Benedict's Jesus - and Ours


by Pope Benedict XVI

Ignatius, 2005

185 pages, $19.95

To order: (800) 651-1531 or

Walk into a trendy clothing shop and you're likely to find T-shirts proclaiming “Jesus Rocks” and “Jesus es mi amigo.” But whose Jesus is it who seems to be on the “A” list at everyone's party these days?

Pope Benedict XVI, for one, thinks the Jesus we find in today's popular culture is something of a “phantom.” He asks for nothing and threatens no one. Meanwhile, the real Jesus, according to the Pope, is “quite different, demanding, bold.”

In On the Way to Jesus Christ, his first book to be published in English since becoming St. Peter's successor, the Holy Father takes readers on a journey into the heart of Christ — the authentic Jesus Christ of the Gospels according to Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — and provides a road map showing how to meet him face to face.

Drawing from Scripture, the 2,000-year-old wisdom of the Church and the experience of life in the sacraments — especially the Eucharist — the Pope creates a blueprint for building a sturdy relationship with the authentic, risen Christ.

The book is actually a compilation of essays written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger while he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Now that he's Pope, his call for Catholics to reach for an authentic and personal encounter with Christ seems even more urgent than when he first issued the entreaty.

“The cross has nothing to do with denying life, denying joy or the fullness of being human,” he writes. “On the contrary, it … shows us how we can find life. The man who seizes life and tries to hold onto it lives in such a way that life passes him by.”

“Losing oneself is the only way to find oneself and to find life,” he continues. “The more courageous people have been in losing themselves, in giving themselves away entirely, and the more they have learned to forget themselves, the greater and richer their lives have become. … Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Vincent de Paul, the Cure of Ars, Maximilian Kolbe: They are all examples of discipleship who show us the way to life, because they show us Christ. From them we can learn to choose God, to choose Christ, and so to choose life.”

Throughout, the text is rich with imagery and, although a relatively dense theological work, the book moves quickly. If the reader can bear in mind the fact that the book is a collection of unrelated, independent essays, then some of the blunt, awkward transitions from one chapter to the next are forgivable. The Pope is able to move the reader through complex theological problems and ideas with grace and ease. A teacher at heart, Pope Benedict's poetic side is particularly apparent in this book.

Ultimately, it seems, Benedict is concerned with enlisting rank-and-file Catholics to bring Christ to the world.

So the problem becomes: How can everyday Christians share the Gospel with a world that is simultaneously so hungry for truth yet so full of itself?

“[T]he true apologetics for the Christian message, the most persuasive proof of its truth, offsetting everything that may appear negative,” he writes, “are the saints, on the one hand, and the beauty that the faith has generated, on the other. For faith to grow today, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to come in contact with the beautiful.”

Read this book and be so led.

Scott Powell writes from Denver.