by Jon M Sweeney
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
I interviewed James Martin for Profiles in Catholicism... Before the interview, I read his book: Jesus which is the story of his trip to the Holy Land.
It was a powerful book and propelled me to take a trip to the Holy Land with Dr. Hahn the next year. I’ve followed the work of James Martin as a Jesuit priest and scholar. This book helps us to read between the lines of his life and to answer the question of another of his books: “Become Who You Are”. As an editor and assistant editor of America magazine, he has provided us with some wonderful and sometimes controversial holy words of wisdom. One of the issues that Father Martin is so good at is his ability as a scholar. He is a scholar/researcher which means Martin does present both sides of an issue with the clarity and truth of the Holy Spirit. He does so and sometimes his scholarship is misinterpreted. Sometimes it provides hours of meditation.
Sweeney begins the book with an overview of significant dates in the life of Father Martin. Along with priestly ordination came an assignment to work for America magazine permanently.Fr. Martin’s experience and reputation at the magazine grew. Over the course of his first twenty years in journalism, his masthead titles there moved chronologically through an associate editor, culture editor, acting publisher, associate editor, and then an editor at large. From the beginning of his work in America until now he has never taken a leave of absence. His gifts are easily recognized in journalism.
Many of the stories Sweeney tells are of Martin’s life with Jesus and his writing of his books. “Thomas Merton was the one who pointed Father Martin to religious and spiritual life while Martin was still in the corporate world, but Jesus was the one Martin principally turned toward and related to. Jesus is the focus of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which Martin first experienced in the novitiate.” A desire to contemplate, understand, and be present with Jesus fills the letters he wrote home to family and friends at that time and the first articles he wrote for publication. In an article in the Boston paper, Martin points out ten reasons for Christians to laugh: humor and joy are ways to evangelize, humor is a tool for humility, humor shocks listeners into recognizing reality, humor can express Christian courage, humor deepens our relationship with God, humor welcomes others, humor is healing, humor fosters good relations in our work, humor opens our minds, humor is fun!
The outpouring of response to Building a Bridge did not translate easily into book sales, Thirteen months in and sales were only 15,590 copies according to Nilsen Book Scan an industry data provider that counts copies purchased at major retailers, online and brick-and-mortar. These numbers were uncommon for a Martin book. Martin’s editor said that they never expected to reach Martin’s full audience with the book which was about a very specific topic with a limited appeal. Controversy continued. Cardinal Blasé Cupich invited Martin to give two talks at Holy Name Cathedral. Martin came and spoke about our life imitating Jesus means including all.
Bishop Gregory and Bishop McElroy also offered support. What struck many people about Martin during this turbulent period was the calm with which Martin seemed to face his detractors. During a retreat, Jesus invited him to let go of the need to be loved, liked or even approved of. He responds to doing God’s will by choosing the direction of the Holy Spirit. This is a book worth reading as it is presented in a clear and compassionate manner about a man/priest whom God is certainly keeping His eye on with love!