As many Americans were catching trains or planes, or prepping the Thanksgiving table, Image Books released Pope Benedict XVI’s latest book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, the third in a series on the life of Christ. The slim volume has been gotten a fair bit of press, most of which skirts the core content of the book. It’s a brief but rich tour of the Gospels as they pertain to the early life of Jesus, and it offers theological and spiritual insights from the pope, along with some commentary and history lessons.
In a light-hearted interview, Gary Jansen, editor of the book and of Image Catholic at Random House, talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about meeting the pope, reading the pope, editing the pope, and encountering the ghosts of Christmas past, among other things.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: By now many of us know the buzz about the pope’s new book: “Pope on Nativity: Wrong Year, No Animals, No Angels,” as one Web headline put it. What’s the real message of the Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives?
GARY JANSEN: In a single word: hope. Maybe that sounds cliché or simplistic, but The Infancy Narratives are, for me, a beginning to an even greater story. It’s the overture to the greatest story ever told.
LOPEZ: If you could have written the headlines, how might you have described the book?
JANSEN: Oh, I’m the worst at headlines. This is a relatively short book, but there’s a lot to unpack in it. What struck me most — and what I’d love to see covered in the media — is the pope’s material on the Holy Family and, in turn, family in general. Obviously, the Christ child gets quite a bit of attention, but so does Jesus’s mother, Mary — the importance of her role in saying yes to God. And Joseph, the stepdad, gets some significant and thought-provoking attention. Being a dad myself, I enjoyed that aspect very much.
LOPEZ: Are you frustrated or amused by media coverage of the book — and of religion in general?
JANSEN: An author e-mailed me the other day and said he was sorry to hear all the negative press on the book. My reaction was, “What negative press?” He meant all the silliness about the pope supposedly calling off Christmas. I don’t really see it as negative press. This kind of attention is a double-edged sword. It’s great to see so many mainstream-media outlets covering the publication of the book, because it gets the word out to people who may not have even known that the pope was publishing a new book. But at the same time, it’s frustrating to see reviewers focusing so much attention on relatively minor issues in the book — whether or not animals were at the Nativity, or which exact year Jesus was born. It’s such a superficial way to approach the book. What’s truly unfortunate is that we live in such a sound-bite culture that headlines like “The Pope Cancels Christmas” will be the only thing many people hear, and I’m sure that will turn off some readers. It’s sad because the Infancy Narratives are so rich and deep and thought provoking
LOPEZ: Will Cardinal Dolan go on Stephen Colbert’s show to debunk the pope-as-Grinch rumor?
JANSEN: Ha! Did you see them at Fordham together? I missed it, but I would have loved to have been in that audience. I did see the recent segment on The Colbert Report about the book, and I thought it was funny and irreverent. I laughed out loud a few times because of the irony in his presentation. Most of the other stories about the book had pretty serious headlines. I’d love to see the cardinal stop by the show and tell Colbert that he’d been put on the naughty list for Christmas.
LOPEZ: You actually went to Rome for the book’s launch, didn’t you? What was that like?