I finished reading MY LIFE WITH THE SAINTS by Fr. James Martin, SJ last night. I had seen so many good reviews of this book that I had to buy it, and I was not disappointed.
First, the cover was captivating. Now yes, I am a visual person and I am, in fact, often attracted by a book's cover, but this one really affected me. I found myself staring at it for several minutes each time I picked up the book. The portraits of the various saints are so real, so life-like, that I felt like I could run into any one of these people in the grocery store or in Mass next Sunday. The image of St. Peter, with a cowlick in his hair, immediately brought him down from the realm of the "the untouchable holy ones" as depicted in holy cards to "another sinner, like me, saved by God's grace."
The stories that Fr. Martin presents continue along the same lines. While not downplaying their lives of holiness in the least, these were not one-dimensional human beings living on some level far above the rest of us. He presents their struggles, their questions, and the difficulties they endured here on earth. For example, in his chapter on Mother Teresa he writes:
"... [she had] a protracted experience of distance from God and an extreme 'dryness' in prayer. And for Mother Teresa, who had once felt God to be so close, this distance, this feeling of abandonment, was a source of confusion, bafflement, and pain. As far as we know... Mother Teresa remained in that state of 'dark' faith and total surrender till her death...
"It's a fair bet to say that many assumed that the woman often referred to as a 'living saint' spent her days blissfully aware of the presence of God. And so Mother Teresa's arduous service to the poor was therefore easier than it would be for the rest of us--because she had the constant comfort and assurance from God that the rest of us lack. As a result, we might conclude that we are not meant to do that kind of work. Leave it to those like Mother Teresa, for whom it's easier, for whom it comes more naturally. But, as it turned out, it was not any 'easier' for Mother Teresa to work with the poor or to lead a Christian life than it is for any of us. It was harder than anyone could have imagined.
"Many of us also believe that it is only we mortals who struggle with our prayer, who can find prayer dull or dry or boring, who wonder if God hears us, if God cares, if it's all worth the effort. How lovely it must be, we think, to be a saint, and to find prayer always easy and sweet and consoling. We're sure that all the saints had to do was close their eyes to be instantly rewarded with warm feelings of God's presence. But the example of Mother Teresa--to say nothing of that of a long line of saints, including Therese of Lisieux, who struggled with her own 'dark night' during her final illness--shows us that, in the end, the saints really are like the rest of us and struggle in every way that we do, even where we would least suspect it: in the spiritual life. Sometimes they have to struggle even more." (p. 172-173)
Fr. Martin presents the lives of 17 different saints, and explains why he has been attracted to each one of them, and the difference their intercession has made in their lives.
I cannot say that I agreed with everything Fr. Martin says in this book, but I was truly inspired by his passion and familiarity with the saints he writes about. It reminded me of something our pastor told those going through the RCIA process: "Get to know the saints. Read their stories. Get to know the company that you keep."
"The company that I keep." That phrase has stuck with me. The Bible tells us that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and they cheer us on. Who knows what saints have been interceding for me all these years? Thomas Merton was convinced that it was due to the prayers of the saints that he left his former decadent lifestyle and became a monk. I know that family members who have "gone on before" have been praying for me, but have other saints as well? What a truly awesome thought!
This book has left me with several things to mull over, which I plan to do in the days and weeks ahead. He has an easy-to-read style and the format is such that a chapter a night (even for busy Moms!) is easily do-able.
On the 1-5 star rating scale, I give this book 4 stars.