Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: The Abbey by Fr. James Martin

The Abbey: A Story of Discovery
by James Martin, SJ
New York: HarperOne, 2015

Father James Martin, SJ, best-selling author of My Life with the Saints, Between Heaven and Mirth, and Jesus: A Pilgrimage tries his hand at fiction in The Abbey: A Story of Discovery. Mark is a former architect who now works as a handyman at the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul. He wonders how his life got off-track and his self-worth hinges on whether a woman accepts his advances. Anne is Mark’s landlord. She is middle-aged, divorced, and struggles every day with the death of her teenage son three years before. Father Paul is the Abbot at Saints Peter and Paul. Mark’s boss, he will be become both his and Anne’s confidant and spiritual director, without them even realizing that is what he is offering. 

The Abbey is a quality work of Catholic fiction. It deals with the real-life difficulties people sometimes have with faith. As a priest himself, Fr. Martin can offer an honest look at what it means to be a priest and wrestle with one’s vows. He also has both offered and experienced spiritual direction and knows the heartaches and questions that individuals bring to that process. 

While the characters, especially Anne, develop and grow in their relationship with God during the course of the book, there is no radical change. As is often the case in the spiritual life, small steps are taken slowly. One can only hope the characters will eventually make their way home into full communion with the Catholic Church. There is also some rough language in the book, including taking the Lord’s name in vain, which may be in keeping with the characters’ personalities but could have easily been avoided with no detriment to the story. 

Overall, however, The Abbey has the potential to do much good. As a work of Catholic fiction published by a big name with a well-known publisher, it has the possibility of reaching and evangelizing those who might not usually pick up a work of Catholic fiction. For those who are firm in their faith, it provides some enjoyable reading that touches the heart and offers insights into the workings of an abbey and those who dwell there. 

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