The Word Longing to Reach Us

The Word Longing to Reach Us

There was a language arts teacher who did not find the Gospels to be very accessible reading. Most Christians, taking this statement by itself, would assume that the teacher was a modernist pushing a secular agenda. However, the language arts teacher happened to be a committed Christian and a Catholic—and he happened to be me.

It wasn’t easy to admit to people that reading the Gospels did not fill me with the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. Well, at least not to the extent that others seemed to be moved by the four Evangelists. The often cryptic nature of the accounts, the missing details, and the gaps in the story often drew more attention than the equally numerous sublime moments. Instead of coming away in rapture, I often came away in frustration. What is wrong with me? I wondered. Why don’t the Gospels do for me what they seem to do for so many others? I finally mustered the courage to mention to a mentor my dilemma. “I know just the thing!” he said. “This book will change your life!”

The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by Archbishop Alban Goodier. As the book states on the title page, it is an “interpretation” of the four Gospels. Goodier’s goal was to create a narrative that answered a question that I needed an answer to if I was to grow in the knowledge and love of God: “What is the Jesus of the four Evangelists like?”[1] Leaning on scholarly enquiry, Goodier takes all the events of the four Gospels, puts them into an at least probable order, and retells the life of Christ. Moreover, he takes the sketch that the Gospels provide and shades in backgrounds and foregrounds, illuminating shadows and highlighting conclusions—all with a view “to summarize the personality of Christ as he has been discovered” in the Gospels.[2]

The story that seemed so bare-bones to me before was suddenly deep and rich. Goodier had painted for me the streets upon which Christ walked. Places were given probable appearances. Apostles were given probable personalities. However, “in no instance [had] he done this without attention to the facts, or without some kind of warrantable evidence.”[3] Knowing that Goodier had drawn on all that history, geography, and scriptural studies can tell us, I willingly let myself be carried up and away by his narrative. 

What was the effect of this reading experience? Even though I had heard and read the Gospel stories my entire life, it was like I had met Jesus Christ for the first time. I had known of him, but had never really met Him. His Soul was the most beautiful soul! Not only did I know why the apostles dropped their nets and followed Him, I actually felt why they did so. I wanted to be with Him. I wanted Him to be my friend. This education of the heart was the most powerful reading experiences of my entire life.   

“Just read the gospels,” someone told me once. “You will get to know Christ so well.” For me, that never happened. Reading the Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ was necessary. 

While I am most grateful to Goodier, there was—until recently—a nagging thought that it was a shame that reading the Gospels by themselves had not given me what they seemingly give to so many other people. Reading Saint Augustine’s On Christian Teaching has changed this self-perception. This highly intelligent, sainted scholar finds the proper reading of scripture to be no simple task, and he provides numerous directions to help readers and teachers alike. Moreover, he is quite critical of “those who talk vauntingly of Divine Grace, and boast that they understand and can explain Scripture without the aid of such directions.”[4] After seeing all of the difficulties that Augustine points out, perhaps it is perfectly normal that my own ignorant, unaided attempt at finding Christ in the Gospels bore less fruit than was desired. I needed a fellow man to explain it to me.

Should I feel shame at this? How can I? After all, the “Apostle Paul himself, though stricken down and admonished by the voice of God from heaven, was yet sent to a man.”[5] As Augustine further points out, so too were the eunuch and Moses both sent to their fellow-men for understanding.[6] The reason for this, Augustine explains, is because “the condition of man would have been much more degraded if God had not chosen to make use of men as the ministers of His word to their fellow-men.”[7] That is, God could have used angels or directly intervened in all of these cases mentioned, but He chose to reach man through men, elevating mankind to temples of Himself.[8]

Who am I to disagree with that? I will humbly and happily and without shame be the reception of such ministry from my fellow men—and from the Word that resides within them, the Word longing to reach me. 

[1] Goodier, Most Reverend Alan. The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Volume 1 (New York: P.J. Kennedy and Sons, 1936), xi

[2]Ibid., xiv

[3] Ibid., xv

[4] Augustine, On Christian Teaching, trans. J.F. Shaw ( Publishing, 2009), 3

[5] Ibid., 4

[6] Ibid., 4-5.

[7] Ibid., 4 

[8] Ibid.

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Written by
Douglas LeBlanc
1 comment
  • Interesting comment. In the past, one of the principle obligations of the clergy was to preach and to teach the faithful. Today we are sadly lacking preachers and teachers, e.g Fulton Sheen. Sermons at mass are bland and uninspired. More and better leadership would go a longway in bringing a better understanding of the gospel to the faithful.