Book Review: My Life with the Saints, by James Martin, SJ

Book Review: My Life with the Saints, by James Martin, SJ

Reviewed by Gladyce Janky

John L. Allen Jr., editor of Crux, an independent news site, describes My Life with the Saints (My Life) as the “most human, honest, warm and even humorous treatment of the stories of the saints I have encountered.” Using personal conversion stories, Fr. Martin shares seventeen stories about saints that have accompanied his faith journey, beginning with the saint of the sock drawer, St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

Each story contains background information on the saint and explains how this person’s life connects with Fr. Martin’s journey. For example, reading Thomas Merton’s book, The Seven Story Mountain, led Martin to leave his corporate job to join the Society of Jesus. Merton also taught him the importance of seeking our True Self *.

As we read the stories, we are invited to see the saints as a source of encouragement and hope. One saint we meet is Pope John XXIII. We hear the Pope’s words, from his Journal of a Soul, the importance of being ourselves, not trying to emulate a saint when he states, “From the saints, I must take the substance, not the accidents, of their virtues…God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own lifeblood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances.”

In a Loyola Press interview with Joe Popricki, Fr. Martin explains that he most appreciates the real-life struggles of the saints, especially those in his book. They have the same human foibles (minor weaknesses) as everyone. Their journeys are our journeys, too. They are the models for Christian living. They are not just a memory from the past but in our present and future. What hooks you or catches your attention is God’s way of drawing you closer to the saint, who then brings you closer to Jesus. Fr. Martin noted this is not an academic text but A series of meditations on how one Christian relates to these holy people **.

My Life ends with a suggestion for further reading to learn about the saints. Possible texts include Butler’s Lives of the Saints (original or the newer edited version) or Fr. Richard McBrien’s Lives of the Saints: From Mary and St. Francis of Assisi to John XXIII and Mother Teresa. The reason for reading My Life and one or more of these books is not to become an expert on saints, but to discover the saints whose lived experiences resonate most deeply with our stories and lead us into a deeper relationship with Jesus. My Life contains reflection questions suitable for both personal meditation and group conversations.

Final Thoughts: Fr. Martin reminds us of the recent emphasis on every person’s call to holiness (p372). Anyone within the concrete circumstances of their life can point the way toward Jesus and is thus a potential saint in the making. There are no restrictions on one’s vocation, and sainthood is not limited to those in a religious order. There is no minimum age requirement, as evidenced by Blessed Carlo Acutis, a teenager and possible future patron saint of the internet. (Carlo Acutis: The Newest Patron Saint Of The Internet? – Catholic-Link)

*For me, to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore, the problem of sanctity and salvation is, in fact, the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self: Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation.

** Loyola Press interview YouTube fr. james martin my life with the saints youtube

Many of Fr. Martin’s books, including My Life with the Saints, have been translated into Spanish (Mi Vido Con Los Santos).

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