Publisher, papal friend says Pope’s new book focuses on beauty, personal relationship with Christ

In an interview with CNA yesterday, Fr. Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press and personal friend of Pope Benedict XVI offered insights into the Holy Father’s soon-to-be-released On the Way to Jesus Christ--his first book to be released in English since his election.

In the new book, which is slated to hit bookshelves in October, the pope takes a hard look at the distinction between the pop-culture Jesus who has become tremendously popular in recent years--from t-shirts to movies and T.V. shows--and the authentic Jesus of the Gospels, whom the pope says is “quite different, demanding bold.”

Fr. Fessio said that he thinks, and believes the Pope would say, that the pop-culture Jesus phenomenon is both good and bad--“a mixed phenomenon.”

“The figure of Christ”, he said, “has drawn people even when just a piece of Him is presented” or distorted and incomplete.

Fr. Fessio noted that the new book is actually a compilation of talks and articles written by then Cardinal Ratzinger in his position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prior to becoming Pope.

In On the Way to Jesus Christ, the Pope makes knowledge of the person of Christ profoundly personal, an act which Fr. Fessio calls markedly unique for a theologian. “It’s particularly interesting for the Pope to be talking about a personal relationship with Christ,” he said.

On this topic, the Pope writes that, “As long as we have not tasted an essence, we do not love the thing to the extent that it is a worthy object of love.”

“Being overcome”, he continues, “by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction…We must rediscover this form of knowledge--it is an urgent demand of the present hour.”

At the heart of the book, the Holy Father stresses the idea of evangelization of our modern world by coming in contact with the face of Christ through means of the Church.

Fr. Fessio told CNA that he was particularly impressed with Benedict’s stress on the “importance of beauty in terms of drawing people to Christianity.”

He cited the Pope who wrote that, “I am convinced that the true apologetics for the Christian message, the most persuasive proof of its truth, offsetting everything that may appear negative, are the saints, on the one hand, and the beauty that the faith has generated, on the other.”

“For faith to grow today,” Benedict writes, “we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to come in contact with the beautiful.”

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