Local author’s book achieves the ‘wow factor’

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Robert J. Dunne didn’t have outsized expectations for his book on Jesus, knowing that self-published books don’t typically gain much critical notice or many readers.

He was surprised, then, to learn that his bishop, David M. O’Connell of Trenton, had not only read “909 Days That Changed the World,” but was talking about it during a radio interview.

And not only talking about it. Bishop O’Connell — a Vincentian priest, canon lawyer, former theology and religious university professor and former president of The Catholic University of America in Washington, who has been awarded numerous honorary academic degrees — said Dunne “got it right.”

The bishop called “909 Days That Changed the World” an “amazing book.” “If spiritual reading can still offer a ‘wow factor’ after all these years, Bob’s writing does it with ease and conviction.”

Quite an accomplishment for someone who is not a theologian, New Testament scholar or church historian. Dunne, 64, who lives with his family in Princeton Junction but spends summers at his home in Ocean City where he worships at St. Damien Parish, used to work on Wall Street.

Perhaps the key to the book’s achievement is that it reflects Dunne’s own struggle to understand one of Christianity’s most fundamental, and difficult, concepts: that Jesus, the Son of God, was fully human.

“I always thought about Jesus as God, not man,” Dunne said. “I saw Jesus as a judge, not someone to pattern my life after.”

Interested in Jesus as a man of flesh and blood as much as his message and mission, Dunne’s book begins with Jesus’ baptism and ends before Holy Thursday. He describes his book as historical fiction about Jesus’ public ministry.

He set out to weave the four Gospels of the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — into one narrative. (It’s the same approach that some filmmakers have attempted, with mixed results. The two films based on the life of Jesus that the Vatican included in its 1995 list of great films were the 1905 silent film La Passion de Notre Seigneur Jesus-Christ, and an Italian film that focused exclusively on one Gospel, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew.)

The four-in-one approach suited Dunne’s goal, which was to make the reader feel as if he or she was walking with Jesus and seeing how his ministry “unfolds day by day, week by week, month by month.”

“I know for me, and I believe for many others, hearing bits and pieces of the days of Jesus’ life at Mass on Sundays or even reading all four Gospels one after another, it is still hard to picture the chronological order in which these events took place,” Dunne said.

Perhaps more importantly, the author said his intention is to “make Jesus more personal, more real, and to get to know him as the warm, loving and forgiving man he was (and is).”

After working on his book for three-and-a-half years, Dunne says he has come to know Jesus — and himself — better. By looking at the Gospel events — like Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, the raising of Lazarus, chasing the money changers from the temple — as a novelist, the author tired to imagine and explain what Christ was thinking and feeling, his motivations as well as his actions.

That led easily to self-examination for the author. Was he modeling himself on Jesus if he got angry when he wasn’t getting his way? Was he concerned about the right things in a given situation?

“Jesus Christ can help us live our lives as human beings,” Dunne said.

The 326-page book consists of 75 short chapters and is designed for easy reading. It is available from Leonine Press, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.