May 4, 2014

Humanity and divinity of Jesus emphasized in Father James Martin presentation



Story and photos by Stephen Kiltonic

HOLYOKE – Father James Martin, Jesuit priest, popular media commentator and acclaimed author and editor, captivated a crowd of more than 300 at the Mont Marie chapel here May 4.

He spoke on a topic that is near and dear to him as his talk was entitled, “Jesus, Our Brother.”

“We really wanted to celebrate our 130th anniversary year in a way that could share and invite our community in, not just the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph, but the broader community with whom we work and minister on a daily basis,” said Sister of St. Joseph Maureen Sheehan, co-chair of the anniversary committee.

“We wanted to give a gift to the people who are part of our lives in so many different ways,” said Sister of St. Joseph Maxyne Schneider, president of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield. Sister Schneider said that Father Martin was an excellent choice as far as accomplishing that. “His message is one that is so receivable, I think, by all of us. He speaks with joy. He speaks with wonderful humor. He is so down to earth.”

During the event, which was free and open to the public, Father Martin read excerpts from his most recent book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. In the book, he brings the Gospels to life by inviting believers and seekers alike to experience Jesus through scripture, prayer and travel.

In preparation for writing the book, Father Martin made a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land, walking in the footsteps of Jesus with fellow Jesuit, Father George Williams.

Father Martin said he always wanted to write a book about Jesus but in a way that wasn’t always told. “There are two kinds of books on Jesus,” Father Martin said. “There are the Jesus of history books, which focus on the life and times of Jesus, and there are books on the Christ of Faith, which talk about Jesus in terms of the miracles and resurrection.

“Those topics are usually kept apart, and I wanted to combine them,” said Father Martin. “Fully human and fully divine means that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t just a great guy, an inspiring teacher, or even a holy man. Moreover, the charismatic carpenter wasn’t just a clever storyteller, a compassionate healer, or a courageous prophet. He was God,” Father Martin said.

“Fully human and fully divine is what we must appreciate about Jesus.” One misconception among Catholics, according to Father Martin, that he wanted to dispel during his discussion, was what he called “the hidden life of Jesus” from age 12 to 30.

“I think the biggest misconception is that Jesus didn’t work. We tend to think of Him being lost in the temple at age 12 and suddenly. at 30, He’s baptized and started his ministry. But for 18 years in Nazareth, He worked very hard,” Father Martin told his audience.

“We think of Jesus just as the Son of God, risen from the dead, which he is; but we forget that he worked and understands people who work,” he said.

Annie Turner of Williamsburg, who attended the talk, is a big fan of Father Martin. She has heard him speak previously and has read all of his books. “He’s really intent on merging the humanity of Jesus with the divinity of Jesus. And he does it in such a way that it is very, very accessible,” said Turner.

“He’s funny. He’s present. He has a very special way of engaging his audience. And the book is fabulous. He brings new insights, new thoughts about it (the Bible).”

Sister Schneider (pictured with Father Martin) said that the Sisters of St. Joseph community owes Father Martin gratitude for “some wonderful things he did for us” the past year, after the congregation made public the difficult financial situation they are experiencing.

“All of a sudden, we started receiving gifts and contacts and expressions of support from not just across the country, but even from different parts of the globe,” Sister Schneider said. “Turns out, he had put us on his blog.”

Father Martin also wrote a short article about the Sisters of St. Joseph in America, a national Catholic magazine, where he is the cultural editor-at-large. “I am a fan and friend of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield for a number of reasons,” he said. “I’ve said this many times, women religious are my heroes, period.” Father Martin received religious education from the Sisters of St Joseph in Philadelphia.

After his hour-long talk, Father Martin answered questions from the audience and signed books for the attendees.  He then celebrated Mass, which was followed by a wine and cheese reception in the dining hall.

Father Martin is the author of several award-winning books including The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and My Life with the Saints and Between Heaven and Mirth. He is also a frequent commentator in the national and international media and has appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” Fox TV’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” PBS’s “Newshour,” as well as in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal among others. Before entering the Jesuits in 1988, he graduated from the Wharton School of Business and worked with General Electric for several years.

For a video version of this story, tune in to an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.