The following comes from a column by Father C.J. McCloskey, published in the National Catholic Register on December 15. Father McCloskey is an Opus Dei priest who is known for his role in the conversions of Newt Gingrich, Sam Brownback, Bernard Nathanson, and others.

As you know, Pope Benedict has followed the example of Blessed Pope John Paul II: not simply being content with writing magisterial documents, but continuing his academic work as arguably one of the best theologians of the last century and most certainly the greatest of this new century.

The happy news is that he completed the third volume of his exegetical history Jesus of Nazareth with his new book, entitled The Infancy Narratives….

As we approach Christmas, the timing of the book’s release could not be better. It is deep in its theological content yet also leaves room for other opinions. Pope Benedict often quotes other theologians, including non-Catholic ones who might differ from his views. It is accessible to the patient reader who is interested in the early years of the Lord.

I read the 179-page book in one sitting and plan to reread it before Christmas. You may think you know the story well, but you surely will be delighted at Pope Benedict’s well-founded and sometimes-astonishing insights.

For example, in this description of the Nativity, the Holy Father beautifully connects the first moments of Jesus’ life to his last: “Mary wrapped the Child in swaddling clothes. Without yielding to sentimentality, we may imagine with what great love Mary approached her hour and prepared for the birth of her child. Iconographic tradition has theologically interpreted the manger and the swaddling clothes in terms of the theology of the Fathers. The Child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death from the outset; he is a sacrificial victim. … The manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar.”

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