Find Your Own Calcutta

Find Your Own Calcutta March 25, 2017

martin coverMyself I’ve never met a saint of the Church and I’ve only met one person who ever knew a prospective saint. (It was someone who knew Dorothy Day well.)

But we all need to meet more of them, even if it’s only in the pages of books like Fr. James Martin’s My Life with the Saints, now out in a 10th anniversary edition.

The author picked out sixteen of his favorite saints (including saint-in-the-making Dorothy Day) and interestingly wraps bits of his own life story around his mini-biographies of each.

For example, before his ordination Fr. Martin was once employed by a financial services company and came home to flop in front of the TV, just as PBS was screening a biography of Thomas Merton. Intrigued by this unlikely figure, he next day he went out and found a copy of Merton’s biography, The Seven Story Mountain and it changed Martin’s life forever.

Three Jesuits figure in the book: Ignatius of Loyola (Martin offers a look at his Spiritual Exercises and the topic of spiritual direction), Pedro Arrupe (the Superior General who was stationed just outside Hiroshima in 1945), and Aloysius Gonzaga (his embrace of austerity helped the author endure a trying period living in East Africa).

From ancient saintly figures such as Mary, Joseph and Peter through Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assissi, Joan of Arc, Bernadette Soubirous, Therese of Lisieux, the Ugandan Martyrs, and Pope John XXIII, Martin finds key themes to highlight in their lives, often just the kinds of details that make us realize what brilliant, charismatic–but perfectly human–people they were.

A delight of the book is Martin’s way of inserting insights that open up new ways of understanding the saints, such as his idea that “one reason we are initially attracted to a saint is that the saint is already praying for us”! And he quickly dispenses with the plastic figurine piety with which some Catholics approach our holy people. He recalls how Dorothy Day loved to quote Romano Guardini’s comment, “The church is the cross on which Christ is crucified today.”

The saints are models of what our lives could be, Martin notes. But we are not called to superhuman efforts, as Mother Teresa reminded visitors who appeared to think they were called to her heroic project. “Find your own Calcutta,” she would gently tell them. We never have far to look.


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