My Life with the Saints

by James Martin

Paperback, 2007



Call number

Adult > Saints-Biography-Memoir


Loyola Press (2007), Edition: 31533rd, 414 pages


My Life with the Saints 10th Anniversary Edition is available now?! James Martin has led an entirely modern life: from a lukewarm Catholic childhood, to an  education at the Wharton School of Business, to the executive fast track at General Electric, to ministry as a Jesuit priest, to a busy media career in Manhattan. But at every step he has been accompanied by some surprising friends--the saints of the Catholic Church. For many, these holy men and women remain just historical figures. For Martin, they are intimate companions. "They pray for me, offer me comfort, give me examples of discipleship, and help me along the way," he writes. The author is both engaging and specific about the help and companionship he has received. When his pride proves trouble#65533;some, he seeks help from Thomas Merton, the monk and writer who struggled with egotism. In sickness he turns to Th#65533;r#65533;se of Lisieux, who knew about the boredom and self-pity that come with illness. Joan of Arc shores up his flagging courage. Aloysius Gonzaga deepens his compassion. Pope John XXIII helps him to laugh and not take life too seriously. Martin's inspiring, witty, and always fascinating memoir encompasses saints from the whole of Christian history-- from St. Peter to Dorothy Day. His saintly friends include Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Mother Teresa, and other beloved figures. They accompany the author on a lifelong pilgrimage that includes stops in a sunlit square of a French town, a quiet retreat house on a New England beach, the gritty housing projects of inner-city Chicago, the sprawling slums of Nairobi, and a gorgeous Baroque church in Rome. This rich, vibrant, stirring narrative shows how the saints can help all of us find our way in the world. "In a cross between Holden Caulfield and Thomas Merton, James Martin has written one of the best spiritual memoirs in years." --Robert Ellsberg, author of All Saints "It isn't often that a new and noteworthy book comes along in this genre, but we have reason to celebrate My Life with the Saints. It is earmarked for longevity. It will endure as an important and uncommon contribution to religious writing." --Doris Donnelly, America "An account . . . that is as delightful as it is instructive." --First Things "In delightful prose Martin recounts incidents, both perilous and funny, that have prompted him to turn to the saints, and in doing so shows us a new way of living out a devotion that is as old and universal as the Church." --Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, Fordham University "An outstanding and often hilarious memoir." --Publishers Weekly "Martin's final word for us is as Jungian as it is Catholic: God does not want us to be like Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day. God wants us to be most fully ourselves." --The Washington Post Book World… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ctkcec
A brief history of some well known and some lesser known figures in Catholic history told from a personal point of view by a Jesuit priest
LibraryThing member carka
It makes me want to go out and read more about the saints he highlighted, including a bunch of books I already have on my shelves. It was a good Lenten read for me...and I was able to go to a talk he held at a big conference at the end of February, so that made it more personal.
LibraryThing member cfink
This was a very intriguing book. When I first picked it up, on recommendation from my wife, I had my doubts. After the first saint, I still had my doubts. After the third, I was hooked. Its not so much a history of the saints that got me. Its the way Martin interwove his life around the saints.
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Both were inspiring. In fact, I have to cut this review short and go do some saintly work :)

My wife and I had great discussions after we both read this book. Enjoy!
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LibraryThing member LivelyLady
The Jesuit author describes his journey of faith, chapter by chapter, relating each to the life of a saint. Naming both modern day and the older well known saints, Fr. Martin describes his growth in spirituality and parallels his growth and struggles with the likes of St. Benedict, Dorothy Day,
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Pope John XXIII and Mother Theresa as well as thirteen others. This is very readable and each chapter can stand alone. As a result of this I spentt an afternoon at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Bardstown, KY, the home of Thomas Merton. Few books have moved me this much, ever.
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LibraryThing member katzenmicd
I finished Jim Martin’s My Life with the Saints recently and found it most helpful for understanding the living’s relation with the dead. I found the epigraph to his concluding chapter, a quote from John XXIII, to clearly state his opinion of the saints. It reads

"From the saints I must take the
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substance, not the accidents, of their virtues. I am not St. Aloysius, nor must I seek holiness in his particular way, but according to the requirements of my own nature, my own character, and the different conditions of my life. I must not be the dry, bloodless reproduction of a model, however perfect. God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own life-blood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances" (qtd. on 373).

