Friday, September 15, 2017

My Life with the Saints

My Life with the Saints
© 2007 James Martin, SJ
414 pages

The church I grew up in consistently referred to Rome as the whore of Babylon, so needless to say I didn't learn anything about saints. I knew Biblical personalities, sure, but was completely oblivious to the hundreds of men and women throughout the Christian era who served as outstanding examples, witnesses, or reproaches to the rest of us. I encountered a few in history books, like St. Augustine,  but they were more statuesque than human. The sole exception was Joan of Arc, who began as a figure from history but became (as I read various biographies) someone I felt an odd sense of affection for.  James Martin grew up Catholic, but his saintly education seems to have been almost as paltry as mine, discovering most of them as he attended seminary and trained to be a Jesuit. In the beginning, Martin notes that Catholics approach saints as both intercessors and companions; the latter approach inspiring most of this book.

My Life with the Saints mixes biography -- his, the saints, and others -- with spiritual reflection. In each chapter, Martin recounts his encounter with each personality, sharing how they shaped and informed his own spirituality while connecting their lives to people he has worked with through the years.  St. Francis,  "the fool for Christ", is revisited in the story of another 'fool', a priest who worked with gangs in Chicago and would try to disrupt fights by walking into the middle of the fracas, dressed in a blue-jean robe.  Martin mixes Biblical, medieval, and modern personalities, and includes a fair few people (notably Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day) who aren't "official" saints.   Although I purchased this hoping to meet a lot of obscure personalities, the mix meant only a handful were  completely new to me. Even so, I found Martin's meditations  refreshing, particularly the conclusion in which he remarked on the variety of the saints -- old, young, rural, urban, intellectual, hardy, mystical, rational -- and the hope that presents  to readers, that sainthood isn't limited to a superhero type.

The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day
The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton
The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Mark Twain


  1. And my reading list just keeps on growing! Thanks, Stephen.

    1. That's why us book people need to stick together - to feed off each others book lists!

  2. This sounds really interesting.

    I grew up in a Catholic household where saints were revered. It is fascinating just how many there are and as you mention, the diversity of their characters and stories.

  3. I think this would be an interesting read. I'm currently reading Simone Weil. She's not a Catholic saint, in fact she refused to join the church, but she is revered by Catholics today as one of their mystics.


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