This Paschal season, and beyond, we might do well to ask ourselves “how can we come to know Our Lord in a deeper and more meaningful way?” In our life-long journey to Christ, who we know is the Light and the Life, what could be more important?
The Church teaches us that we can deepen our experience of the Lord in many ways – through the Sacraments, the Liturgy, Sacred Scripture, through our prayer and devotional life, by studying the teachings of the Church, and through instruction by other faithful and learned members of the Church.
It seems as if we are busier than ever in today's society, and that we are living in an increasingly visual age. Time is precious but we know that we must make time for the truly important things. Although we are reading books less and less, while spending more time watching television and surfing the internet, the idea of spiritual reading and of “lectio divina” is a tradition of the Church that goes back to the earliest times. This practice was popularized by religious communities who acknowledged the profound value and benefit of it. In our increasingly secular and materialistic age, an age of so many distractions from our true path, why not make a return to a venerable tradition – one proven to help us grow in Christ? What have you read lately that has deepened your faith experience?
Returning to the original question of how we can come to know Christ in a deeper and more meaningful way, and considering the idea of making a practice of meaningful spiritual reading a part of our lives, there are many excellent books, after the Sacred Scriptures, which help us to understand and to appreciate more, the Life and Teachings of Our Lord.
In his recent book, Jesus of Nazareth which he distinguishes as being “a pastoral work and not a Magisterial teaching”, Pope Benedict writes about Our Lord in a profound yet completely accessible way. Regarding the Paschal Sacrifice and Christ's mission, something we meditate on especially during this holy and reflective time of year, Pope Benedict writes:
“The Apostle's creed speaks of Jesus' descent “into hell.” This descent not only took place in and after His death, but accompanies him along his entire journey. He must recapitulate the whole of history from it's beginnings — from Adam on; He must go through, suffer through, the whole of it, in order to transform it. The letter to the Hebrews is particularly eloquent in stressing that Jesus' mission, the solidarity with all of us he manifested beforehand in His baptism, includes exposure to the risks and perils of human existence: “Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb 2:17-18). “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb 4:15). The story of the temptations is thus intimately connected with the story of the baptism, for it is there that Jesus enters into solidarity with sinners. . .In his short account of the temptations, Mark brings into relief the parallels between Adam and Jesus, stressing how Jesus “suffers through” the quintessential human drama. Jesus, we read, “was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.” The desert — the opposite image of the garden — becomes the place of reconciliation and healing.”
A few years ago, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Austria, who was the senior editor of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church commissioned by Pope John Paul II, wrote a superb book called My Jesus – Thoughts on the Gospel. In this book Cardinal Schoenborn begins by asking the question “Who is Jesus Christ?” He takes the reader through the Gospel of Matthew, explaining along the way that the search for the answer to this all-important question begins in the Gospels themselves. Cardinal Schoenborn offers a wonderful background on and explanation of the Gospel to help the reader enjoy a greater understanding of the Gospel and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Fr. Benedict Groeschel says of this book “Cardinal Schoenborn convincingly brings home the truth and power of the Gospel image of Jesus. If you have lost touch with Christ, you will find him again. Disciples of Christ will discover new strength, conviction, and joy in this fresh expression of the reality of your Jesus and mine.”
One of the greatest books about Our Lord written in modern times, indeed this book has become a spiritual classic, is the Life of Christ by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. If you are of a certain age and recall seeing Archbishop Sheen on television or hearing his talks on the radio, you know he was one of the most gifted and inspiring preachers of the 20th century. The Life Of Christ is considered by many to be the most eloquent of Fulton Sheen's writings, the fruit of many years of dedication and research. His magnum opus. Filled with compassion and brilliant scholarship, his recounting of the birth, life, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ is as dramatic and moving as the subject Himself. Here is a passionate portrait of the God-Man, the teacher, the healer, and most of all the Savior whose promise has sustained humanity for nearly two thousand years.
“It was not so much that His birth cast a shadow on His life, and led to His death,” writes Archbishop Sheen. “It was rather that the Cross was there from the beginning, and it cast its shadow backward to his birth.” With his customary insight and reverence, he interprets Sacred Scripture and describes Christ not only in historical perspective but in exciting and contemporary terms; he sees in Christ's life modern parallels and timeless lessons. Archbishop Sheen probes the hearts of many prominent New Testament figures – Joseph and Mary, Peter and the disciples, Herod, Pilate, and others – shedding new light on age-old events. The whole adds up to a masterful study: a faithful blending of philosophy, history, and biblical exegesis. This book has truly been a revelation to countless readers, as well as a source of inspiration and guidance. Every Catholic should read and own this vivid retelling of the greatest life ever lived.
The long history and tradition of spiritual reading in the Church has always been accompanied by prayer, for prayer must be at the very heart of our Christian experience. St Bridget of Sweden composed a beautiful prayer which is also a short meditation of the life of Christ:
“O Jesus! Who art the beginning and end of all things, life and virtue, remember that for our sakes Thou wast plunged into an abyss of suffering, from the soles of They feet to the crown of Thy head. In consideration of the enormity of Thy wounds, teach me to keep, through pure love, Thy commandments, which are a wide and easy path for those who love Thee. Amen.”
This beautiful prayer, and many others related to the life of Our Lord composed by St. Bridget, can be found in the book the Magnificent Prayers of St. Bridget of Sweden.
May your Paschal season, the season of Our Lord's Death and Glorious Resurrection, the season of our Salvation, be an especially blessed one as you grown closer to Him.