Later in the conclusion, Martin notes that we must beware not to take a “functional” perspective of the saints either, advising instead, following John XXIII, that we see them as friends and examples along the way. Thus, he uses the race metaphor—saints are runners ahead of us in a race, pacing us, giving us courage to keep running on the same course. We ask them for their prayers, and we trust they are in heaven praying to God for us.

Martin’s stated goad for the book was to introduce his reader to some of the saints he is particularly fond of, so the book is successful in that respect. I found myself adding just about every biography and autobiography of the saints mentioned in this book to my Amazon Wish List. So it’s a helpful read for directing the reader on to the next book, because, as Martin says, quoting C. S. Lewis, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints” (qtd. on 6). After reading My Life with the Saints, I have to agree. The lives of the saints are so varied and so interesting. One is sure to find dear friends in the faith. One is also sure to find saints who make one scratch one’s head.

Enter St. Joan of Arc, the first saint discussed in detail in Martin’s book. I appreciated how Martin himself was a bit perplexed by this French woman who became a soldier, had visions, and would not recant. He found inspiration in her courage to follow her inspiration, but he also noted that it’s an odd story. I have problems with the sainthood of this warrior. In that respect, it’s a troubling image for me. I much prefer the story of St. Ignatius, who is discussed later in the book, who left military service to found the Society of Jesus. So Joan left me a bit perplexed.

I found Martin’s chapter on Ignatius of Loyola most helpful. I had never heard the width and depth of his story, but Martin’s memoir gives life to Ignatius’ life. Likewise, Martin helpfully discusses the totality of the lives of Pedro Arrupe (who I had never previously heard of), Thomas Aquinas (who I had only ever encountered superficially in Historical Theology classes in grad school), and Aloysius Gonzaga (who, I think, I had heard of only through the school bearing his name). Their stories especially captivated me.

Among the most powerful stories were Martin’s contemporary saints—Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, and Dorothy Day. It’s good to know that contemporary “not yet official” saints are guides for the church too. The chapter on Day was especially helpful, because I have only ever encountered caricatures of Day. Martin’s chapter on Day made her seem like an actual human being, who had actual human love for neighbors and—wait for it—for God and the church. So, I finally am at a place where I can at least put her autobiography (and her biography of Therese of Lisieux) on my Wish List. I think that’s a big step toward appreciating all that Day has to offer the church. I am thankful to Martin for presenting her in a way that makes me want to enter into ministry with her.

Speaking of Therese of Lisieux, her story and the story of St. Bernadette make me want to go on pilgrimage to France to see the places touched by these women’s lives. I am thankful that these women are praying to the Father for us.

For fear of being overly repetitive, I won’t mention how Martin deepened my appreciation of St. Francis by giving me the fuller picture of Francis’s life, but he did.

Martin introduces us to three biblical saints: Mary, Peter, and Joseph. I found the chapter of Joseph especially helpful because he frames it in terms of the hidden life—both the hidden life of Jesus with Joseph and the hidden life of Joseph in relation to the Gospels. Along these lines he mentioned Charles de Foucauld, which I thought both appropriate and helpful.

