Colbert Chaplain chats about “Jesus,” Holy Land travels

Father James Martin, S.J., recently spoke at St. John’s about his new book, “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” and his travels in the Holy Land that inspired the work.

His book discusses the process of coming to understand the Gospels as well as Jesus and his nature. During Martin’s visit, he traveled to the Bay of Parables, which he had previously heard about while he was still a Jesuit novice. This experience stuck with him and is an important influence on his book.

After asking several natives, including a Jesuit priest he was staying with, he finally visited the site and discovered a remarkable connection. The Bay of Parables is a natural amphitheater, which likely means that Jesus spoke to crowds at the site. The site also contained rocky ground, fertile ground and thorn bushes, which comes directly from several stories in the synoptic gospels.

Martin said he made the connection that when Jesus spoke of these three types of ground, he literally meant the ground at that specific site. Martin told the St. John’s crowd that these three types are related to specific characteristics that we may have within ourselves. For example, the “thorn bushes” within us may prevent us from following God if we happen to be preoccupied or choked with “thorns” or temptation.

Besides being a New York Times bestselling author, Martin frequently appears in various media outlets. One of his notable appearances is on “The Colbert Report,” of which he is the official chaplain.

In a brief interview with the Torch, Martin said he’s been on the show multiple times since 2007, and at one pointStephen Colbert named him the official chaplain. Martin usually appears on the show once a year.

“It’s tons of fun and a great way to evangelize and a great way to get the message out,” Martin said.

“He is incredibly effective at evangelizing [through media], particularly to people who would otherwise think theology is scary,” Meghan Clark, a professor of theology, said. “Then they can realize that theology is not so scary, but is in fact about big questions that we want to ask and think about.”

His prominence in the media is not typical for a clergyman, but he feels that it is important for him to connect secular and religious matters in order to better explain certain concepts.

“I think they both inform one another and I think you have to have an understanding of what’s going on in the world in order to be able to comment on it with any sort of thoughtfulness,” Martin stated.

Ken Tompkins, a sophomore philosophy and theology major, said that anyone could understand Martin’s ideas along with his book.

“He’s accessible to every sort of person: the believer, the seeker, even the non-believer,” Tompkins said. “He incorporates his own experience, which invites all of us to get involved and learn more about Jesus.”

Tompkins recommends Martin’s book, and said that the book presumes no previous knowledge of Jesus and explores the nature of Jesus as both human and divine.

When asked what advice he would give to St. John’s students, Martin said, “I wish someone would have told me when I was in college to just become the person you are meant to be. You don’t have to become someone else or pretend to be someone else, and follow the desires that God has given you and to stay true to those.”