Chapter 2: Yes {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

One of the things I love about Jesus A Pilgrimage is how Father Martin takes the iconic and makes it commonplace. At first this idea may border on the sacrilege but in reality it makes these things relatable. Case in point: his comments at the beginning of Chapter 2 about getting lost while driving towards Nazareth. He writes:

“I was constantly surprised how the storied names of biblical locales popped up in the most familiar of circumstances; on a simple map, on a graffitied street sign, or in everyday conversations. ‘The traffic to Bethlehem was terrible last night!’ said a Jesuit over dinner on night. Which still didn’t beat ‘Gehenna is lovely.’”

Upon reaching the Sea of Galilee Fr, Martin revels in the sight of the sea and the surrounding countryside knowing that Jesus had seen this same sight.

Capernaum, the Mount of the Beatitudes: the sense of his excitement was palpable. Ultimately he and companion George reached their destination: Nazareth. The place where one young woman’s “yes” changed the world.

This was my favorite part of the chapter. We are told in the scriptures that we do not choose God; God chooses us. Fr. Martin asks why we feel feelings of longing, gratitude or wonder (pg. 40, ebook) and he concludes, “This is God beginning a conversation.” He is reaching out to us, He is inviting us.
How do we feel? Grateful, fearful? “Thinking about the Creator of the Universe entering into the ‘particularity’ of our lives can be terrifying.” (ibid) Father Martin describes that feeling when he receives a sudden answer to a problem or an insight knowing these things did not originate within him.

Another thing feeds our fear: our honest assessment that we are not worthy. We may think, “Jesus couldn’t have chosen a more unlikely candidate for this job!”

But if you are in a vibrant, growing relationship with God then you know that the very absurdity of the request can confirm that it is in fact from God. I’m guessing that as Mary grew more comfortable with the idea of her bearing the Messiah that she understood this seeming contraction.

I could go on and on about this chapter but I leave that to you!

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. If you had a chance to stand where Jesus stood and gaze at the same scenery He saw, how would you feel?
  2. How do you know when God is asking you to do something? Do you feel afraid? Excited? Unworthy? All of the above?
  3. How does your recollection of past blessings help you to trust God now?
  4. Is there a “yes” in your life that has transformed you?

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 3: Bethlehem. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Susan W. Bailey


About Author

Susan Bailey is the author of River of Grace: Creative Passages Through Difficult Times (Ave Maria Press), and Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message (ACTA Publications), part of their Literary Portals to Prayer series. Along with her blogs Be as One and Louisa May Alcott is My Passion, Susan writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press.


  1. Sandi Belleque on

    Sometimes I wonder how many of our young people truly know that the places in the bible are real. And to know that Jesus is a historical figure. I know I’m guilty of not sharing some of that with my own children. For some people that needs to be shown to begin to believe. For others blind faith works. I just think it would be amazing to see those places although I don’t need to. Reflecting on the question of feeling unworthy to do what God might be calling me to do–I have the confidence to do whatever He asks me BUT I don’t sit long enough to listen!

    • I just finished reading the book, loved it and I’m ready to read it a second time. Father Martin has done an exceptional job showing us the reality of Jesus’ life. The gospel readings have so much more meaning to me now because I can picture Jesus in such places as Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, etc. I also loved how not only does he describe these places and what was special about each one, but also how he invites us to reflect on our personal experiences with God and his beloved Son.

      In reading the comments today, I concur with Sandi. I oftentimes wonder the same thing and as I reflect on my personal experience I believe that books like this (Jesus: A Pilgrimage) helps us bring our faith to a different level. In my case for example, I grew up catholic, went to catholic school and have been a practicing catholic all my life. I have been driven by faith more than by anything else, and this is a blessing. However, I have found out that the more I read about Jesus’ personal life the closer I get to Him. It is as if I could “touch” His spiritual presence. Hard to explain! I guess this is what spiritual transformation is all about! I pray that I can instill in my children and grandchildren the desire to know Jesus, as He was…a true human being who gave his life for us so that we can get to the Father.

      I would give anything to be at the sites where Jesus stood, my heart would explode with joy!

      • I agree with regards to feeling closer to Jesus when the human side of him is explored, especially all the information discovered about the ancient world through archeological digs which reveals so much about day-to-day life. I had no idea scholars knew so much! It kind of reminds me of holding a letter from someone written a long time ago – that tactile experience says so much, from the choice of paper to the handwriting to whether it was written in pen or pencil. Wouldn’t it be cool to have something written by Jesus on parchment? Imagine that!

  2. I’m already on Chapter 6, but I enjoy your questions. This book is so rich, I can’t even begin to describe it. Jesus’ whole life and surroundings are coming to life through Fr. Martin’s words. A must read for every Catholic and Christian.

