I love Pope Benedict’s writing. I don’t keep current on it, but I’ve read a fair share, and I always enjoy it. It was no different with The Apostles, a collection of the weekly general audiences from March 15, 2005 to October 18, 2006.

Though I know our pope is a wonderful teacher, that sentence made me think — incorrectly — that what was contained in this slim and beautifully illustrated volume would fall under the category of “don’t read without much caffeine and all your brain cells.” After letting it gather two months’ of dust on my to-read pile, I realized that I had to review it sometime; The Catholic Company wasn’t just sending it to me just for fun!

And so, since I had the illustrated edition in my hands, I leafed through it. And then I went through it again, more slowly.

My appreciation of it is more along the lines of “that’s pretty, isn’t it?” than intelligent discussion. Even so, the paintings included in this volume are…well, they’re classics for a reason. (Yeah, I’m feeling particularly brilliant today.)

When I started reading, I valued those paintings even more. As the pope took those dusty old apostles, figures from Gospel stories that had been heard so many times that they were invisible to me, and unpacked them, the paintings supplemented with beauty, with a visual that met my desire, unknown before I experienced this book, to have beauty in more than just the text.

This pope has the gift, for me, of making things accessible that I’ve forgotten all about, reminding me of how exciting I found Bible stories when my dad read them to me before bed in the Picture Bible (which was like a big comic book of the Bible). He’s so gentle that I don’t see him coming with his teaching; he’s just telling a story, papa to daughter, and at the end of it, I realize I’ve marked pages (oh! the shame! it’s an illustrated edition!) and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Yes. That’s right. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And it wasn’t a novel.

Whether you’re a scholarly type or not, there’s something in this book for you. I would even dare to recommend it to those of you reading this who aren’t Catholic, because this book, at its essence, is about our common Christianity, our roots. The Apostles founded the early church, and whatever disagreements we may have about where we are now, the pope teaches, oh so excellently, about that early history.