Is Something Missing? (On familiarity with Christ)
Does the following remark ring a bell ? Does it correspond to your own case ?
“I have studied Catholic doctrine and I know my faith. I try hard to live in accordance with Catholic morals and my failures I confide regularly to my confessor. I pray regularly and try to meditate. I observe the Church’s fasts and try to add other acts of voluntary penance. I read plenty of good Catholic books. But all the time I feel that there is something missing in my Catholic life. The world of faith seems so much less real than the world I see. My habits of thought correspond much more closely with those of my worldly friends than with what I read of the saints. Without greater conviction and energy I feel sure that I shall never become holy. At best I shall linger in lukewarmness…”
If the above words might be yours, could it be that the missing ingredient is familiarity with Our Lord Jesus Christ? The inspiring and perceptive Fr. Leen wrote in his best-seller What Is True Education? that the greatest failure of Catholic education in his days lay in not passing on to schoolchildren an intimate knowledge of our Saviour’s life. The personality of Our Lord can only become known to us through careful study of His words and deeds. When we truly know Christ, we cannot fail to admire and love Him, to be charmed by Him and to desire to follow Him. Our own values and characters will be transformed by Him to the extent that we pass our time in His divine company. Catholicism without familiarity with Jesus is but dry bones. As well may we try to learn to swim from a book without getting our feet wet as to try to practise seriously the religion founded by Christ to bring men to know and love Him without immersing ourselves in the records He has left us of Himself.
Have I succeeded in convincing you of the importance of studying the life of Our Lord ? If so, what are the best books to read about it ?
Well, of course the Gospels are our primary source for knowledge of Our Lord and should be read again and again. But they certainly need to be fleshed out by the perusal of more detailed works. Here are a few I know of, though the list is far from exhaustive:
1. Edward Healy Thompson, The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph (one volume). Don’t be surprised that I should start by mentioning a book about Saint Joseph for this one sheds abundant light on the first thirty years of Our Saviour’s incarnation. Scripture, the Fathers, tradition, the most approved revelations admitted only with caution – Healy Thompson is a sound and reliable author as well as a well-informed one. This book is hard to put down!
2. Venerable Mary of Agreda, The Mystical City of God (four volumes). Some unnecessary controversy was whipped up against this book a few years ago in traditional Catholic circles — opponents resurrected long-exploded arguments against the revelations of this holy nun and claimed that her writings lay under the Church’s ban. Nothing could be further from the truth as was shown in a thoroughly documented defence by none other than Abbot Prosper Guéranger who needed no lessons from any of us on the subject of orthodoxy and submission to the Church. Venerable Mary’s revelations are fully authorized and give abundant information about the lives of Jesus and Mary. Many readers have read it on their knees, so great is its power to stir up reverent love. It is astonishing that this work should still be subject to ignorant criticism given that its substantially divine origin is so well-attested and that its human author, Venerable Mary, has received not only the Church’s recognition of her heroic virtues but also the divine seal of numerous miracles in life and bodily incorruptibility after death. More dismaying still is the thought that other purported revelations explicitly and for good reason condemned by the Church, such as those of Maria Valtorta, are sometimes given preference by persons who ought to know better.
3. The Most Rev. Alban Goodier S.J., The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (in two volumes) and The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ (one volume). I have owned this book for thirty years and still not read more than a small part of it, so I shall say only that it exists and is very highly thought of by many. It considers the events of Our Lord’s life in order, using the Scriptures and Catholic scholarship as its sources.
4. Fr. Constant Fouard, The Christ, the Son of God : A Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (two volumes). Writing at a time when pseudo-scholarship pretended to have refuted the New Testament, Fr. Fouard set out to show by patient scholarship the exact truth as to the life of Our Lord. His two-volume study refutes contemporary errors but it is not content to enlighten the reader’s mind — it also warms his heart with devotion.
5. Fr. Peter Gallwey S.J., The Watches of the Sacred Passion (two volumes). What a gem! Here is a book which I did not wait thirty years to read and which I warmly recommend everyone else to read as soon as possible. Admittedly these two thick volumes cover only the closing days of Our Lord’s timer on earth, but of course there is no period of His life which more richly repays study and meditation than His Passion. Fr. Gallwey has set out the book to facilitate regular meditation, but the reader can use it as he pleases. He cannot fail to acquire not only a profound knowledge of Our Lord’s sufferings and death in their minutest circumstances, but also an invaluable understanding of the lessons they must teach us. If you are ever condemned to prison and allowed only a handful of books, this would be one to insist on having! There is not a page of this book but will make every reader a better person.
6. Fr. Henry James Coleridge S.J., The Life of Our Life, (twenty-six volumes). Fr. Coleridge’s achievement leaves one gasping: a very complete life of Our Lord in twenty-six independent volumes, filled with information, with piety and with orthodoxy, answering every doubt, supplying every need, and doing so without concession to the wave of modernising scriptural interpretations which was already washing across Europe in the nineteenth century. Yet the work’s renown seems to be inversely proportional to its merit — hardly anyone seems to have heard of it!
7. Louis Veuillot, The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (one volume). The son of a poor cooper, Louis Veuillot (1813-1883) became one of the leading French writers of his century and a great defender of the Catholic cause against infidels and liberals. Friend and foe alike admired his perceptive and courageous journalism while his books won over his readers by their keen insights and fine prose. This Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ earned a papal accolade. Veuillot wanted his readers to come to know the life and personality of Our Lord and to be inspired by Him. Though hardly ever polemical, Veuillot’s masterpiece has not only stirred the devotion of the faithful but also made many converts. Pope Pius IX described it as “a vindication of the outraged godhead of Christ”.
Of the books I have listed above, four are out of print and must therefore be sought through second-hand book dealers, including Amazon and Abebooks. Those by Healy Thompson and Venerable Mary of Agreda are in print though they may be hard to track down, and Louis Veuillot’s Life — the only complete Life of Christ in one volume — can be bought on-line from www.tradibooks.com for $29.95.