Catholic Action: How to Start a Reading Group

I would like to pose a challenge to young people in particular: begin exploring your heritage. Christianity makes you heirs of an unsurpassed cultural patrimony of which you must take ownership. Be passionate about this history which is yours. Dare to fix your gaze on the young Jerome who, like the merchant in Jesus’ parable, sold all that he had in order to buy the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:46).

—Pope Francis, Scripturae Sacrae Affectus (30 September 2020)

1. Find a core group

To begin, find at least one friend who you can depend on to join your reading group consistently. Two people meeting consistently is better than a large group which fizzles out immediately. All you need to begin is one or more close friends who share an interest in Catholic Social Teaching.

2. Select your readings

Discuss with your core group what you will read. Choose a reading which fits the needs of the community. For those new to Social Doctrine, choose just a few simple articles or Easy Essays. More catechized communities may choose a longer book or a more complete curriculum of essays. Excerpts from the writings of Saints, the teachings of Doctors of the Church, and the Sacred Scriptures are universally beneficial. So are the Papal Encyclicals; though they are the length of a short book, they are essential documents because of their divine guidance and spiritual authority, which is binding on all Catholics.

You can find several Tradistae reading lists for Encyclicals, sermons, books, articles, and Easy Essays here.

3. Set a time and place

Select a specific time and place for the reading group. Plan ahead about logistics such as providing enough space, seating, food, drink, quiet, and bathrooms for your group. Consider hosting in your home, but if you are unable, select a comfortable public space (e.g. a library) or ask to use a room in the parish facilities or your local Catholic Worker. Consider a time which works well for your ideal participants given factors such as childcare, work, pastoral duties, or school. Consistency is helpful. Choose whether you want a limited number of gatherings or ongoing meetings.

4. Invite friends

Now spread the words to others. While some flyers could be helpful, the easiest way to invite friends is by word of mouth. Here are some strategies:

  • Tell your friends and family, either by phone or in person.
  • Text your group chats with Catholic friends, or any people of good will.
  • Post in local Facebook groups or other social media.
  • Ask the leaders of parish groups (especially Catholic Worker houses, pro-life organizations, and other social justice ministries) to help promote the reading group during events or using their email lists.
  • Ask the pastor and/or parish office to mention the reading group during the Mass announcements or in the bulletin. 

Invite as many people as you are able; those who are interested will get involved. Be flexible and consider rescheduling if needed (polling availability with a list of dates/times can be useful). Beware of inviting people who will cause unproductive conflict or disrupt the common good of the group.

5. Begin and end with prayer

No study of the truth can be successful without the guidance of Truth Himself. Select a relevant prayer (perhaps written by or directed to the author of what you are reading), or offer your own, to begin and/or end your meetings. Pray for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit when you read (e.g. the Angelic Doctor’s famous “Prayer Before Study“). Trust that God will bring your project to success if you place it in His hands.