Chapter 1: Pilgrims {Jesus: A Pilgrimage}


Welcome to our virtual book club! We’re reading Fr. James Martin’s bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Each week we will tackle a chapter and look forward to a lively discussion together.

Jesus book conversation

I never wanted to go to the Holy Land. In fact, until I became Catholic in 2001, I never really wanted to travel outside the United States, much less be a pilgrim.

So it was with great interest at the beginning of this book, which at the beginning I considered rather monolithic in length (avid reader though I am), that I read that Fr. Martin didn’t really want to go to the Holy Land either.

He was convinced by a number of reasons and circumstances, and this chapter really made me consider the doubts I too entertain about the Holy Land (they’re different than his and stem mostly from the fact that I just never really cared to go).

This first chapter, the story of how Fr. Martin got to the Holy Land, was a great introduction to what is, in retrospect, but a short glimpse and a story I wish would have kept going. (Or is it just me?)

I’ve never been a pilgrim, so I couldn’t resist, in preparing to write this post and reflect on this first chapter, to look up just what a pilgrim is by definition. According to Google, a pilgrim is “a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons.”

But I think there’s more to it than that simple phrase. And sure enough, when I searched more, I found this compelling insight from

The word “pilgrim,” derived from the Latin peregrinum,conveys the idea of wandering over a distance, but it is not just aimless wandering. It is a journey with a purpose, and that purpose is to honor God.

Fr. Martin’s setting the stage in this chapter. He’s preparing us, because though we are not physically with him and may never actually see the sights of the Holy Land in person, we are journeying with him. We are not aimlessly wandering through this book.

Our purpose? To meet Jesus. To get to know him better. To use Fr. Martin’s descriptions and stories to unpack our minds and free us to embrace our Savior a little better, a little deeper, a little more.

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. Did you relate with any of Fr. Martin’s doubts and objections to visiting the Holy Land? Have you ever desired to visit the Holy Land? Why or why not?
  2. When have you been a pilgrim, on a journey to honor God? How might you make reading this book over the course of this book club conversation more intentionally a pilgrimage and a way to meet God?
  3. What was your favorite part of this chapter? What made you stop and go “oh!” or reflect more deeply on your faith journey?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 2: Yes. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Reinhard


About Author

When she’s not chasing kids, chugging coffee, or juggling work, Sarah Reinhard’s usually trying to stay up read just one…more…chapter. She writes and works in the midst of rural farm life with little ones underfoot. She is part of the team for the award-winning Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, as well as the author of a number of books. You can join her for a weekday take on Catholic life by subscribing to Three Shots and follow her writing at Snoring Scholar.


  1. Sandi Belleque on

    Just a question. Will it be ok to just read one chapter at a time? I haven’t read the book yet.

  2. Chapter X? Are you sure?

    (And Sandi–we are discussing one chapter at a time, so if you read a chapter a week you should be fine. We did the introduction last week, so that is why I am questioning Chapter X. I have read about two thirds, and am rereading the chapters as we discuss them.)

  3. Oh, please let me back again so I can actually comment on the chapter and on your thoughts. As I mentioned last week, I have been to the Holy Land as a student nearly 50 years ago. I want to go again. Our pastor plans to lead a group every fall. The only problem, the group is Spanish speaking.

    The idea of pilgrimage, though, is something that has been always with me when I travel. I AM a traveler–it’s in my blood. (I trace my genealogy to early adventurers to the American colonies–but not THE Pilgrims.) Even when I set out on a trip that is not meant to be pilgrimage in the first definition, it becomes pilgrimage. Twice I had planned on a trip to Mexico for a language immersion. The first time we ended up in Siberia for family reasons, and two years later I spent a month on a mission in India. Both of these trips held an element of pilgrimage to them. I discovered great faith in Siberia, and great hope in India.

    So now, having not developed my Spanish before, might I work on that so as to go on Pilgrimage with that group one of these years? Hmmm.

    So whenever you travel, look for an experience of God where you go. If I could find Him in Siberia, we can surely find Him if we look.

    Fr. Martin’s chapter brings back some thoughts and images from that long ago visit to the Holy Land, and the Pope’s visit right now is another opportunity to visit or revisit the meaning there. Follow him in Catholic news sources. Today we see him praying at a wall dividing Israeli and Palestinian in the West Bank, and meeting the Eastern Patriarch. Let our pilgrimage open our hearts to others.

