US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Read: Jesus: A Pilgrimage

By Kathleen Manning | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Article Your Faith
By James Martin, S.J. (HarperOne, 2014)

In his latest book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, Jesuit Father James Martin travels to Israel, visiting the sites of Jesus’ life. Combining his travels with St. Ignatius of Loyola’s call to meditate on the gospels by immersing oneself in the scene—How did the loaves and fishes taste? How hot was it at noon when Jesus met the Samaritan woman?—Martin draws a rich and engaging picture of Jesus and how he lived.

As he moves from the annunciation to the ascension, every reader will likely relate to some part of Martin’s trip and his thoughtful reflections on the gospels. I particularly liked his adventurous taxi ride to Jericho and the subsequent essay on Zacchaeus and Bartimaeus that this day trip inspires.

For readers with limited knowledge of the gospels, Martin helpfully explains many of the terms and images the evangelists use. The term and tradition he does not effectively engage with, however, is “pilgrimage,” which, considering it is the subtitle of his book, is an odd omission. Granted, meanings change. Today, any trip motivated by belief can be called a pilgrimage. Unlike their forerunners in late antiquity who began the practice, modern-day pilgrims are free to travel as they please without needing a license or instruction from religious authorities.

This omission, however, seems to be responsible for the book’s biggest flaw: Martin’s dismissive attitude toward many of the other pilgrims he encounters, whose noise and activity often annoy him. Sure, some of the travellers might just be tourists only interested in snapping a few cool Instagrams. Still, engaging with what pilgrimage means might have inspired Martin to consider that the journeys of the other pilgrims along the way may have just as much to teach him about the life of Jesus as praying in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre does.

This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 6, page 43).