My friend Leo Zanchettin from Word Among Us Press has just published this terrific book on St. Mark’s Gospel, and I can’t think of a better way of wrapping up this past liturgical year and getting ready for Christmas.

Encountering the Lord in the Gospel of Mark helps us look at this familiar text with clarity, compassion and prayerful insight.  It’s structured as a stay-at-home retreat, so anyone can pick it up and benefit from it anywhere, anytime. (No worries about social distancing! You can make this retreat from your living room.)

With 30 short chapters, Leo carefully and thoughtfully unpacks this Gospel — the one we’ve gotten to know so well over the past year — and offers offering his own reflections. He concludes each chapter with a few questions to bring into our own prayer life.

Leo’s gift — and it’s no small thing! — is to make what could be complex theology real, relatable and accessible. Here, for example, is how he puts the Gospel in context in his Introduction:

What prompted Mark to write? There’s one obvious answer and one not-so obvious answer.

First, the more obvious answer: something had to be done. It had been around thirty years since Jesus’ death and resurrection when Mark wrote his Gospel. Jesus had returned to heaven and commanded his disciples to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” And that’s precisely what they did…

But now, thirty years later, the apostles were beginning to die off. James was the first, executed by Herod as early as A.D. 44. Then, most dramatically, Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome between A.D. 65 and 69. Other apostles had set out for distant lands where they too met a martyr’s death…Future generations needed something trustworthy to help them grasp who Jesus was and why he was so important. So someone — namely Mark — needed to commit the apostles’ teaching to writing.

The not-so-obvious reason? The disappearance of the first apostles created a vacuum. And into that vacuum stepped people of all stripes. They came with their own stories about Jesus — some accurate, others not so much. The stories and testimonies about Jesus began to meld and become confused. Many of them portrayed Jesus as a different kind of Christ and a different kind of Son of God than Jesus truly was. And that difference was causing division and scandal.

So Mark decided to do something about it, and the result is the Gospel we are going to rad through and pray about over the next month.

And there it is: simple, clear, concise. It’s a book for everyone, and anyone.

Thanks, Leo, for taking my favorite Gospel and helping all of us understand it better.