  4. This book reads like a novel so far. Very interesting and easy to read. I have always wanted to visit the Holy land and still hope to.

  5. I loved my trip to the Holy Land. My husband and I both wanted to go and we did not regret one minute of it. I would go back again in a minute if I could.
    We did not begin our trip in Jerusalem (we started in Tiberias) but I remember my first view of the Jerusalem. I was speechless. I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself that it was real. I was in Jerusalem. I was very moved and the tears flowed!

  6. Comment from Shirley W: I would like to ask this comment. The only way to know Jesus is to spend time with Him. He walks among us today in the people we meet, the people we serve, the people who suffer and need us to get to know them, spend time with them and be there for them just as Jesus would do. He didn’t hob knob with the rich and famous he spend time with the poor and need whom he said “You’ll will always have them with you.” This doesn’t have to be a stranger it could be a family member who is need of our time, our listening ear.


  7. More than anything, I appreciated how, in spite of his own reluctance, all things worked together to bring him to the Holy Land. God always gets the last laugh. This Spirit led book was fully formed thanks to his pilgrimage.

  8. I’m listening to the book, and love hearing Father Martins voice, hIs excitement, curiosity and doubt. I never considered the humanity of Jesus. I’ve always believed he was fully human and fully divine, but I just never thought too much about it. I think about it now. I did go back to Father Martin’s book, “A Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything,” just to refresh his stories about Jesuit prayer. I love that he pokes fun at himself…made me want to keep reading. I really want to go to the Holy Land, I know some places to stay now! Beautiful book, and beautiful insights into our Dear Lord.

    • With audio books, I much prefer the author reading it him or herself because you get that special inflection in their voice that reveals more between the lines. I envy all of you who can “hear”t this book! 🙂

  9. Ildiko Bartolain on

    It was interesting to note that Fr. Martin was concerned the impact tourists would have on his visit to the Holy Land, as he had preformed images of the sites through his extensive study of scripture, and did not want them to be cluttered.
    In the early 90’s, I had a chance to visit the Vatican and be part of a general audience to see Pope John Paul II. I was a chaperone on a school trip, and several non-catholics complained that they did not want to see the Pope, but we’re more than willing to see the Sistine Chapel! Both experiences were amazing! The beauty of Michael Angelo’s painting was overwhelming, and we only had 15 minutes to take it all in. The outpouring of love toward John Paul II as he walked down the isle was a scene I’ll never forget, especially since he greeted each group in their own language. The peace that surrounded him was contagous.
    Lastly, Fr. Martin was overjoyed when his friend was going to accompany him on this journey, and made arrangements with a new found determination.

  10. I could relate to all the doubts and objections listed in the chapter! I do not see myself as a world traveler, especially one to bustling cities. This makes the book enjoyable, traveling with and seeing through his eyes.

    As I read the book, I often wished for a map and pictures of the many sites, so as I read the book again in the weeks to come with this group I will add that to my own pilgrimage for each chapter.

    • Kelly, that’s an excellent suggestion re: the maps. There’s a website associated with the book (not sure what the URL is, we’ll have to ask Fr. Jim) – perhaps there are maps there and if not, we can suggest it.

  11. I totally related to Fr. Jim’s reluctance to go though I wasn’t sure of his reasons. Maybe he couldn’t get his head around the idea. I am such a homebody it’s ridiculous, guess I am too attached to my own bed and my rituals. Honestly, I’m going to Chicago in a couple of weeks to attend the baby shower of my nephew’s wife and I’m obsessing over that! 🙂 I’m glad he got past his reluctance and went; this book wouldn’t be half of what it is without that experience.

  12. I can relate to Fr. Jim’s statement on forming our own mental images of the places mentioned in the Gospels. In my mind I can vision the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, the road to Emmaus, the terrain to Jerusalem, and so on. It is always the same in my imagination each time I recall them. I could never imagine them with tourists. I, too, like my own Gospel. However after reading more of Chapter 1, I became excited about Fr. Jim’s plans to go to the Holy Land. His enthusiasm became contagious. I was becoming more thrilled about his trip and I, too, wished to go. Fr. Jim Martin wrote with such detail that it was easy to visualize myself making the same pilgrimage.

    It didn’t take long for me to pull out my map of the Holy Land to aid me in following along while reading the Jesus book. I love maps! When I was a child I used to love to draw treasure maps in the dirt with a stick marking a big “X” as the spot for the treasure. As a teacher, I have given biblical map assignments to my students so that they have a greater understanding of the geography of the Old or New Testament topic.

