On average, in addition to all my work reading, I finish a book a month for enjoyment . . . well, until my daughter was born — she has limited what I read in the evenings to fictional novels that can be consumed in small cognitive bites. The content, then, obviously is neither nourishing to my brain nor my soul. As I saw my completed book list begin to dwindle, I realized I needed to make a change.
My wife awakens 30 minutes earlier than I do, so I decided that, rather than incomplete snoozing, I would spend those pre-alarm moments reading things that would be of deeper spiritual and intellectual value. I finished a book on law last week, for example, that could never have been completed while a 25” narrator explained to me all that Skye was doing on “Paw Patrol.” [I hope you don’t get that reference, but if you do, you understand.]
A friend recently wrote a book on the Theology of the Apostle Paul, and I decided this would be my next sunrise study. As I’ve spent the last few mornings with his book, I’ve come to realize just how blessed we are in our diocese to have teachers who are willing and courageous enough to share their wisdom with us. Jim Ware is a professor of Religion at the University of Evansville, and he is also the faculty advisor for our Newman Center that serves that campus. He’d be embarrassed if I sang his praises, but I’ll just confess that my last few mornings with Jim have been a thought-provoking retreat to begin my day. “Honey,” I say to my wife, “Jim is such a great teacher — listen to the distinction he applied to Paul’s use of the Greek word “hysteréō” in Romans 3:23.” Although I doubt she actually hears me over the blow dryer, she sees my excitement. Great teachers write the best books.
Really, although Jim’s book is excellent (if you’re at all interested in Paul’s theology, the book is available at Amazon), I don’t think my enthusiasm is really much about the author at all. I mean, sure, he’s a gifted teacher, and the content is wonderful,
but I think it goes deeper. Maybe my mornings haven’t really been spent with Jim at all.
Years ago, right after my conversion, I had a dream. I was at the dining room table in my college apartment when someone knocked at the door. At the threshold was a dark, ominous character (imagine one of the Úlairi, the Servants of Sauron in “Lord of the Rings”) simply standing whilst dark clouds spun like an approaching thunderstorm outside. As I looked back at the table, there sat Jesus, the Bible opened before Him on an immaculate surface (clearly part of a dream as that table was never clean in real life). Our Lord made no urgent movement, He merely watched me, lovingly, and I understood His message: “Don’t be afraid: I’m always here.” I woke up with such a sense of peace as I had never had before.
In Caldwell Chapel at the Catholic University of America, there is a window depicting St. John the Baptist. Inscribed at the bottom is the Latin quotation, “Ille erat lucerna, ardens et lucens” (my poor translation, “He was a light, glowing and shining”). It was St. John the Baptist (John 3:30) who himself informed the above quotation, “He [Jesus] must increase; I must decrease.” If their intention is true, this is what Jim and other great teachers do for us: They are lights that point not to themselves, but to Jesus — they seek to draw us to Jesus Christ, happy to decrease, to fade into the radiance of God. And in this humility and generosity, they allow us to sit next to our Lord as He draws us into His heart.
Time is precious, and I am grateful for those blessed 30 minutes each morning when I get to sit with a friend, grow in faith and knowledge, and be the man God wants me to be for my family, my ministry and my community. My mornings with Jesus are precious.