  3. My reflections:
    1. In the past I have thought about what it might be like to be in the very places where Jesus trod, and I thought doing so would bring me closer to Him. Then I thought about how matter is made of atoms, molecules, etc. and over time undergoes change. It may be that the ground Jesus walked and the things Jesus saw are not really there anymore or are not only there, but everywhere in atomic or molecular form. Some of the matter Jesus experienced may be in my back yard. Who knows?
    2. If it is something the Church asks of me, then I know Jesus is asking it of me. If it is something I am obliged to do because of my job or role in life, then I’m sure that, if it not sinful, Jesus wants me to do it. If it’s something good that I have a gift for doing and feel a resistance to do it, it is probably something Jesus wants me to do, because I usually balk at His will. My general reaction is fear—fear of failure mostly. Sometimes it’s fear of what someone else will think.
    3. Remembering God’s goodness to me in the past is one of the most motivating things that propels me forward.
    4. Yes, there is a “yes” in my life that has transformed me: my wedding vows. Marriage is not easy, so when the road gets rough I remember my wedding vows, which were for better or for worse, etc.

    • Fear can hold us back, no doubt. I remember reading a book as a kid about a father and daughter in the African bush. They were facing a brush fire and knew they could not outrun it. Thus, because of the advice of local natives, they ran straight into the fire and escaped just singed! That’s how I look at fear now, I just run headlong into it and try to confront it. Writing about my fears helps a lot, especially after a night of worrying!

    • Ruthann: I can relate to that feeling of fear. Interestingly, do you know what Jesus is quoted as saying the most in the Gospels? DO NOT BE AFRAID! The unknown is scary however, we are never alone!

  4. #1 – I did go to the Holy Land. I cannot describe the feelings I had to be where Jesus walked. But I can tell you that the gospel readings came more alive for me after that trip and that has not gone away.
    #2 & 3 -I can remember when my spiritual director told me that he thought I was called to be a spiritual director. The whole thought terrified me and thrilled me at the same time. I can remember the sense of joy that just seemed to bubble over. I have never lost that sense of joy since saying yes.

    • Oh Colleen what a great story! Do you suppose Mary felt like that too when she pondered her role as mother to Messiah while she was pregnant with Jesus?

  5. If I had a chance to stand where Jesus stood and gaze at the same scenery He saw, I believe that I would feel excited knowing that Jesus was there. I believe that I would also feel a sense of inner peace, as well, similar to the feeling that I receive as I stand before Him in the tabernacle. Whenever I encounter the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, my body quiets down and I experience peace and tranquility.

    If I can become excited as an adult just following in my loving father’s footsteps by traveling to historical places (Washington Irving’s home in Tarrytown, NY, Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, NY, etc.) we once visited as a family growing up, I can only imagine the magnitude of excitement that I would feel by following in Jesus’ footsteps and seeing the same scenery He saw.

    I know that God is asking me to do something whenever it involves a desire in doing something good which is out of my comfort zone. For example – The first time I felt the desire to join a church ministry (Eucharistic Minister, Lector, Baptismal ministry), the desire to attend college for a Master’s degree in Theology at a later age in my life, and the desire to obtain a full time job within the Church when all my previous work experience was in banking. Each of these times, I felt excited, afraid, and unworthy all in one.

    I remember my first day on the job in the Religious Education Office within the church. It was such a different environment then that I was used to in my former bank job. I remember looking for the non-existent alarm buttons under my desk! I searched for the non-existent security cameras on the ceilings of the office. There was also a beautiful surprise in my new environment! I remember feeling such joy when just down the hall from my office was a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament present in the tabernacle. Each work day during my break I would practically run or skip to the chapel and sit before His Presence for a few moments.

    I currently have the artwork, The Annunciation, by the Blessed Fra Angelico hanging up in our dining room near my prayer corner. I fell in love with the artwork many, many years ago. Father Jim Martin’s chapter 2 has inspired me to meditate upon it again.

    • I felt that way when I was asked to teach high school CCD. It seems the more “ridiculous” the request (I was terrified of teenagers!), the more I sense the pull of the invitation. How wonderful you were able to make that career change.

  6. To be able to connect Jesus’ life to the actual place Jesus walked and glazed would be more than words could describe. By reading Fr. Martin’s description of the places he visited already bring the Gospel to life, can’t imagine actually being there.

    Over 8 years ago, my family was called to carry a very heavy cross. One that I didn’t think My children and I could carry. As I look back I’m able to see all the blessings we have received. Even though it was a very difficult time of our lives I could truly say I wouldn’t chance it for nothing in the world.

