by Frank Sheed
Reviewed by Eileen Love
Quick! Pop Quiz: At the Transfiguration Moses and Elijah spoke with Christ. What were they talking about? There is only one spot in the Bible where we are told that Christ was joyful. Where is this? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks about hell how many times?
If the answers didn’t leap off your tongue, you are not alone. Leave it to Frank Sheed (1897-1981) the stellar career catechist and legendary founder of the Catholic publishing house, Sheed and Ward, to preface his book To Know Christ Jesus with questions that arouse our curiosity and draw us into discovery.
He supposes we might have a vague sense of Christ’s life with perhaps a few parables standing out here and there, but we are dogged by an inability to connect the dots and plumb the depths of biblical meaning. He plans to rescue us from our ignorance and he is just the one to do it.
Sheed is renowned as one of the 20th century’s most ardent Catholic apologists, a man who got his start soapbox preaching at a London Park. He and his wife Maisie shared a love for the Catholic faith and produced numerous books on theological themes throughout their lives.
To Know Jesus Christ is a real gift of a book: 380 pages of spellbinding stories, fascinating history, intimate glimpses of the people on the pages of Scripture, all written in the scholarly, dependable prose of a true modern disciple. Sheed spent a lifetime getting to know the One he loves and he’d like readers to know Him too. As he says in the book’s foreword, “The object is not to prove something but to meet someone–that we should know Christ Jesus, know him as one person may know another. As Christians we love him, try to live by his law, would think it a glory to die for him. But how well do we know him?” Sheed the lecturer brings us through the gospels translating words and phrases and exploring the levels of meaning they contain. The background he offers on the miraculous events of the early life of Christ as experienced through Mary at the Incarnation, the Annunciation, and the Visitation is one reason this book is considered among Sheed’s finest.
Here is the author offering commentary on St. John’s gospel 12:23-28:
“Father,” he cried, “glorify thy name.” We note that he does not say glorify my
name but thine. The Father was to be shown glorious in the Son’s glory. And a
voice came from the sky: “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Our
Lord’s next words were all of triumph. The moment of crisis was at hand the
supremely decisive moment for the whole world, never one like it before, never
again to be one. For Satan’s time as ruler would be ended, with Christ raised on
the Cross to be the vital center of all humanity. “Now is the judgment of the
world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, lifted up from the
earth, will draw all things unto me.”
My suggestion is to make this book your spiritual reading for Lent. Not only will it sharpen your knowledge of Scripture but it will do much more. It will transport you to Bethlehem where the night sky is illumined to announce the arrival of the Infant King; it will bring you to Gethsemane where you will struggle to stay awake during the agony; and it will bring you to the foot of the Cross as the earth trembles and the curtain in the sanctuary is torn in two.
In other words, Frank Sheed’s book is designed to quicken your heart and awaken your spiritual fervor. It is written not to make you pass a test, but to fall in love. And if you find yourself getting smarter in the process, so much the better.
By the way, there won’t be a test so you won’t need the answer key to the opening questions. But just for fun: see Luke 9:28; John 15:11; Matthew 5: 1-48.