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A review of My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ

February 27, 2011

by Commission Member Shirley Pukaite

“Every day we begin again” is just one of St. Benedict’s mottos that he gave his monks as they walked toward perfection in Christ.

I want you to come with us as we learn from Father James Martin, SJ and his book My Life with the Saints. Let us walk with him and his beloved saints deeper into our own spiritual walk God has placed before us.
He starts us on our journey with “The Saint of the Sock Drawer”. I’m not going to tell you who it is because I want you to get his book and join us on our spiritual adventure. I will tell you this chapter is very entertaining and humorous. This narrative is organized chronologically, so we meet these saints as Fr. Martin progressed through his spiritual journey.

We have met Joan of Arc a young peasant girl who could neither read nor write. Joan hears the voices of three saints who command her to lead the French army to victory over the English. She travels to meet the crown prince and convinces him to give her troops to lead into battle to free the captured Orleans who were then besieged by the English. Joan and her army freed the city on May 8, 1429. During her military career Joan witnessed the prince being crowned King Charles VII. Sadly Joan had to deal with increasing jealousy of the all male army and being treated rudely by royal courtiers. Joan was eventually captured and denounced as a heretic. Her lack of theological sophistication and her adherence to her story of voices and divine guidance caused her much damage. The new king proves weak and fickle and does not intervene for Joan. On May 30, 1431 Joan was burned at the stake. Her last words were “Jesus, Jesus.”

From there we go to the other end of the spectrum to the pacifist Dorothy Day. When Father Martin saw Dorothy’s photo on the cover of her autobiography he knew he wanted to know more about her. Often his first introduction to a saint is through an image; a photo, mosaic, a fresco.

Dorothy was born in Brooklyn in 1897. During her young adult years Dorothy writes in her autobiography how she chose to harden her heart toward religion and felt it an opiate of the people. She was interested in writing and became a journalist in New York City. She took upon herself the pressing political issues of the day: poverty, radical social change and organized labor. Committing to many causes, and identifying with the poor and immigrants Dorothy finally sought a path of humility and obedience to God. At this time in her life she embraced Catholicism. Fr. Martin writes “In keeping with her understanding of the Gospels, Dorothy also became a tireless advocate for peace. For her, the message of the Sermon on the Mount led to an unshakable commitment to nonviolence.”

Joan of Arc holds a unique place in Father Martin’s spiritual life as the first saint he came to know. He met Dorothy Day first on the photo of her autobiography, learned of her life and lived in her world during his second-year as a novice. For a four-month period he worked in a Jesuit ministry at the Nativity Mission School in New York City. He was reminded of Dorothy in the Mass; in the work of the teachers—long hours in Spartan conditions, dedicated service in the name of the church, and largely unrecognized labor with little pay, all on behalf of the poor. The personal witness of poverty Dorothy had has become the most meaningful to Fr. Martin.

In the chapters between Joan of Arc and Dorothy Day we met Thomas Merton (a good friend of Dorothy’s) who helped one member see that no matter how crazy our lives seem, we can be holy. Another he helped understand what he called my “true self” is the person I am before God and the person I am meant to be.” We learned from St. Ignatius to try to balance activity and prayer; find God in everyday life; in all places and all people. We met many more saints and will continue on our spiritual journey walking with many more.

We hope you will pick up a book and begin a new day with us.

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