    Because of our past trails and I am able to Trust God now more than ever, I’m able to say “YES” to God right now. Where I’m noticing the transformation of my whole family. I do have to say it’s not easy but happy to report even though we don’t know why, how long and when, what I do know is that God has given me this peace that words can’t explain.

  7. Lorraine Cheli on

    I loved all of Father Martin’s writings, however, Jesus a Pilgrimage is really reaching out to me. I am reliving my visit to the Holy Land with my 90 yr old mother back in 1997. She died in 2007 and i am enjoying many memories while reading about Father’s journey. I am taking copies to some of my Kenyan friends when I escort a group back to Kenya in July. I will be bringing one to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity sisters at the orphanage in Nairobi and then to some of the staff at the safari lodges we will be staying at in Amboseli and the Mara. I am very excited to be sharing this wonderful book. In re reading my comment I don’t think I stuck with just a review of Chapter 2

  8. Brenda Nightingale on

    I’m new here but I’m going to go ahead and comment on #4. A time when we said yes. I lost my son after a car accident in 2002. And then in 2007 a young girl in our church approached my husband and me (we had just been married for 3 years). She was pregnant and wanted us to adopt her son. We said no at first because our youngest child was 17 and we felt we were too old. After talking with her, her parents and our priest we said yes (me first and then talking him into it). We told his birth mom that we would like to have an open adoption so that he would always know that he was loved. She agreed. The night he was born we were in the hospital with her when the clock moved from 11:59 to midnight of the next day. We knew that she was going to have him that day and she looked at me and asked if there was any doubt now that us adopting him was God’s will. It was the fifth anniversary of the day my son died. Seven years later he just finished kindergarten and has the biggest and most loving family of any child on the planet. He has his natural grandparents around the corner (they adore him), his birth mom just a few hours away (she adores him as well) and all of our family. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for him. I hope that he learns to say yes as well.

    I’m loving the book too!

  9. Fr. Martin’s latest book is an excellent narrative –i have read his previous books as well. I look forward to reading the insights and comments of other readers! Now reading Chapter 15.

  10. Thanks for everyone’s comments. It’s quite wonderful to read everyone’s reactions. But don’t worry: I’m not “monitoring” things. So you should feel free to say what you want! But I do want to say to Barbara and Martha and Brenda, that I’m glad, and I’m sure God is glad, that you said “Yes.”

  11. Thank you, Father Jim for sharing your thoughts and experiences in such a wonderful book. And thank you, Susan for coordinating this opportunity to discuss and share (and for the great questions).

    I was able to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January 2005. Having read the first 8 chapters of “Jesus,” I think Fr Jim had a similar impression as me: Galilee is where one feels close to being in the same environment as Jesus. Other areas of the Holy Land felt more like tradition interacting with the location to bring about a different (and probably greater) experience of God’s presence; although at a loss of the view of Jesus physical experience in the 1st century.

    While reading Fr Jim’s book, I have been reflecting on my pilgrimage. One of my most intense feelings of closeness to the Lord’s physical experience was praying the rosary’s joyful mysteries in our hotel’s courtyard while watching the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee. I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was experiencing something Jesus had – praying alone during the early morning hours surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation in that region. Hanging out with fishermen, Jesus probably even prayed on boats on Galilee at dawn. What an experience that must be!

    Regarding a “yes” in life: as the father of 5-year old twins, I have been drawn much more to St. Joseph and his experiences during the last 6 years. Obviously, all the “yeses” that led to them in my life affect almost every moment of my life now. Joseph had a slightly different “yes” with his responses to angelic directions in his dreams – one that affected every other moment of his life (I am sure). I have been reflecting on Joseph and what it must have been like to raise Jesus: how did he teach; how did he comfort; how did he act as an example; how did he keep his patience.

    Thank you for the reminder to look back at the promises and annunciation experiences in life when I struggle. I have always been supported and carried when I needed it in the past but, probably like most people, I forget about those in stress of the present’s whirlwind.

  12. Yesses that have transformed me? There are many. The yes at Confirmation. The yes to marriage vows. The yes to raising a family. The yes to new jobs, moving to a different state, to difficult surgeries, the letting go of children as they grow. We live so many of these decisions every day. So many yesses… hopefully most of them have been in line with God’s will… a yes to God’s way’s and a no to evil, selfishness, and sin. May we always say yes to love — as Jesus and the many saints have taught us!

    Frankly, I think I’d weep at the site of Mary’s yes to Angel. Just being in Nazareth would be close enough to give me goosebumps!