The final group of saints that Martin discusses is the Ugandan Martyrs. I did not know their story prior to reading Martin’s book, but I found their witness to be most inspiring. A group of some 45 Anglican and Catholic Christians were killed in fires. They were faithful to the end, dying with the words of Jesus’ name on their lips. I was especially touched by the Catholic memorial to these martyrs (though Martin himself was left rather unmoved by it, preferring instead the more contemplative Anglican memorial some little ways away). I think I was most moved by the way it looks like “Patty’s Wigwam”—the Catholic Church building—in Liverpool. I felt a connection because of that similarity. I’m thankful that Christians all over the world are worshiping and witnessing. “From the rising of the sun, to its setting, [God's] name shall be great among the nations.”

May we all be such witnesses.

But lest you think that My Life with the Saints is a life of the saints only, it must be noted that it is most directly a spiritual memoir. Martin impressively weaves the story of his growth in admiration for the saints into the wider story of his growth as a Christian and as a Jesuit.

I must say, I tend to be drawn to spiritual memoirs. Perhaps because they are all so “gloriously different,” to borrow Lewis’s phrase. Martin’s has helped me understand who Jim Martin is, which makes me feel a connection with him (and I’ll undoubtedly be reading more of his books), but My Life with the Saints also makes me feel connected to the saints of the church. And it deepens my understanding of their relationship to us and vice versa.

May all these saints and holy people pray for us.
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LibraryThing member erwinkennythomas
This spiritual memoir weaves the lives of the saints with those of Martin’s impressive experiences. In James Martin’s My Life with the Saints, St. Jude was always there for him. With St. Joan of Arc he discovered the true French spirit. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was a distinctive “little
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flower” his heroes revered. Thomas Merton was a bundle of contradictions, but a rock to emulate. St. Ignatius of Loyola - founder of the Jesuits, provided a path that wasn’t always straight. While Pedro Arrupe he admired, and was saddened by his gradual demise.
Martin remembered the Song of Bernadette, and his experiences at Lourdes. St. Mother Teresa was glorified with the Missionaries of Charity. He was struck by the wit and wisdom of Pope John XXⅢ, and the practice of voluntary poverty of Dorothy Day. After his novitiate he took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and the “vow name” Peter. But St. Thomas Aquinas augmented his gifts of reason, faith, and humility.
In St. Francis of Assisi, Martin saw the “imitation of Christ.” Jesus’s father Joseph lived a hidden life just like the Little Sisters of Jesus in sub-Sahara Africa. But his work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), visits to the shrine in Namugongo in honor of Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, further opened his eyes to the plight of Africans, and the Ugandan martyrs.
Martin was struck by St. Aloysius Gonzaga’s determination to enter religious life, and described the opposition of his father as similar to those of his parents about his intention to leave the corporate world. He however found comfort by praying Hail Mary when he wanted something because he knew she was there to intercede for us. He wrote readers would be impressed by the contemporary saints, but he however saw them as models, and enjoyed the benefits of their experiences. But when it comes to Christian believers Martin wrote, “Each of us brings something to the table, and we each through our own gifts, manifest a personal way of holiness that enlivens the community. We help build up the Kingdom of God in ways that others cannot.”
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LibraryThing member rynk
As I write it's the Feast of St. George, and I'm smitten that there's a feast day for a dragon slayer. (Also that George is patron saint of herpes sufferers.) Sure, maybe no dragons were smitten or maidens sacrificed in the real life of George, but I grew up on the fairy tale. Saints likely
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contributed to my love of biography and understanding of how narratives take on a life independent of veracity. James Martin claims quite a life story himself, forsaking the corporate world for the Jesuit religious order and a vocation in media. Saints are Martin's framework to tell his own story, as he reflects on how religious figures first captivated him. Martin's lives of the saints aren't much more complicated than back-of-the-church tracts, but they inspire him to find goodness in others, and that slays me.
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LibraryThing member oldman
My Life with the Saints by James Martin SJ is his reteling of how he has connected with several saints of the Catholic Church and why he emulates and prays to them. A quick read I found it quite enjoyable, but probably not worth reading twice. 4 stars

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414 p.; 6 inches


0829426442 / 9780829426441
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