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Bible study group spends two decades with Our Lady

Inspired to deepen her faith, Kate Giaimo dedicated several hours a week to individual study, listening to lectures and group discussion as part of a community Bible study in the early 1980s. The group was non-denominational, and for years, that wasn’t a problem. But when they reached John 6, everything changed.

In that chapter, Jesus tells the gathered crowd, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” The Lord knew it was a hard teaching. The non-Catholics in the group did not take it literally, and moved on. But for Giaimo, it was important — a central tenet of Catholic teaching. The passage highlighted a key difference between Protestants and Catholics — Catholics believe that the consecrated host is truly the Body of Christ, and the wine His Blood. Because the community Bible study had a rule against discussing denominational differences, she felt as if she was failing to defend Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.

 For Giaimo, it was a turning point. In keeping with St. Peter’s admonition to, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you…” (1 Pt 3:15), she launched a new Bible study group in 1996. Half came from the community Bible study, and others were like-minded women committed to deepening their faith. They were all mothers who ranged in age from the late 30s to 50s. Most are daily communicants, or close to it. Giaimo had specific ideas for the new group. To reinforce learning, they would incorporate the same methods of individual study, listening to lectures and engaging in group discussion. But her primary goal was to make the study authentically Catholic and to embrace the truth, beauty and goodness of the church. A big part of that would be to nurture a devotion to Our Lady.

 Why the focus on Our Lady? Mary leads people to Jesus. When she appeared to the shepherd children at Fatima, Mary asked them — and us — to pray the rosary.

Inspired by the work of Italian priest Father Stefano Gobbi, the group became a cenacle — a prayer group in the tradition of the apostles that prays to Jesus through Mary. Their official name is the Daughters of Mary of the Marian Movement of Priests. In further mirroring the apostles, the group has stayed mostly at 12 members, with exceptions made for a couple of members who have left the area and attend sessions through skype. Most members are consecrated to Jesus through Mary, either through the tradition of St. Louis de Montfort in his True Devotion to Mary or in the contemporary work of Father Michael Gaitley in 33 Days to Morning Glory.

Striking the right balance for the group was important: not so loose that they would spend the entire time socializing and not so strict that if someone hadn’t finished their homework they would be afraid to attend. Meetings last for several hours. Beneath an icon of Our Lady and Jesus, each session kicks off  with the group on their knees, sharing their prayer intentions, an activity Giaimo calls the “lightning round.” When members bring an intention to the group, they commit to sharing the progress and outcome so that the group members can grow and learn from their prayers. That is followed by a rosary. Then they break for coffee, and finish with the DVD lecture and group discussion. 

cenacle icon web

The Daughters of Mary cenacle has prayed the rosary and studied the Bible together for 20 years. They start most meetings before this icon of Our Lady and Jesus. COURTESY

Over the years, the studies have evolved. When the group first started, there was a lack of Catholic Bible studies so some members devoted the summer preparing for the group’s next session. It was a labor of love. Within 10 years or so, more commercial studies became available with video lectures and study guides. 

Past studies have included a two-year course on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, works by Father John Hardon, Scott Hahn and Bishop Robert Barron. Their current study is Edward Sri’s Who am I to Judge?

The group has grown into a tight-knit community —  praying with and for each other and sharing each other’s sorrows and joys. To accommodate the needs of family life, the group does not meet over holidays or summer break.

 They make an annual retreat together, often to the San Damiano Retreat Center in White Post, that is led by a priest. As described in the Book of Sirach, Giaimo is humbled and grateful to have discovered that “A faithful friend is a strong defense; he that has found one has found a treasure.”

 In describing her biggest takeaway from belonging to the group, Giaimo didn’t hesitate —“encouragement.” She said she has found encouragement in knowing that even if we are surrounded by a culture of death, we are not alone. Christ is teaching the truth, and hearts are not only believing the truth but evangelizing and sharing it. Every week, the group is recharged by each other and they return to their friends and family and give witness to the truth, she said.

Giaimo offered some sound advice to others starting a group. All you need is a rosary and a Bible, and perhaps a coffee maker and a DVD player. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017