Have you ever thought of yourself as a beggar? Being a beggar conjures up unpleasant visions associated with lack of material possessions and lack of hope. This is far from the vision Regis Martin sees in his book, The Beggar’s Banquet. The banquet is a series of rich meditations he presented to Cistercian monks over a period of five days. Each one is unique, spiritual and insightful written to help us consider our spiritual lives as beggars before Christ. Subtitled A Personal Retreat on Christ, His Mother, the Spiritual Life, and the Saints, Dr. Martin covers a variety of topics with reverence and depth and a dash of sly humor. Originally crafted as twenty-five minute meditations, they have been re-edited for print. As Dr. Martin writes, “We all need that horizon of absolute fulfillment, the insistent desire and longing that urges us closer and closer to the promised consummation. It is a movement borne aloft by hope.”
The Banquet is one of abundance. It is not only Dr. Martin’s extensive knowledge of Theology and Philosophy that offers a message, but his extensive knowledge of topics on Literature and History. He enriches each meditation with quotes from T.S. Eliot, Chesterton, Dante, von Balthasar, and Oscar Wilde – to name a few. These quotes, poems and excerpts add depth and are just the right touch that leads the reader to the point and promise of the meditation. Anyone who reads this book will have more than one favorite chapter. The topics are diverse and written in an easy to read prose. There isn’t a chance of getting bogged down; Dr. Martin holds the reader’s attention.
Beginning with a chapter titled Dispelling the Darkness, he writes of the difficulties of faith with which great saints struggled throughout their lives. Yet they maintained their relationship with Christ by wanting God. We are all beggars. Dr. Martin writes, “Each man, says Augustine, is this “hollowed-out space” only God can fill.” The chapters emphasize the ways man fights against salvation by making wrong choices and allowing himself to be seduced by the world.
In Dr. Martin’s deft, erudite approach there is no blandness; nothing to distract. He fleshes out the spiritual themes in titles such as The Conception and the Cross; God is Love; The Suffering of Love and Hope Springs Eternal. The final meditation is on silence, the elusive turn-off-the-phone-and-t.v.-and-spend-time-with-God type of silence. This is the true silence of mind and heart that Dr. Martin calls “God’s first language” and tells how we resist this notion. We can’t hear if we’re constantly making noise and hearing noise. We cannot connect with God while we are texting as we watch the evening news.
There are less than one hundred pages here, and there is meaning and insight in every page. Dr. Martin is a professor of Theology at Franciscan University, author, husband, father of ten and grandfather of eight and yet had the time to write this marvelous book.
As a final thought Dr. Martin has included a wonderful quote from Flannery O’Connor that gives us all an impetus to seek Christ as beggars and to nourish hope.
“I think the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the Body of Christ and that on this we are fed.”