SILVER SPRING, Md. (CNS) — The idea for veteran Catholic author Russell Shaw’s latest book actually originated about 30 years ago.
A highly educated man who was a lifelong Catholic was leading a group discussion on the Gospel of St. Matthew, and told the couples in the group that he had read St. Matthew’s Gospel straight through from beginning to end.
He confessed that he had never read any of the Gospels that way before. “And you know what?” he told the group. “It’s telling a story!”
Shaw wrote his 24th book, “The Life of Jesus Christ: Understanding the Story of the Gospels,” published by Our Sunday Visitor in 2021, to help people experience and follow Christ by reading the Gospels.
“I’ve been reading the New Testament every day for the last 40 years,” said Shaw, who spends about five to 10 minutes daily reading one of the Gospels, starting at the beginning. “You learn something new every time,” he said.
Shaw is 86 and lives in a retirement community in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring with his wife of 63 years, Carmen. They have five children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A native Washingtonian, he grew up attending the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, where he went to grade school before graduating from Gonzaga College High School and Georgetown University.
Shaw later served as a reporter with Catholic News Service, and over the years he also worked as director of publications and information for the National Catholic Educational Association, as the secretary for public affairs of what was then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference, and as director of information for the Knights of Columbus.
Remembering that fellow Catholic’s encounter with the Gospels, Shaw said he thought about “writing a simple, popular life of Christ.” He wrote a series of related articles for Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newspaper, where he is a contributing editor, that formed the framework for his new book.
“My book is not intended to replace reading the Gospels. I would encourage everyone interested in the life of Christ to put reading the Gospels at the top of the list,” he told the Catholic Standard.
Shaw said that people who have just heard Gospel passages read at Mass but have not read them may think of them as isolated passages, but he said when the Gospels are read, “what you’ve got is a full, integrated story, namely the life of Jesus Christ.”
Shaw’s book, written in the readable style that has marked his books and articles, includes chapters that weave together the accounts of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John on Jesus’ Nativity and hidden years; his baptism and temptation; the beginning of his ministry and his ministry in Galilee; the Sermon on the Mount; the Apostles and opponents of Christ; his parables, the Last Supper, and his trial and crucifixion; and Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
The author said he hopes the book will help people integrate “the wonderful story told in the New Testament” and inspire them to “make reading and praying about the Gospels part of their daily routine.”
Shaw said reading the Gospels helps people “achieve a living portrait of Jesus Christ and what he was like,” so Christ can become a companion, friend and guide in their daily life.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the veteran author and journalist, whose books include “American Church” (2013) and “Catholics in America” (2016) is now writing his 25th book, which he said is about what Catholic laypeople can do to help the church through this challenging time.
The back cover of Shaw’s “The Life of Jesus Christ” describes the book as “the scriptural companion you’ve been searching for.”
“Together, the four Gospels reveal Jesus Christ, God incarnate, as a man of complexity and depth — compassionate but stern, who knew how to laugh and how to cry, a charismatic leader uninterested in worldly power, a subtle thinker who drew sublime messages from ordinary life,” it says. “With Shaw guiding you, you will truly get to know the Son of God in a new way.”
Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.