Synopses & Reviews
A Jesuit priest, a New York play, and questions as profound as they come . . .
A few years after being called to the priesthood, Father James Martin was startled to get a very different kind of call one evening in 2004: a phone call from actor Sam Rockwell. Rockwell had been cast for the part of Judas Iscariot in an Off-Broadway play, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, where Judas was on trial for his crime of betraying Jesus. Would Martin be willing to serve as a theological consultant for the play? Martin gladly obliged, and within weeks playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, director Philip Seymour Hoffman, and members of the cast began to dialogue with Martin about a host of spiritual issues that the play evoked: Can we believe the Bible? What was Jesus’ mission? What is sin? Does hell exist? Is anyone beyond God’s forgiveness?
A Jesuit Off-Broadway recounts Martin’s six months with the LAByrinth Theater Company and his education in the making of a play, from the writing of the script to the cast party on closing night. At the same time, the occasionally profane and routinely free-spirited creative team and actors learned from Martin key insights into Christian faith and theology, while often revealing a profoundly spiritual side to their lives. By the time the final curtain fell, Martin and the cast had gleaned important and at times surprising lessons from each other as they realized how the sacred and the secular aren’t always that far apart . . . and how, in the end, questions tell us more than answers ever do.
Writing beautifully, and with frequent touches of humor, James Martin, SJ, shows us what hes learned in religious life, and in the process offers us a rich spiritual feast. Catholic Digest (Editor's Top Pick of the Month)
“[The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything] becomes like a read-along spiritual director, someone to prompt you with questions, redirect your gaze and help you, Martin says, to ‘discern where God might be speaking to you.” USA Today
“User-friendly...The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything…helpfully unpacks core precepts like ‘finding God in all things.” Time.com
“An excellent introduction to Jesuit spirituality for a general reader.... [Martins] writing is accessible, comprehensive, and often humorous.” Commonweal
“Part retreat, part seminar, part master class, James Martin’s account of his role as ‘theological adviser’ for a play about Jesus and Judas is ultimately a spellbinding story of faith, friendship, and the deepest mysteries of the heart. Like a great drama, its impact lingers long after the curtain has fallen.”
—Robert Ellsberg, author of The Saints’ Guide to Happiness
“Father Martin’s account of his experiences as an adviser to the Off-Broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot is not only riveting; it is also theologically important: no one who reads this book can come away thinking that Christianity is just a set of dry rules and regulations. Father Martin helps us see that we all play our parts in a great and complex cosmic drama about the goodness of creation, the pain of sin and brokenness, and the power of God’s redemptive love.”
—M. Cathleen Kaveny, John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame
“This memoir is a superb exercise of the Catholic imagination, delighting in the profound connections between sacred and secular. James Martin is both Virgil and Dante, not only guiding us through an engaging drama but also recounting how he himself was changed by the experience. And is that not the goal of all theater—and the Christian life?”
—David Gibson, author of The Coming Catholic Church
“The estimable James Martin compresses a short course in New Testament criticism along with a glimpse into Ignatian spirituality while creating a model for making friends in this fast-paced account of his experiences as a Jesuit consultant for an Off-Broadway play about Judas. In the narrative, Martin shows us how he almost inadvertently morphed from a consultant into an unofficial chaplain. This book is a vivid lesson about how the Christian life can be led when it is lived out in the midst of the real (and imagined) world.”
—Lawrence S. Cunningham, author of A Brief History of Saints
“James Martin’s storytelling at its best! A Jesuit Off-Broadway provides a fascinating glimpse into the production of a new play, beautifully blending pop culture with the gospel, and theater with theology. Martin and his colorful cast accomplish much more than five acts. In retelling the Passion story, they make it real.”
—Therese J. Borchard, author of Beliefnet.com’s blog Beyond Blue
A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Center Stage with Jesus, Judas, and Life’s Big Questions by James Martin, SJ
A few years ago, I read Father Martin’s wonderful memoir My Life With the Saints. He commented on that original review, and he was probably the first author to ever comment on my blog, which was extremely gratifying. That’s one thing I really appreciate about the internet: it is so easy for me to get in contact with authors and tell them how much I have enjoyed their work. (One time an author did comment on a bad review in which I was kind of mean. You will notice that I temper my bad reviews a little more now. Or just don’t post them.)
