Becoming Who You Are
by Fr. James Martin
Mahwah, NJ: HiddenSpring, 2006
Reviewed by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur
The author of "My Life With the Saints" (Loyola Press, 2006) explores the path to holiness in "Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints." Fr. James Martin's life was profoundly changed by reading the writings of Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk who came to his own vocation via a rather circuitous route. In his book, "New Seeds of Contemplation," Merton wrote "For me to be a saint means to be myself. . . Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and discovering my true self." This brief book is an exploration of that idea.
Martin offers a short biography of Merton's life as well as an overview of his own life. Then he delves into the heart of the issue. We are all created for holiness, yet our particular brand of holiness is unique to each one of us. In the process of reaching for holiness, "one's own individuality, one's own brand of holiness is gradually revealed. Our personalities are not eradicated as much as they are made fuller, more real, and finally more holy."
Martin briefly touches on the unique brands of holiness illustrated in the lives of the first Apostles, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, St. Bernadette and St. Therese. He also offers a longer exploration of the life of Henri Nouwen, another major influence in the author's life. Perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book focuses on the life of Jesus Christ. He speculates on how Jesus came to realize who he was and how to live out his mission in the world.
In "Becoming Who You Are," Martin encourages all of us to embrace the way that God made us, the circumstances of our lives, and our unique path to holiness. While purists may object to Martin's use of the word "saints" to describe Merton and Nouwen who have not been formally recognized as such by the Church, one cannot argue with the dramatic effect that these men had on Martin's life. Martin embraces a broad understanding of sanctity, and in doing so, opens the door for us to appreciate the sanctity within each one of us. It is a much-needed message.
Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur is editor of Spiritual Woman and author of "Letters to Mary from a Young Mother" (iUniverse, 2004). She has a Master
of Arts Degree in Applied Theology from Elms College. Visit her blog at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com