What Would a Jesuit Do?

I was given The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, written by James Martin, SJ as a gift from my Mother-in-Law back in September. I actually started reading it in September, and just finished it in February. It’s not that the book was not interesting, engaging or worth-while, it’s just that the Jesuit Guide begs to be read and thought about, for me this process happens slowly. So I just read a little bit of the book each night.

At first glance, I thought the book was going to be some kind of spirituality guide with a kick, because I thought the picture in the bottom corner of the book was reminiscent of “buddy Jesus” in Dogma. Turns out, that was probably not the intent of the author, however the book still proved to be very readable, while maintaining a light and often humorous tone. James Martin is a wonderful writer. He has a gift for explanation and wit. And I should probably mention that I am pretty wary of religious “guides,” from the outset. Martin’s task in this book was to lay out the Jesuit philosophy in a way that the average person could use and benefit from it.

The Jesuit tradition was started by St. Ignatius Loyola, and the Jesuits today continue to use his written word, and the story of his life as a way to guide their own approach to faith. As Martin states, “Ignatius wanted his methods to be available to everyone, not just the Jesuits” (pp 1). And that is very apparent in reading the book. Ignatius was a brilliant, and well-loved man. He was not a closeted monk hidden off in the wilderness. (Although Martin talks about a couple of those too.) He was an avid writer, had many friends and believed in following a faith that at times got him labeled a heretic. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a rogue monk.

Loyola though, was not purposefully disobedient, and in fact his very peaceful and contemplative approach to faith is what enabled him to found such a long-standing and respected tradition. The book covers everything from decision-making to leadership in the workplace, and from love to loss. Most of the book is centered around helping people to think in a way that acknowledges “finding God in all things.” There are some practical ways they suggest this, through certain prayer and such, but there are also more tangible things that are suggested to really open oneself up to living with the simple life that Jesuits strive for.

Martin talks about voluntary poverty: sounds absurd, almost unAmerican… Chastity: Who doesn’t want sex?… and Obedience: desirable in dogs but suspect in people (pp. 174-175). And he leads readers on an enlightening journey to see that first, we often perceive these words in the wrong light, and second that these are not only desirable traits, but essential ones.

I can hardly even touch the surface of everything James Martin covers in this book, and I didn’t even mention “the examen,” which was one of my favorite sections of the whole book. A way to evaluate your day and learn to see blessings in your life as they occur instead of in retrospect. I would whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a deep, fun, insightful book on the ways to incorporate Jesuit principles into their life, or even if you simply want to know more about the Jesuits. Martin claims the book can be read and used by those of all faiths or no faith at all. And I certainly see how he tried to do this with his writing. It’s very inclusive, and involves different approaches for people at different places in their lives.

Pros: insightful and deep way to look at your faith, while staying witty and engaging

Cons: it is a bit long, but I don’t really see this as bad, just necessary

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