Since I don’t work at the public library anymore, it’s hard for me to stay on top of every single thing I would like to read, so I hadn’t realized that he had some other books since then. I put his newest one on hold and also got a copy of A Jesuit Off-Broadway, which sounded so interesting to me. It’s about his time acting as a theological consultant for the play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot which was directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and starred Sam Rockwell. Father Martin walks us through the theology and story of Judas’ time with and betrayal of Jesus as he is also telling us the story of how the play came to be and what the people involved learned from it.
I came away from this book thinking, yet again, that Father Martin seems like a kind and thoughtful man. I was impressed at how, in his story, he sought to respect everyone’s faith journey while also admitting that he truly hoped that the experience would in some way convert them to Christianity/Catholicism. I wished that there was more about the long talks he had with the author of the play, Stephen Guirgis, as they worked out the motives and consequences of Judas’s actions, because I would have loved to hear more of the honest questions and answers that they explored. I also learned a lot about some of the saints that the play featured and expanded my own ideas of who some of the disciples were – not just Judas but also Thomas and Peter. The thoughtful discussions about the ideas of forgiveness and despair were some of the other highlights for me personally.
I will admit that I couldn’t keep every cast member straight, but there was a chart at the beginning that I could have studied a little bit closer. I was especially impressed at how hard-working and considerate of each other the cast seemed to be. We all have this idea of diva actors, but these men and women seemed to be just the opposite and worked long hours to make sure the message of the play came through as clearly as possible.
I started reading this book just after I gave my This I Believe speech at church, and I was so disappointed that I hadn’t started it earlier, because I would have loved to include part of this passage:
C.H. Dodd, the great Scripture scholar, defined a parable as “a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.” In other words, parables are poetic explanations of concepts that are otherwise impossible to comprehend fully.
The concept of the kingdom of God is too rich to be encompassed by something as simple as a definition. And the notion of radical forgiveness is impossible to explain in a few words, no matter how carefully chosen. Jesus grasped the benefit of telling a story about, say, a father’s reconciliation with his prodigal son and allowing the hearers to tease out the underlying meaning for themselves. Besides, if Jesus had given a philosophical lecture to the predominantly peasant community, they probably wouldn’t have understood him anyway.
Where a strictly worded definition can be somewhat shallow and actually close down a person’s thoughts, a story is endlessly deep and more likely to open one’s mind. Jesus’ stories carried meaning without having to be converted into a concept, and the power of his parables was that they always went against the expectations of the audience, as when the Samaritan, hailing from a hated ethnic group, was ultimately revealed as the good guy who cares for the stranger. “The deep places in our lives–places of resistance and embrace–are not ultimately reached by instruction,” wrote the Protestant theologian Walter Brueggemann. “Those places of resistance and embrace are reached only by stories, by images, metaphors and phrases that line out the world differently, apart from our fear and hurt.”
That last paragraph explains a lot of Father Martin’s excitement about the play itself and the people he met while working with it. And it deeply resonated with me as I have been thinking so much about the power of story. I recommend this book for people who have an interest in theological stories and plays and for people who enjoy reading about the workings of theater productions. And I will reiterate my previous recommendation of My Life With the Saints, which is a book that has stayed with me since I posted about it almost exactly four years ago.
You can read Father Martin’s columns in America magazine and see him as an occasional visitor on The Colbert Report (here is a clip from a recent show).
St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Society of Jesus (aka the Jesuits), was known for his practical spirituality. The "way of Ignatius" has helped millions of people—from the doubtful seeker to the devout believer—find freedom, make friends, live simply, work sensibly, fall in love, experience joy, and enter into a relationship with God.
The Ignatian goal of "finding God in all things" eans that every part of our lives can lead us to God. The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything shows us how this is possible, with user-friendly examples, humorous stories and anecdotes from the heroic and inspiring lives of Jesuit saints and average priests and brothers, as well as examples from Martin's twenty years as a Jesuit. The traditional wisdom that Jesuits use to help other people in their daily lives is easily applied, but not often explained well to the general public. The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything translates these insights of St. Ignatius for a modern audience and reveals how we can find God—and how God can find us—in the real world of work, love, suffering, decisions, prayer, and friendship.
A practical spiritual guidebook based on the life and teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by the Reverend James Martin (My Life with the Saints) shows us how to manage relationships, money, work, prayer, and decision-making, all while keeping a sense of humor about it all. Fans of Kathleen Norris and other Christian spiritual writers, as well as just the curious, are sure to appreciate the helpful and effective advice in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by the Revered James Martin, SJ (My Life with the Saints) is a practical spiritual guidebook based on the life and teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. Centered around the Ignatian goal of “finding God in all things,” The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything shows us how to manage relationships, money, work, prayer, and decision-making, all while keeping a sense of humor. Filled with user-friendly examples, humorous stories, and anecdotes from the heroic and inspiring lives of Jesuit saints and average priests and brothers, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything is sure to appeal to fans of Kathleen Norris, Richard Rohr, Anne Lamott, and other Christian Spiritual writers.