    The thought of Fr. Jim not joining the tour company during his pilgrimage did surprise me. Initially I didn’t think that would be my choice however I completely understood the desire to pray and meditate in such sacred places. I was thrilled to learn that the guidebook, The Holy Land, which Fr. Jim chose to use, was written by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. Jerome Murphy-O-Connor is one of the all time great biblical scholars whose works I studied. It is with great hope that Catholic scholarship like his will be available online for all students for biblical research. Many of the current online biblical commentaries are not academic. Students today prefer online research.

    The only pilgrimage I made was to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception located in Washington, D.C. All the pilgrims prayed the rosary on the bus while we traveled from Long Island, New York to the site. The artwork at the shrine was breath taking. Worshiping along with other pilgrims was a beautiful spiritual experience which drew me closer to Jesus.

  13. Ann Martin on

    I have thought of Jesus as someone who transcended time and place, so going to the Holy Land would not be on my spiritual agenda. Jesus is with us always –didn’t He say that?

    But I realize, reading through Fr. Martin’s book, that I have been wrong about Jesus’ “no-place” personality. Just as we all are shaped by the places we’ve been, the political and social situations we live in, and even the languages we speak, Jesus had a definite, historical personality too. And I might as well become familiar with that.

    Fr. Martin’s Ignatian meditations, making us conjure up the smells, sounds, sights of a place as we try to understand the spiritual meaning, work superbly here.

    These comments of mine seem to be jumping the gun a bit, since we’re only supposed to be discussing Chapter One right now. But I guess I want to say that I wasn’t convinced of the need for a pilgrimage in Chapter One: I needed to actually reach my destination before discovering I needed to go there!

    • I agree about the power of placing Jesus in a physical setting and experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the place. Our senses are a powerful way for God to reveal himself to us as seen in the liturgy with the color, the music, the incense and so forth, plus the tactile experience of consuming the Eucharist.

  14. Ludy Siongco on

    My planned trips to the Holy Land have been thwarted twice. I’m making plans again, and am so happy to be reading Fr. Jim’s book before I finally go. I’d know what to expect and not be disappointed, because it won’t be as I’ve imagined it, just by reading the Gospels. I’m reading 2 travel books/guides to the Holy Land at the same time, and am quite pleased with myself that in case I don’t get the chance ever again to physically go, I’m satisfied being an armchair/sofa traveler.

    Fr. Jim’s style of weaving the Gospel stories with his own experiences visiting the places is just wonderful, unique, and makes reading about Jesus a lot more interesting and makes it so much easier to immerse myself in the book.

  15. Ruth Hoerig on

    I was fortunate enough to visit the Holy Land back in 1984 but unfortunately didn’t visit the Sea of Galilee. I guess I missed a very important part of the location where Jesus walked and preached.

    I heard Fr. Jim’s presentation about Jesus at Gesu Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on May 16th which was outstanding. His comments reflected the enthusiasm he had about his trip to the Holy Land and his insights about Jesus.

    Now half-way through the book, I have been very impressed with the way Fr. Jim brings the story of Jesus to life through his first-hand experience with the geography where Jesus carried out his ministry – but what I appreciate even more are his spiritual reflections which give so much depth to his writing. I have marked all these sections for further reflection at a later time.


  16. Ray Glennon on

    Although I have never met Sarah, I would politely dispute her statement in the opening post that “I’ve never been a pilgrim…” Based on Sarah’s wonderful definition that a pilgrim is someone on a “…journey with a purpose, and that purpose is to honor God”, I would submit that Sarah and every one else that loves Jesus and seeks to do his will is a “pilgrim.” And I am quite certain Sarah and and each of you can identify times where you “went out of your way” to “honor God” — be it by making a visit to the Eucharist in parish or while traveling, going to a special church (e.g., St. Patricks Cathedral in NYC, or the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore) or the shrine for a favorite saint, or other place where the presence of God is profoundly felt (e.g., at the Battlefield at Gettysburg). We are all “pilgrims” following the same Jesus–Son of God (divine) and son of Mary (human)– and the wonderful thing is that through this book discussion we will be able to share Fr. Jim’s pilgrimage with him and each other.

