“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”

When my husband Jimmy and I read these first lines to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium we saw it as a possible answer to our prayers. Recently married, we had been praying about ways we might best serve our parish as a couple. In particular, we have had a desire to be able to share the “good news,” the joy of the gospel with our parish family.

By the time we finished the introductory chapter we were convinced this exhortation was an answer to our prayers. We really wanted an opportunity to be able to study this document not only with others who have a heart for evangelization but also those who were hungry for more of the “good news.”

In researching the way we could best present this document, we found a study guide by the acclaimed scholar and theologian, Bill Heubsch. He provided easy-to-understand paraphrased summaries of each article along with prayerful discussion and reflection questions.

We advertised the 6-week program in the church bulletin and during announcements at all masses. To our surprise about 50 people pre-registered with 35 – 40 people attending each session.

Each participant was given a copy of the book, The Joy of the Gospel: Group Reading Guide to Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium along with encouragement to read this and the original document prior to each session. We predominantly used the study guide during the sessions but at times read directly from the Exhortation when a paraphrased version just didn’t seem adequate.

Along with many lively discussions and reflections, we had opportunities for personal prayer and fellowship.

The response from the participants was “more than we could ask or imagine.” Many expressed a desire to “do something more” for the poor in our area. Others stated how they “felt closer to Christ.” Others asked that we do another event soon because they were so enriched by this one. One participant stated that the last time she felt this kind of excitement in the church was Vatican II!

As for Jimmy and I, we continue to reflect on how we can better understand, celebrate and live Francis’ message of joy, love and peace. And we continue to pray for the “next step” that God calls us to in our parish.

by Taffy Archer
All Saints Parish, Bridgeport, WV.