In A Jesuit Off-Broadway, James Martin, SJ, writes about advising the cast and crew of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. See theology and theater mix.
An Off-Broadway cast has plenty of questions about life and faith—and Fr. James Martin is just the right person to offer some answers.
Can we believe the Bible? Does hell exist? What is sin? A Jesuit Off-Broadway provides answers to these and more questions as it recounts Fr. Martin’s thrilling six months with New York’s LAByrinth Theater Company. Asked to serve as the theological consultant for The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Fr. Martin soon discovers that everyone from the playwright to the actors has pressing questions they want answered.
Over the course of the many weeks leading up to opening night and during the play’s sold-out run, all who are involved in the play come to understand that the sacred and the secular aren’t so far apart after all—and that Fr. Martin is much more than an invaluable adviser: he’s a genuine friend.
Many of us have questions about the Bible: Can we believe the Bible? What was Jesus’ mission? What is sin? Does hell exist? Is anyone beyond God’s forgiveness? In A Jesuit Off-Brodway, James Martin, SJ, answers these questions about the Bible, and other big questions about life, as he serves as a theological advisor to the cast of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.
Grab a front-row seat to Fr. Martin's six months with the LAByrinth Theater Company and see first-hand what it's like to share the faith with a largely secular group of people . . . and discover, along with Martin, that the sacred and the secular aren't always that far apart.
What happens when theater and theology share the stage?
Discover the answer in this thought-provoking memoir by Christopher Award–winning author and Jesuit priest James Martin. Take a front-row seat to Father Martin’s six-month experience as a theological consultant for the New York theater production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, directed by Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, and starring Sam Rockwell and Eric Bogosian. While Martin thoughtfully responds to the deeply spiritual and soul-searching questions posed to him by the creative team and actors—questions that many of us ponder at one time or another in our lives—he learns about the world of professional theater and all that is required to put on a successful play.
Join Father Martin as he takes this fascinating foray into the acting arena . . . and offers answers to some of life’s biggest questions.
About the Author
James Martin, SJ, is associate editor of America magazine. A prolific author, writer, and editor, his books include Searching for God at Ground Zero, In Good Company
, My Life with the Saints
, and A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
, and his articles have appered in The New York Times
, The Philadelphia Inq
uirer, The Tablet
, and Commonweal
. He resides in New York City.Stephen Adly Guirgis is an American playwright, screenwriter, and actor. He is a member and co-artistic director of New York City's LAByrinth Theater Company. His plays have been produced on five continents and throughout the United States. His plays include The Little Flower of East Orange
, Our Lady of 121st Street
, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
, In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings
, and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot
produced by LAByrinth in collaboration with The Public Theater in 2005.
Table of Contents
Dramatis Personae ix
Foreword by Stephen Adly Guirgis xi
Act 1: Into the Deep End 1
About Judas 7
The Birth of a God-Haunted Play 15
The Making of a Playwright 19
Who Killed Jesus? 28
A Study in Despair 41
“I Don’t Know, Man . . .” 49
Act 2: Teasing the Mind into Active Thought 53
The LAByrinth Theater Company 54
“You Wanna Do This Role?” 61
The Gospel According to Phil 66
Searching for God, Jesus, and the Buddha 71
The Jesus of History 80
Living with the Saints 87
The Woman from Magdala 93
Poverty of Spirit 100
Taking the Story Seriously 106
Jesuit Theater, a Nearly Forgotten History 119
Act 3: Fully Human, Fully Divine 127
The Hope of Results 128
Who Is Jesus, Anyway? 137
Satan Appears 153
Ready for Previews? 159
A Christological Crisis 164
Act 4: The Messiah Has a Cold 167
Chastity and Friendship 170
Traditions and Superstitions 171
A Theatrical Vocation 174
Reviewing Detachment 177
Walking Mookie at Night 190
Act 5: Hearts on Fire 201
Last Full Script Ever 202
Dramatic Faith 212
Faithful Drama 217
Just a Little More Faith 222
For Further Reading 231
About the Author 237
Who Are the Jesuits, Anyway? 239