Thursday, 5 March 2015

Coming Together to Pray or to Play?

During the months of May and October, we are encouraged to gather as a community to pray the rosary. In Malaysia and in some other countries, we have what is called "Basic Ecclesial Communities (BEC)" where the faithful within a housing area are encouraged to come together (at least once a month) in a location or home (depending on the circumstances) within the housing area, to pray, to reflect, to have bible sharing, and other faith and community building activities.

While all these activities are fine and good, we sometimes come across situations where such gatherings are more worldly than spiritual. Some of you may be thinking: this padre is being too quick to assume things or to make comments, but allow me to elaborate further what I am getting at:
  1. In several gatherings, I have observed that there are some who come there not so much to pray, but to exchange juicy news. This happens sometimes after the prayers or reflection or sharing, where such people can't wait to begin their "marathon talking sessions" (in other words, they are merely interested in the gossiping, plain and simple). The whole idea of praying together becomes lost in translation, as such people begin to indulge in back-biting, making unkind remarks and other utterances about others.
  2. Many of the gatherings I have attended have food and drinks served after the prayers, reflection or sharing. However, sometimes I observe people coming more for the food than for the spiritual activities, as some would be so quick to get to the dining area and begin to tuck in, even before the prayer before meals has been said. In some instances, there seems to be some sort of competition between hosts of different houses to see who can serve the best meal. Sometimes, I end up having to remind people that the food is not so important, since some families may not be that well off and we should not cause them to experience financial burden by serving too costly a meal.
  3. Sometimes there is homework given before a gathering, especially if the gathering involves some bible sharing or bible study. I find it amusing listening to the excuses or comments of some people who have not come prepared, and end up trying to "smoke" their way through ("smoke" in this context refers to bluffing ones way through or saying things without having the faintest idea or foggiest notion what they are saying), when it is their turn to share or comment. I remember back when I was a seminarian, a fellow seminarian tried to "smoke" his way through during scripture class, and the scripture professor had great difficulty staying calm while the fellow was "smoking" excessively (resulting in a suffocatingly "smokey" situation). Eventually, the scripture professor could not take it any longer and burst out laughing till his sides ached, and class had to be dismissed.
  4. At times, I have observed people present at a gathering, but their minds are elsewhere. They go through the spiritual activities almost mechanically, but you can notice that they are not really interested and come for other reasons.
  5. At some gatherings, I was quite annoyed that there are some people who come with the intention to sell their products. Some of these people are involved in MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) and some even have the gall to try and recruit new people during such gatherings. Surely there are other times and places where such selling or recruitment could take place. Are some of us turning a religious activity into a marketplace (or "pasar malam" or night market)?
Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves honestly: why are we gathering in the first place? What is our priority and purpose? Are we coming together to grow in relationship with God? Or have our gatherings become more and more worldly? Let us change our ways and attitudes, so that together as a community of brothers and sisters of Christ, we would gather in prayer and reflection and let the Lord be our guide.

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