Our Holy Father writes just like he talks.
I must confess that I was having just a bit of fun at his expense today, as I was discussing his latest book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. It is the third volume of his reflection on the person of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels, and I am reading it with some zeal in hopes of gleaning insights and observations that will help my preaching now during late Advent and at Christmas.
To tell the truth, I was talking about how the writing in the book is so much like his speech: soft, gentle, and even. Add a German accent, and it is almost a caricature. Every word is carefully chosen, every sentence is nuanced and balanced with insight and information; nothing is too heavy or complicated. He never repeats himself, even for emphasis, and exaggeration is not one of his tools. He writes just like he talks, with care, and attention, but also with fascination and delight. The delight is something he wants to share with you; the fascination is something we want to share with him.
You see, I can do a bit of a German accent myself, and I know what his soft voice sounds like. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? I can reel off a line or two from the book and it sounds just like Pope Benedict XVI is talking to you. Sort of.
That this came up in conversation today is a clue to just how intimate an experience it is to read what our Holy Father has written. He has even published it under his baptismal name, Joseph Ratzinger, rather than the name he took upon being elected Successor to Saint Peter. It is almost as if his office of Sovereign Pontiff and all the attendant ceremony did not exist at all.
This book is not only a chance to learn what it would be like to have a personal conversation with the Pope because of how he writes, but also because of what he writes about. These are obviously the thoughts and reflections that he most enjoys exploring and understanding. Savoring the words of Scripture and drawing closer to the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph whom they reveal is his great delight. And he wants us to take part in that delight with him.
Do not miss the opportunity to give your mind and your heart this richer experience of the Birth of Our Lord. Of all the books, articles, labels, and signs you will read this month, there is none that will do for you nearly as much good as this personal conversation in print with the wise and learned man who also happens to be head of Christ’s Church on Earth. Grab a copy for yourself, and a few to give as late Christmas gifts, and then put aside anything else you have been reading to walk through the beginning of Christ’s life on earth with such a guide. It is less than 150 pages; you can give that much time and energy to the Newborn King, can’t you? He will doubtless reward your attention.
You might chuckle at the Holy Father’s gentle and direct writing style, especially if you read it with a slight German accent. You will definitely share the joy he shows in uncovering such wondrous aspects of the coming of God as Man. But while this book will teach you something about how our Holy Father speaks, you will also learn something else very characteristic of him.
If you talk to people who have been in a conversation or conference with Joseph Ratzinger before or after he became Pope Benedict XVI, they will tell you how carefully, respectfully, and delightedly attentive he is. Before he speaks, and far more than he speaks, whether to the Word of God or the words of any man, with his heart as well as with his mind, our Holy Father listens.