Happy Mardi Gras! This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Please see this bulletin and the Lenten calendar of the parish for many opportunities for spiritual growth and renewal during the holy season of Lent. (St. Austin's bulletin is online at http://www.staustin.org/news.)
There is one activity that I highly recommend to you for this Lent in particular, and that is to read and pray over Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, The Gospel of Joy. I think this could be a very good exercise for us as a whole parish to do for Lent. I am encouraging each small Christian community, each ministry, each grouping in the parish to spend some time together talking over and sharing about this significant document.
In addition I will be leading two book discussion groups during Lent on The Gospel of Joy. On Mondays March 24, 31, April 7 and 14, I will lead discussion groups at both Noon and at 7:30 p.m. Interested individuals are invited to join me at either Noon or at 7:30 p.m. People can switch between the two from week to week if their schedule so dictates. All are welcome. I don’t know if we will be able to cover the entire Apostolic Exhortation in four weeks, but we will get a far as we can, and perhaps continue on after Easter for those who are interested. The idea is not to complete the document, but for us as a parish to wrestle with some of the issues our Holy Father raises, with an eye to living out more fully the strong call Pope Francis gives us in this document.
There are two ways to get The Gospel of Joy. The first is to go on the United States Catholic Bishops, website, www.USCCB.org, click on the BOOKSTORE tab, and find their edition of “The Joy of the Gospel: Evangelii Gaudiem” and purchase it there. It is $13.95 plus tax and shipping. OR, just go to the Vatican website and download the document for FREE. Just go to www.vatican.va. Choose the English tab. You will see a photo of Pope Francis, and under him a line with Apostolic Constitutions, Apostolic Exhortations, Apostolic Letters. Choose the Apostolic Exhortations and click on that. Since Pope Francis has issued only one of these, the selection is easy. Click on “Evangelii Gaudium: Apostolic Exhortation on Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World.” Finally the document will come up, with 50 pages of text and about 8 pages of footnotes. This is the text I will be using for the book discussion group. (Or just click here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html. Aren't you glad you're reading this online instead of in the bulletin?)
Even if you are not going to discuss this document with some formal group, I encourage you to do this with your family or read and reflect on it on your own. Again, it is not as important that you finish the entire document as that you take time to reflect on what the Pope is calling us to. Some sections will be more pertinent to you than others. There is one section, for example, addressed to preachers. That may, or may not, be of interest to you.
But I think it will be a worthwhile exercise for us together as a parish to undertake this task for Lent, giving us something in common to discuss, to reflect on, to pray over. The subject matter of the Exhortation is wide-ranging, and much of it speaks to our daily lives. Pope Francis is a great gift to the Church. His Apostolic Exhortation is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how we put our faith into action in our daily lives. It is an almost ideal activity to do for Lent. Please join us. Have a Blessed Lent.