Second Acts

The Calling

One man’s path to the priesthood.

Saul of Tarsus’ path to sainthood began when a celestial light enveloped him on the road to Damascus. He heard Jesus’ voice, inaudible to his companions, saying: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The conversion experience of Father James Martin was less dramatic. Once a corporate finance grunt, he came home one night after a particularly frustrating day at the office and flipped on the television. PBS was airing a documentary called Merton: A Film Biography, about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who had chucked his dissolute New York life to serve God in rural Kentucky. Onscreen, Merton’s face glowed with an otherworldly peace; Martin was so stressed and miserable at work that he regularly suffered stomach aches and migraines. “I still remember his expression, so much happier than the one I saw in the mirror every morning,” the priest [or Jesuit] recalls. “His life—the monastic life—seemed exotic, mysterious, romantic.”