Becoming Who You Are

by Father James Martin. S.J.

by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


This book is written by a Jesuit I am very fond of! I used this book with my graduate students in an Adolescent Development class. It was the class’s favorite book as it touched the issues they were grappling with. It is a book that touches our souls and asks us to answer those questions closes to our hearts. As usual in a Jesuit book we get the purpose of the book: it is a meditation based on Thomas Merton’s idea of the true self. It covers the work of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, St. Mother Theresa, a mention of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis Sales, Dorothy Day and most importantly the life of Jesus Christ. Martin lets us know how all of these people influenced his life and really helped him to realize who he was with all the graces and sinfulness of a person wanting to give even more of himself to God.

In Chapter one he tells us about the rather chaotic life of Merton, his father was a painter and his Mother died early of stomach cancer. Merton was very much influenced by the people that took him in, who were staunch Catholics. He was educated in France, then at Cambridge, then at Columbia in NYC. In 1938, Merton was baptized at Corpus Christi Church. He subsequently finished his Master’s degree in English at Columbia and almost immediately began to consider becoming a priest. He was rejected by the Franciscans as he fathered a child, however he took a retreat at Gethsemani. He found that he craved solitude as much as he craved attention. This aspect of Merton’s life with its ups and downs and questioning appealed greatly to the students. Merton lived the 27 years of his life as a Trappist at the abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. He wrote many books and guided many in his essays. Merton became a hermit on the grounds of the monastery as he struggled to live with himself.

The next section of the book relates Martin’s interaction with the life of Merton which began at Corpus Christi Church in NYC, the spot where Merton was baptized in 1938, and his intentional relationship with Jesus Christ, first in a child-like manner and then as a Jesuit when he was 27. He had attended Wharton’s school of business and was in corporate America. No one asked him about his true self, what he wanted to do, who he wanted to become. He inadvertently one evening watched a documentary on Merton and subsequently purchased the book The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton’s journal became, in a way, his journey. My own students talked about how certain text changed their lives and how this story was leading them into reading with the issue of the ‘true self’ in mind. He quotes Richard Rohr in his explanation of our ‘false self’. Our false self is who we think we are. Keeping this false self-alive requires a good deal of work. My students again agreed with Martin, that this is a great deal of work to convince people that one was all the things that one wanted others to believe. Merton was moving away from his ‘false self’ and so was Martin. Martin states that “In the quest for the true self, one therefore begins to appreciate and accept one’s personality and one’s life as an essential way that God calls us to be ourselves. Everyone is called to sanctity in different ways--in often very different ways.” “One’s personal brand of holiness becomes clearer the more the true self is revealed. “Thomas Merton’s idea of the true self, the person who you are before God, gradually enabled me to see how God calls each of us in every situation to be ourselves: Nothing more and more importantly, nothing less.”

This book has 98 pages of wisdom---the entire book comes to help us realize the acceptance of who we are becoming is a sacred way to live one’s life. Buy the book, pass it on to friends, they will cherish its wisdom!

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