participants that keeps driving my “C.R. Ministry engine.”

Q. Fr. Jerome: How can our readers learn more about Celebrating the Word?

Fr. Frank: We have a website which they can visit: http://www.celebratingtheword.com/ Or they call our toll free number: 1-877-242-7935 . Or, they can email me at theword@celebratingtheword.com If a parish group wishes, I would be happy to arrange for a visit to the parish to introduce Celebrating the Word.

Thank you, Father Frank, for taking time to explain your ministry to our readers. I am sure that for many of them small group sharing based on scripture is new. Hopefully, this will encourage some to investigate starting a small group and using your material.

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