'My Life with the Saints' is a book for anyone seeking inspiration from the saints. Rather than a dry, heavy re-telling of the lives of saints, full of pious details that most modern readers will struggle to relate to, Fr James Martin SJ instead provides us with a beautiful and personal anthology of the saints.
This is no ordinary book about saints. 'My Life with the Saints', as the title implies, describes the life of Fr Martin and how he came to meet various saints. By writing about the saints in the order that he came to know them, you can't help but feel as though you are taking a journey with Martin, living his life with him, and thus discovering these saints with him. The way the lives of the saints are interwoven with anecdotes and relevant tales from Martin's own life serves to reveal the impact the lives of the saints can have on someone. The saints should, after all, be our inspiration and yet often they feel unfamiliar, so holy and living a life so different from our own that it can be hard to relate them to our modern lives. And yet Martin somehow makes them modern again. As a Jesuit priest, he has many diverse experiences to draw from and therefore manages to set an example of how we can discover the saints in the most unlikely of places and at the most surprising times.
Martin tells the lives of the saints like a good story: he gives you characters so fleshy you feel like you know them, situations so real that you can find yourself relating to them, and enough details to make you interested. The way he writes is almost as though he's talking to a friend, and he will have you wanting to cry in sympathy at times and laughing out loud at others.
The great thing about Martin's way of looking at the saints is that it shows you how YOU can be a saint. The way he describes their lives, with their various blessings and troubles, they could easily have lived in the 21st century (if you change a few key details of course!) and in that way he makes them more real. By making the saints real, it finally makes being one yourself seem achievable. He also makes it abundantly clear that by becoming a saint, we are not called to be Mother Teresa, or St Francis, or Dorothy Day, or countless other saints. We are called only to be ourselves. This, I think, is the real treasure of this book.
My favourite part, however, wasn't how much I learned about the saints, or realising that becoming a saint doesn't mean changing my personality. The best bit of this book for me was the inclusion of the real stories from real people. These are people Martin met, people whose stories intertwined with his around the time he discovered a particular saint, and somehow it was these people that inspired me the most. There were the women prisoners who spoke for hours in Spanish about Our Lady, not because she was the mother of God or conceived without sin or any of the other amazing things about her - it was Mary, the woman, a real person they as women and mothers could relate to. There were the refugees he met in East Africa who worked hard to become businesswomen and sell items to tourists, turning their lives around by using their God-given talents. There was the community of nuns he met also whilst in East Africa who served Christ by finding employment in all the menial jobs that no one else wanted and evangelising to those who worked with them. And how I could forget the Brother who worked with gangs in Chicago, standing in the middle of gun fights to stop the gangs from fighting. These people, these very real people who find God in whatever circumstance they happen to find themselves in, these are the saints that inspired me the most. These are the living saints, people who have already been inspired by the saints of heaven to follow God completely. These were the people who made the book even more fantastic and memorable.
I can't describe how grateful I am for this book. All I can say is this: Read it. Whether you're drawn to the saints or to the holy men and women of today, you'll find something in there that will truly inspire you.