To Go Deeper into the Life of Christ

Every Catholic should spend a minimum of fifteen minutes a day engaged in spiritual reading. Normally, this should include some reading of the New Testament to identify ourselves with the words and actions of our Savior and better conform our lives to His, perhaps followed by a passage from some classic book on a spiritual theme recommended by your spiritual advisor. (You do have one, do you not? If not, take steps to remedy that situation immediately.)

But far from contenting ourselves with the bare minimum, we should desire to go deeper – much deeper – into Christ’s life. Otherwise, how can we even begin to imitate Him in our own life, so that, when the day comes for our own private judgment after death, we will be welcomed with open arms into heaven, avoiding any pit stops in Purgatory.

We know neither the day nor the hour of our death, any more than we know the time of Christ’s Second Coming and the Final Judgment. Therefore we should aim to be semper paratus (“always prepared”) for death, which may well arrive at a moment and in a way totally unexpected.

I would wager that there have been more books written on Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ than on anyone else in history. The great majority of these are (of course) out of print. But there are a number of things that can help guide us through this immense and sometimes wild literature.

I speak deliberately from a Catholic perspective, considering only books that are sound and known to be faithful to the perennial tradition of the Church and its tradition down through the ages. One thing to recognize at the outset is that a great many books about Christ are theological and scholarly in character. These are good and useful in their way, but are not primarily written for an audience seeking to come into closer contact with Jesus and his life for religious and devotional purposes.

So it’s not hard to select a relatively few books on Jesus relevant to our purpose, which could be easily found, at least on Amazon, which, for good and not, rules the book world through its low prices and Kindle devices. Perhaps there are hidden treasures to be found in some Catholic bookstores, but I have not found them: There is lots of theology, but little of what we might call a type of sacred biography from our present perspective.

Archbishop Sheen among his books
Archbishop Sheen among his books

Here are some recommendations of good biographies of our Lord and Savior in no particular order:

  1. 1. The trilogy Jesus of Nazareth (Ignatius Press) by Benedict XVI. What a great gift from one of the best theologians ever, and also a heroic Roman pontiff. (And may he live long!) Despite Benedict’s immense learning and keen intellect, he has produced a series that can be enjoyably and profitably absorbed by an ordinary reader.
  2. 2. Next, Romano Guardini’s The Lord, a classic since it was first published in 1954, and a book that can profitably be read and reread. Guardini was one of the mentors of Joseph Ratzinger and a favorite of Pope Francis (who, at one point in his life, wanted to write a doctoral dissertation on Guardini, but was distracted by other duties).
  3. 3. Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ. Sheen needs no introduction to readers of this website, but only a final resting place when he is raised to the altars as one of the blessed someday soon.
  4. 4. Next, convert Fulton Oursler, whose The Greatest Story Ever Told was published to huge success in 1949 (around the time the two previous authors I’ve listed were writing their works).
  5. 5. We can’t forget the work of another convert and one of the greatest evangelizers and publicizers of the faith in the twentieth century, Frank Sheed, whose work To Know Christ Jesus is highly recommended, next to
  6. 6. G. K. Chesterton’s classic The Everlasting Man. This book has made and continues to make many a convert to the Faith.

Of course, there are many others as well, and if you ask trusted clergy and friends, you won’t ever lack for powerful readings.

But besides our own personal growth in holiness via Biblical and other spiritual reading, we should aim to share our holy Faith in our work, actions, friendship, and prayer in imitation of Christ. If we strive to imitate HIS life in our own, we play our part in bringing millions of people to the one true Church, becoming, as one saint put it, another Christ himself.

Rome is our true home. As what remains of the West crumbles at what appears to be an accelerating rate, it becomes increasingly apparent that all of us are part of the answer to the long-awaited New Evangelization foreseen by Pope St. John Paul the Great. Embrace that vocation. Take advantage of the many resources at your disposal to prepare yourself for this high calling.

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.