Review: Heart of the Christian Life

In the dozens of books written by Pope Benedict XVI, some will be remembered as major influences on Christian thought. Others are of a different genre and focus like this one. Heart of the Christian Life, Thoughts on Holy Mass, is a compilations of homilies that touch on the Mass and Blessed Sacrament.

The book is described as: “the celebration of the Eucharist, in which Jesus Christ becomes present, is the center of the Catholic faith. This volume brings together substantive texts of the Holy Father on the many aspects and dimensions of the Mass and the Mystery of the Eucharist, a rich source for every Christian and a spur to reflection and personal prayer. Delivered in addresses and homilies to a wide variety of audiences, these reflections reveal the depth and breadth of Pope Benedict XVI’s profound and life-long love for the Holy Eucharist.”

I enjoyed the thought provoking and fresh insights the Holy Father shares in these pieces. Even topics like the parable of the prodigal son, well known and thoroughly discussed already, is presented from a new vantage point. The story does not change, but is instead presented in a way that seems current and with which we can readily identify.

It was then that he began to reflect and wondered if that really was the path to life: a freedom interpreted as doing what I want, living, having life only for me; or if instead it might be more of a life to live for others, to contribute to building the world, to the growth of the human community…

So it was he set out on a new journey, an inner journey. The boy pondered and considered all these new aspects of the problem and began to see that he had been far freer at home, since he had also been a landowner contributing to building his home and society in communion with the Creator, knowing the purpose of his life and guessing the project that God had in store for him.

[…]

The son realized that it is precisely work, humility and daily discipline that create the true feast and true freedom. So he returned home, inwardly matured and purified: he had understood what living is.

Of course, in the future his life would not be easy either, temptations would return, but he was henceforth fully aware that life without God does not work; it lacks the essential, it lacks light, it lacks reason, it lacks the great sense of being human. He understood that we can only know God on the basis of his Word.

Speaking of the mystery of the Eucharist, the Holy Father said:

And still, we have not yet explained in depth the message of this sign of bread. The Lord mentioned its deepest mystery on Palm Sunday, when some Greeks asked to see him. In his answer to this question is the phrase: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

The mystery of the Passion is hidden in the bread made of ground grain. Flour, the ground wheat, presuppose the death and resurrection of the grain. In being ground and baked, it carries in itself once again the same mystery of the Passion. Only through death does resurrection arrive, as does the fruit and new life.

This is a good book to read in “bite-sized” chunks. Although each homily is related to the Mass and Eucharist, each stands alone and most can be read in a few minutes. It is probably best to read them one-at-a-time, reflecting on the each message.

The book is hardbound, 117 pages in length and contains 17 homilies. They are:

  • The Bread of Life
  • Without Sunday We Cannot Live
  • Mary, the Eucharistic Woman
  • In the Hour of Jesus
  • The Wine of True Love
  • The Eucharist as the Way to Holiness
  • Jesus Christ: Incarnate Love of God
  • Friends of Jesus Christ
  • The Hope of the Grain of Wheat
  • The Church as Eucharistic Community
  • God Is Not Far from Us
  • Sacrament of the Life of God
  • Eucharist: Source and School of Love
  • The Passion of Jesus
  • The Gift of the Self-dedication of Christ
  • The Soul of Sunday
  • To Stand before You and to Serve

The book is followed by 7 pages of acknowledgments, detailing the date, location, event on the liturgical calendar and references. Dates range from May 2005 through March 2008. The book itself was published in March 2010 by Ignatius Press.

I like and recommend the book, especially for those who are already Catholic. I found it to be particularly fitting at Eucharistic adoration.

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