We are just concluding our annual Bishops' Retreat, and I have finished praying with Pope Francis' incredible Apostolic Exhortation, The Gospel of Joy.
But this important document on the new evangelization is written like no other Vatican document. Rather, it reads more like a warm letter from our Pastor to each one of us, members of the flock. Pope Francis sets us on a course to do two things: first, to have us deepen our friendship and relationship with Jesus, then secondly, to share that relationship with Jesus with everyone we know and meet.
His many personal experiences with Jesus and the Church are everywhere throughout the letter, and his practical call to have all of us open our lives more fully to God's love and forgiveness in our lives resonates so deeply.
He does not hesitate to remind us that it is impossible to love God without loving all our brothers and sisters. He makes it clear that preeminent in Jesus' life was the proclamation of the Gospel, along with frequent and humble acts of service to those most in need--the sick, the lepers, the blind, those on the margins of society. Pope Francis makes it clear that through our Baptism we have received a special mandate to move outside ourselves and to embrace the face of Jesus in the lives of those most in need.
My own ministry has been profoundly affected by this letter, and I am already looking forward eagerly to adopting some new ministry outreach actions starting right away.
I encourage all of you to this incredible letter, and to allow it to permeate your own life and soul! I pray that many small groups in the Church will take it up as a prayer and study guide during 2014, and help re-shape our parish communities to reflect what Pope Francis is proclaiming with such urgency.
May we all become more fervent messengers of the joyful proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!!
The Gospel of Joy can be purchased through the Publications Office of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: http://www.usccbpublishing.org/productdetails.cfm?SKU=7-458