Rev. James Martin, S.J. Talks Spirituality, Humor As A Jesuit Author

Last Thursday evening, using anecdotes from his personal experiences and a focus on humor, Rev. James Martin, S.J.—renowned Jesuit priest and author of numerous books on spiritual life through the eyes of a member of the Society of Jesus—discussed his experiences as a Jesuit and his views on faith to a full crowd in Robsham Theater. The event was cosponsored by the BC’s Church in the 21st Century (C21) and the School of Theology and Ministry (STM).

Martin is a graduate of the School of Theology and Ministry, and has appeared on television and radio, including NPR and a stint as “the official chaplain” of The Colbert Report. He has published several books, including The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, My Life With the Saints, and Jesus: A Pilgrimage, copies of which were offered for sale at the event.

Martin opened his lecture with a story about the Bay of Parables, where a naturally occurring amphitheater sits. Years ago, said Martin, he had read about the place, and when visiting the Holy Land more than 20 years later, he was finally able to find it.

“It dawned on me that when Jesus was using objects from nature to teach, he was probably not talking about generalities,” Martin said, upon earlier seeing rocks, thorns and fertile ground similar to those described in the parables. “He was talking about these things right here. It reminded me once again that Jesus is also fully human. He walked in these places.”

For Martin, understanding the human aspects and divine aspects of Christ are crucial for reading the Gospel, citing Thomas Jefferson, who wrote on the ethical teachings of Jesus but removed many divine aspects.

“Like many of us, he felt uncomfortable with some parts of the Bible,” said Martin. “He wanted a Jesus that he could tame. But you can’t tame Jesus.”
Martin also discussed the different approaches of understanding Jesus, one which focuses on historical aspects and one which focuses on aspects of faith.

While writing his books, he recognized that both were important for a complete understanding. As an example, Martin brought up the questions that a reader might ask about the story of Lazarus, saying that a historian would ask questions about context and burial practices, whereas a faith-based theologian would ask about the meaning of the miracle.

“To fully meet Jesus Christ, a reader needs to understand both. The Jesus of history is the Jesus of faith. They are the same person,” said Martin. “I like to challenge people by saying this: Jesus is fully divine when sawing wood at the workshop. He’s fully human while stilling the storms.”

For Martin, the human aspects allow him to relate, such as the way Jesus suffered at the crucifixion and found it hard to follow God’s plan. “That’s a human thing to struggle with. I’m consoled in knowing that the person I pray to understands me,” said Martin. “He can enter into our lives, and we can enter into his life.”

As a writer, Martin stressed the importance and influence of his fellow Jesuits, who reviewed the texts and gave him their comments, some of which he quoted in the final works.

“One of the greatest parts of being a Jesuit is that you know these people as friends,” Martin said. From his experiences with working on the New Testament, he has also learned to enjoy the learning process that comes with close readings.

“You’re always learning something new,” he said. “The Word is alive.”

Martin recognizes that there are aspects of Christ that cannot be understood, but still believes that the topic deserves exploration.

“There are a lot of things that we cannot know about Jesus,” said Martin. “But while Jesus’s identity as the Son of God remains a mystery, it is a beautiful mystery, and one worth pondering.”

The C21 is hosting additional events throughout the fall, including a viewing of the film From Hollywood to Haiti: A Filmmaker’s Journey with the Poor; an Episcopal Visitor Lecture entitled “I Was A Stranger And You Welcomed Me: A Catholic Vision for Immigration Reform”; and a panel discussion entitled “Is there a Future for Catholic Health and Social Services?”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / For The Heights