‘Jesus, A Pilgrimage’ by James Martin,
SJ (Harper One) 526pp, hbk
Father Martin’s book is a rich, multi-layered guide book. It is a travelogue, an account of a pilgrimage he, initially reluctantly, made to the Holy Land. It is also a guide to the life and ministry of Jesus, dealing sequentially with key moments in Christ’s life, and finally it is also an account of Father Martin’s own journey of discernment and spiritual growth, central to which is the discovery of his vocation as a priest.
As Father Martin explains in his introduction he has come to know Jesus through his academic studies, prayer, experience and pilgrimage. One of the great achievements of this book is the way in which these elements are woven together in a way that remains balanced and accessible.
Vocation is the central theme that underpins this exploration of place and person. In a powerful passage in chapter seven Father Martin builds on his reflections on the call of the first disciples by explaining his own growing sense of a vocation to the priesthood. The growing dissatisfaction with an occupation or lifestyle that he describes maybe a familiar experience for many as they begin the process of discernment. However, as Father Martin explains there are a multitude of ways in which we can be called, and if it is initially through dissatisfaction with the status quo then, if the call is from God, it will be followed by the hope of something new.
It’s little wonder that the themes in this book complement each other so well. All of Christian life is a response to the call to follow Jesus, and not just at a distance but to seek to draw ever nearer to him. The descriptions of the key locations found in the gospels create a backdrop which vividly links us through time to first century Palestine. Father Martin’s reflections on key gospel texts, drawing on Ignatian spirituality, encourage us to stand alongside, for example, Simon and Andrew at the Sea of Galilee as Jesus calls them. We are encouraged to contemplate what that event might mean for us. Like Simon and Andrew this might mean letting go of our own plans, even our livelihoods, and following a radically different path. However, as Father Martin contends, if we respond as Simon and Andrew did we will be allowing Christ to free us to be the people God has made us to be. That is one of the most powerful explanations of Christian vocation that I have read.
Assistant curate at Saint John’s Sevenoaks