    I have had the opportunity to travel fairly extensively in my career and that has allowed me to visit many wonderful churches around the world including multiple trips to Rome. As I result I have been blessed to visit St. Peter’s (including the Scavi excavations, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and Gesu in Rome, as well as Notre Dame in Paris, and Catholic churches Montreal, Singapore, Bangkok, and Australia, among others. And in each of these locations, even if the churches are major tourist attractions there is always a chapel where the Eucharist is reserved–and an opportunity for pilgrimage. Unfortunately my business travel never took me to the Holy Land and it is a place that my wife and I would love to go.

    Closer to home (about 4 miles), the Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, MD is a ministry of Conventual Franciscan Friars (OFM Conv) in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Formerly used as a novitiate, the shrine and its 300+ acres are now open to the public. In the chapel is a first class relic of St. Anthony. A Lourdes grotto, a shrine to St. Maximilian Kolbe with a life-size statue, and peaceful walking trails are also located on this holy ground that attracts many pilgrims. Each summer we bring a group of Confirmande from our parish to the shrine for a service project, Mass, and a pilgrimage experience including a tour.

    For me the hinge of the first chapter is when Fr. Jim write, “But gradually, I started to doubt my doubts.” And then Fr. Jim mentions all the encouragement and guidance that he received from others. Based on my personal experience, this is how the Holy Spirit works in my life — by creating doubts and then reaching out to me through other people–and it would’t surprise me if Fr. Jim’s experience is similar. .

    I’m looking forward to our journey together.


  17. The concept of pilgrimage is not only a journey to a sacred site, but a metaphor for the Christian life. We are journeying to Heaven and our Way is through, with, and in Jesus. The key for me in this chapter is the sense of being open to who and what God has in store for us despite our reluctant hearts or doubts. I love how God arranged for one of Fr Martin’s best friends to accompany him on this journey. That’s a loving God who not only is seeing to Fr Jim’s need– but seeing to his inevitable joy.

  18. I’ve been to Notre Dame in Paris and also to Lourdes. Sadly I was more of a tourist than a pilgrim. Sometimes the soup has to simmer a little longer but when the Lord stirs you, wow, watch out!

  19. Sometimes when put obstacles in our own path God has a way of kicking them out the way. For me it seems every time Fr. Martin raised an objection, a solution was found. The one I found most funny was about the Franciscan monastery, (it gets funnier), but I have to wonder was that a bit of playful rivalry between the Jesuits and the Franciscan?

    This is the beginning of a journey, one that I hope will bring me closer to God.

  20. Fr.Martin’s description of his flight and arrival to the Holy land are so descriptive. I can almost picture myself in the scene. The excitement he feels is contagious.

    When I was 20 I had the opportunity to visit Knock Shrine in Ireland. Below is a the short story of the shrine.
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    “Welcome to the Marian Shrine, Knock, Co. Mayo.

    The Story of Knock began on Thursday evening of the 21st August, 1879, Our Lady, St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist appeared at the south gable of the church at Knock, County Mayo, Ireland.

    Beside them and a little to their left was an altar with a cross and the figure of a lamb, around which angels hovered.
    There were fifteen official witnesses to the apparition – young and old – who watched and prayed for two hours in the pouring rain.

    Two Commissions of Enquiry, in 1879 and 1936, accepted their testimony as trustworthy and satisfactory.

    Today, Knock ranks among the world’s major Marian Shrines.”

    At the time I was young and didn’t really take in all that I could have. I think if I went back today my experience would be different. So I think life is a pilgrimage as well.

  21. In the past my main objection about going to the Holy land was safety, however, when my husband and son said they wanted to go to Isreal this past winter I jumped at the chance! While we are not organized tour type people we did go on a Pilgrimage wi 206 tours and Dr. Scott Hahn. I’m not sure my husband and son knew what they were in for but it was a wonderful experience and we hope to go back in our own to spend more time at the sights . An organized pilgrimage doesn’t allow much time for personal reflection …. But it does give you mental pictures to recall when reading the Bible or hearing the Gospels at mass.

    As for previous “pilgrimages” in my life I would recall our temporary move to the UK several years ago. I joke that God sent me to England to find Him. I was raised Catholic but had drifted into a nebulous spiritual practice that included yoga meditation and the usual New Age stuff. When we got to England I had to find a way to make friends for myself and our son so I joined the local Catholic Church and a small church group. The parish was presenting The Alpha Course which was basically a revenagilization vehicle developed by the Anglican Church. During this course I had a “lightening bolt” conversion and have been an active member of the Church since then. I would never have thought of our time in England as a pilgrimage before….but it certainly fits….

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