The words that Christ speaks in the Gospel are words of life. They are certainly the most important words given to us or to any human being past or present. Often Christ’s words are difficult; they make us confront the fact that we are less than we like to think we are. Christ’s words to us are mysterious and call us to ponder things we cannot fully know or comprehend, that we must work hard simply to sense. I have attempted to read these words carefully and solemnly, to meditate on them regularly and with an open heart over many years. I have no doubt that many [others] have done no less. Such people are well aware that the words of Christ confront us in ways no other words can and have done so since the beginning of our awareness of the world around us. They return to us over and over again in different contexts, and they probably became part of our lives even before we could understand their origin or anything about their meaning. Before we ever sat down to read even a small passage of the Gospel, bits and pieces of it were read to us, often by our parents or grandparents. Sometimes they read to us from inscriptions on the walls of churches, at other times from holy cards or from parts of prayers. Of course we have heard these words regularly spoken by a priest at every Mass we have ever attended.

These are, therefore, familiar words, sometimes so familiar that we may lose a sense of their importance, their utter uniqueness. Often, paradoxically, it is the convert to the faith, the one to whom these words are new, who experiences a startling awareness of the power inherent in them. But sometimes we are able to glimpse their great meaning—their extraordinary significance—for an instant or two. Sometimes we see Christ’s words for what they are, and they become like lightning, brilliantly illuminating the darkness in which we walk.

This excerpt comes from After This Life: What Catholics Believe About What Happens.