More Than a Nice Story


A Pilgrimage
James Martin
HarperOne, $27.99, 528 pp.

In the introduction to his new book, James Martin, SJ, explains that he wants to “look at Jesus” through the lens of his own education, prayer, and especially his experience on pilgrimage in the Holy Land. In a sense, Martin’s pilgrimage was an effort to follow the advice of his order’s founder, St. Ignatius. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius recommends that while praying one set himself imaginatively in the scenes of the gospels. “Composition of place,” as the practice is known, is a venerable technique (and indebted to Franciscan spirituality). It has long been argued, for example, that Caravaggio used the practice as he painted the Supper at Emmaus in a Roman trattoria.

Of course, no two-week pilgrimage could cover all the Holy Land locations connected to the life of Jesus. Martin chose those that illustrated the stories from the gospels about which he had long meditated in his own Jesuit formation. What’s most impressive about Jesus: A Pilgrimage is how Martin weaves together his own deep reading of superior scholarship with insights he received from his own prayer life. From this mélange of observations, Martin draws helpful applications of a pastoral nature.

But Jesus is not a guidebook to the Holy Land. Martin’s intended audience...

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About the Author

Lawrence S. Cunningham is John A. O'Brien Professor of Theology Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the author of Things Seen and Unseen: A Catholic Theologian's Notebook (Ave Maria Press).