When receiving a book as a gift, I often wonder if I will ever get to it, mostly because choosing a book is a personal thing, and I am not always interested in ones I receive. When I got this book last Christmas, I knew that I would eventually read it. Being raised Catholic, I have always had an interest in the lives of the saints; furthermore, this book’s premise fascinated me because it involved not just the stories of the saints but also their influence on the author, who became a priest. After reading this amazingly honest and emotionally moving book, I can say that it has changed my way of thinking about people in religious life.
James Martin’s story intrigued me from the start. What we both had in common was a childhood raised as Catholics and being sent to Catholic schools. Also, he seems to have been a completely ordinary kid who read comic books, played with “fake vomit,” and even ordered “Sea Monkeys” from an ad in a magazine like I did. Where our paths diverged, however, was that at nine years of age he became fascinated with St. Jude and even ordered a statue through a catalogue. In this humble and somewhat casual way, James Martin’s life with the saints began.
What is equally intriguing is that Martin did not take the direct route to the seminary. He went to Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania. While I found this surprising, apparently so does Martin. He tells us, “Why I decided to study business is difficult to explain and, at this writing, difficult even for me to understand.” He takes this road because, after consulting with his family and high school guidance counselor, it seemed that learning sound business practices would help him to “earn a living.” Of course, now he can identify what the problem was with his choice: his worrying about the “earning” part and not thinking enough about the “living” aspect of things.
After graduation he took an executive position at General Electric in New York City where he spent a few years “working almost around the clock,” but he derived no satisfaction from this. He also did not appreciate “witnessing daily examples of callous behavior from management.” Thus, being caught up in the drudgery and agony of the corporate world, Martin found himself only caring about making money and, even more alarmingly, he discovered the worst thing: “I couldn’t find a way out.”