On May 15, the English edition of Pope Benedict XVI's book, Jesus of Nazareth, arrived with great anticipation to US bookstores. The timing of its publication — on the brink of summer — reminds me of the joys of summer reading. I have begun the book myself and look forward to the generosity of the summer season which allows more time to enter into books that, despite our best intentions, have been pushed aside, unable to compete with the many demands of our lives. The Holy Father's book, which he describes as "my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord,'" draws us into the meaning and source of all those demands, which essentially are the expression of our longing for God (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, p. xxiii).
It is fairly uncommon for the pope to publish a book as pope. As a result, the Holy Father's decision to give us this book which, he tells us, does not exercise magisterial authority, evokes in us the question: "Why?" It seems to me that this very personal and accessible book is summoning us all to delve deeper into the question that arises from the heart of every person in response to the person of Jesus: "Who are you?" (Jn 1:22). The pages of Jesus of Nazareth echo the thoughts of his first encyclical as pope, Deus Caritas Est or God Is Love: "Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction" (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 1). As our shepherd and teacher, Pope Benedict takes us by the hand, tenderly beckoning us to more fully encounter Jesus.
Central to this encounter is relation. Jesus is the beloved Son of God, Who is from and for the Father. In Christ, Who calls God "Abba" ("Beloved Father"), we see that we too are called to participate in this familial "relation of love that sustains man's existence and gives it meaning and grandeur" (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 139; cf. Mk 14:36). In the truth of our relation to the Father, like Jesus, we are never alone, but forever receiving and giving ourselves to the Father (cf. Ibid., 283). Pope Benedict reminds us that this is the joy of relation — we are not our own, but always in relation to the Father (cf. 1 Cor 6:19).
Being human is essentially about being in relation to God. Therefore, through this book, Pope Benedict is not only teaching us about the Person of Jesus but simultaneously educating us in our humanity. In Chapter 4, the Holy Father turns to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which Christ "aims to show us how to be a human being" (Jesus of Nazareth, 128). Chapter 5 continues to reveal the call of man by entering into a careful explication of the Lord's Prayer, which reminds us that "if being human is essentially about relation to God, it is clear that speaking with, and listening to, God is an essential part of it" (Ibid., 128). How grateful we should be for the ways in which the Lord teaches us to pray! Within our diocesan family, may we all continue to deepen both personal prayer and the prayer of the Church, most especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in order to live in a relation of a communion of Love, that our relationship to God will always "be present as the bedrock of our soul" (Ibid., 129).
Because Christ reveals man to himself, the dignity of man is rooted in the dignity of God (cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 22; cf. Jesus of Nazareth, 127). "God is not some distant stranger. He shows us his face in Jesus…the figure of Jesus is the mirror in which we come to know who God is and what he is like: through the Son we find the Father" (Jesus of Nazareth, 128, 137). I heartily commend this book to each of you and pray that this gift from the Holy Father will further direct our gaze toward Christ, so that with Him, we may "rest close to the Father's heart" (cf. Ibid., 7).