  13. Ray Glennon on

    Several individual sentences in this chapter have stayed with me:
    –Finally, comes one of the clearest affirmation’s of God’s power: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
    –God is paying attention to us. How could that not frighten?”
    –But often what helps them to regain trust is a simple question: “Has God been with you in difficult times in the past?”
    –Mary says yes to a future that she doesn’t know. She is an example of letting God do God’s work, without trying to figure it out.
    Considering these four statements together, Mary’s “Yes” serves as the exemplar of how we should first listen and discern God’s call in our lives and then, as Mary said to the servant at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.”

    Fr. Jim poses a crucial question, “Did this really happen?” and then he provides a clear, comprehensive (but not overly technical), convincing, and Catholic response that gives the reader a much better understanding of what the Gospels are, and are not. In my roles as a Confirmation catechist and and adult faith formation facilitator, Fr. Jim’s presentation is one that I will return to again. Several excerpts from this section that I found especially noteworthy:
    –It’s important to use one’s faith and reason when reading Scripture, in order to understand the story, its context, and its meaning the best we can.
    –But they weren’t writing a biography or a history; they were writing a religious document to help people understand and believe in Jesus Christ.
    –God can do anything. If God can create the universe from nothing, then causing a young woman to become pregnant in a miraculous way seems a small thing. The modern mind may have a hard time believing in the miraculous, but such belief lies at the heart of the Gospels.
    –We read a (Gospel) story not to pick it apart, but to encounter Jesus. In that wet we read in the light of reason and with the eyes of faith. And even thous readers who are not Christian, or who are not seeking to dedicate their lives to Christ, might consider bracketing issues of possible contradiction and read the texts generously.

    Looking forward to the next chapter.

  14. Jayne Rivas on

    Martha, I loved reading your beautiful story of the difficult times your family had to bear, and that it transformed your lives in such a wonderful way. The final line, that God has given you this peace that words cannot explain, is so comforting to me. I have been praying for peace for a long time, and need it more than ever before, but I can’t seem to find it. I will listen very hard as I go through these very difficult times. Maybe I will find that there are answers in my struggles that I have been unable to hear before. I love this book!

    • Jayne, I’m a single mom of 5. Four young men and 1 young lady. My youngest is my daughter of 17 and eldest is 28. There are always going to be difficult times as well as times of joy. Some times harder than others. Three years ago one of my sons gave me a gift that was so heart breaking. He told me he believes Jesus was a prophet not Gods son. (Not Our Messiah, Savior our Bother I thought). That year I decided not to go to the religious education in Anaheim,CA. But a few days before The Lord nudged me and I knew I had to go. That’s the year I heard Fr. Martin for the first time. What stood with me was when he said in similar words; if we have children who have left the church to offer them up. We should continue to pray for them and go to mass and receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus is alive in us and when we speak to our children it is not only us but Him speaking to them, when we touch our children he too is touching them. It may or may not be during our lifetime but they will come back to The Lord. I truly believe that.

      A couple of months ago my youngest son had a mental breakdown. It was horrible I had to admit him into the hospital. He was there for a week, at first I knew this was a good decision then things started to change and felt it was only hurting him more than helping. So I decided to take him home. The Doctor didn’t advice me to she said it would be the worst thing for me to do for him. I spoke to the social worker and she lied to me she said my insurance wouldn’t cover his stay there or any other psychiatrists and won’t be getting the treatment he needs. Nor the medication. It scared me, I prayed and felt like I was hitting my head on the wall because I felt trapped and had to put my son and self at their mercy. Now my first son I spoke to you about reminded me of something he had said “mom, remember what you said we just have to trust in The Lord and he will tell us what we have to do”. Then as the social worker was telling me everything that could go wrong, I put my head down and started to pray. As I lift my head up I told her “I trust in The Lord completely and I know it is time for him to come home, where he will help us to continue to get the help he needs” I had this complete peace and knew it was the right thing to do. We went straight to our parish to give thanks to The Lord and both of my boys got off with me and I witnessed one of the most beautiful gifts, my first son I spoke to you about was on his knees praying. We all gave thanks and asked for complete healing. My son is currently going to he’s Dr and taking his meds and yes our insurance is covering it. I know this is a long journey we are facing but most importantly we’re not alone. We may feel like it at times but I have to remind myself God has his hand on all this and we will all heal as a family together in Christ!

      This is not easy but God has given us the peace we need to put our complete Trust in Him.

      Sometimes we just have to stop trying so hard and start letting go.

      Offer up these difficult times to The Lord and keep reminding yourself, God has it under control. Trust in him completely.

      I’ll keep you in my prayers

      God Bless You!

  15. Jayne Rivas on

    Martha, thank you for your kind words. You have touched me greatly. God Bless you and your family!

  16. Mary’s yes changed the world. The significance of that gives me courage to emulate her trust.
    I, too, have had some very difficult times and feel that I wouldn’t have gotten through them with any semblance of sanity and peace without the strength God gives me…

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