Virtual Friendship Group Offers Spiritual Formation and Reading

Last August, I was blessed to experience a bit of Heaven on earth at St. Joseph Retreat House in Milton, Massachusetts. I chose this location for an eight-day retreat after reading Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV’s latest book Struggles in the Spiritual Life, published by the company I work for, Sophia Press. It was immensely helpful and I thought, “If I had this book when I was younger my life would have been so much easier!” 

In the book Fr. Gallagher explores the theme of holy discernment. Even Catholics who are committed to daily prayer and seek to ardently live their faith have little or no training in basic rules of discernment. Many therefore stumble in the darkness without direction as they navigate spiritual and nonspiritual desolations. Fortunately, my retreat director, Fr. William Neubecker, OMV shared literature relevant to this need of mine.

The Holy Spirit worked through his wise counsel, preaching, and prayers, and I had a transformative experience. Our Lord healed me in areas in which I didn’t know I still needed healing until Fr. Neubecker encouraged me to take my wounds to the Cross and place them in Christ’s wounds. He prayed with me and, to paraphrase Fr. Gallagher, the Spiritual Exercises happily became for me an experience of “setting the captives free.” 

During the retreat I was also blessed to learn about Venerable Bruno Lanteri and the Friendship Groups that he led toward the end of the nineteenth century. This saint of encouragement inspired me and I quickly recognized that the Friendship Groups he founded are urgently needed in our times. In fact, at the end of my retreat, a religious sister asked me if we could exchange contact information. She said that she could tell we shared a love for the Holy Eucharist and had a similar spirituality. It is so hard, she added, to find like-minded friends.

The next morning, as I was praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it struck me: The Oblates of the Virgin Mary have the charism and Sophia Press has the Catholic literature. Why not collaborate and set the world on fire? With participants seeking to grow in their faith, we could all work together to help fortify each other and set the world on fire for Christ. In the words of Ven. Lanteri: “Why not become all fire? There must be fire, fire, fire an intense love for God.”

Fr. Gallagher once said the world needs small, “fervent cells,” of well-formed Catholics through authentic spiritual reading. The Oblates of the Virgin Mary are skilled in the Spiritual Exercises, forming souls in the rules of discernment through preaching, writing, spiritual direction, and recommending the finest Catholic literature. Sophia Press publishes several Oblate titles, as well as other quality literature.

As we’ve all experienced and/or observed, without ongoing formation in the faith and the support of like-minded believers, it is easy to fall prey to enemy attacks and become “confused, discouraged, and give up” (Fr. Neubecker), forgetting Ignatian wisdom, consolation, and grace. By promoting Ven. Lanteri’s mission and message worldwide, however, many souls will discover Divine Mercy, healing, and renewal.

I am excited to share that the first meeting of the Friendship Groups will be June 15, 2023 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time. Fr. Bill Brown, OMV will briefly talk about the history of Friendship Groups and provide an overview of Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV’s popular book Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement. All are invited to join, read this book, and ask questions.

The response in people signing up for the Friendship Group has been wonderful and demonstrated that there is a real hunger for this type of spiritual enrichment opportunity. Monthly meetings will follow with opportunities to read other life-changing literature through November and, based on the response, the Friendship Group may continue into the future. An Oblate priest will present at each meeting and answer participants’ questions. Discussion questions will be sent out prior to the meeting to help members further glean from the experience.

Information on joining the group is available here. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] I look forward to welcoming you and growing together in this exciting spiritual adventure!

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Mary Beth Bracy is a consecrated virgin of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, New York. She is a writer who is blessed to research, publish, and speak extensively on various aspects of Catholic spirituality. Her books include Behold the Lamb, Bread of Life and The Little Way of Healing Love Through the Passion of Jesus: The Stations of the Cross with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She is also co-author of the book Stories of the Eucharist. Mary Beth has written articles for numerous Catholic publications and recorded some Catholic talks. For more information or to view her blog visit The Little Way.

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