The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything (Fr. James Martin)

I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. But if there is one thing I’m addicted to, that’s books. Every time I go practically anywhere, I have to find a bookstore and I have to buy a book. Or books.

And I have books everywhere: under my bed, under my pillows, in my closets, in my bookshelves, in my drawers, under my desk, in the kitchen. Everywhere. (I read in the bathroom, too, if anyone’s interested to know.) I swear: if you snatch my bag, there’s a 99.99% chance there’s a book. Or books.

So, is it any surprise that I turned out to be a professional librarian? Or that I give books for gifts?

Speaking of gifts, our former Junior Parochial Vicar is my latest victim. On his send-off, I gave him Between Heaven and Mirth, a book by the Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin. I have to confess now I almost didn’t give it to him: I really, really wanted to rip the wrapper off and consume it for myself.

That was my first encounter with the Jesuit priest, but even then the shelves in the bookstore were lined with Fr. James Martin’s books. By then, though, I didn’t have enough money to buy all three titles at once. (Not that I do now. I buy in installments. Hehe.) I decided to sacrifice my desire to read for one of my favorite priests.

So of all the Catholic publications out there, why a Jesuit book? Our former junior vicar, quite obviously, is a diocesan priest. He’s not Jesuit. So, why?

Nothing, really. I just thought the cover is cute and the paper and font are lovely.

As I said I wanted to read that book, too. But when I finally had the opportunity to buy it – on my father’s 59th birthday and my brother’s unscheduled hernia operation – Between Heaven and Mirth was out of stock! Imagine my sadness. I should’ve just bought two copies when I had the chance.

But Fr. Martin’s two other books were still on the shelves: Jesus: a Pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. I picked The Jesuit Guide for no particular reason. Or maybe because the cover is colorful. (Jesus: a Pilgrimage I bought one week later.)

And that’s how this beautiful book fell into my hands and crept its way into my spirit.

Listen, I’m not calling it beautiful because it was written by a Catholic priest. I’m calling it beautiful because it is.

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The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: a Spirituality for Real Life (2010) is Fr. Martin’s attempt to answer the most essential questions in life: Who is God? Why do we need religion? How do we pray? What does God want for us? How do we know what God’s will is? How do I become happy? I don’t know about other people but even when I was still a self-proclaimed SBNR* before it was fashionable, these were the questions that gnawed at my core. Unfortunately for me, these questions are not inescapable. At least for me, leaving them will lead to desolation.

The book doesn’t claim to have the rightest, bestest, or only answers. Instead, it presents the Jesuit perspective on spirituality – and how anyone can benefit from St. Ignatius de Loyola and the Society of Jesus – regardless of everything… belief included.

I’m not sure about publications by other religions and Christian denominations, but some Catholic authors tend to write quite exclusively for the faith community, thereby, “repelling” non-Catholic readers. Fr. Martin avoids that. In fact, Fr. Martin makes sure everyone can relate: believers, non-believers, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, anyone. The Jesuit Guide is inclusive. And how does it achieve that? By being as human as possible.

It isn’t pushy. If anything, it’s prescriptive. It offers suggestions, not directions. It’s like saying, This is how we Jesuits look at it. If you want, you can try it, too. Let’s see if it works. Most of all, it’s practical. It really is a guide – a guide that I can imagine myself reading over and over again when the need arises.

But what I appreciate the most about The Jesuit Guide is that after finishing the book, I don’t feel judged. I don’t feel bad about my mistakes, the wrong choices I’ve made. Instead, I feel that it’s okay: my past has made me who I am. Without everything that happened before, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be who I am. Maybe I wouldn’t have this belief in God and love for the Catholic Church. Everyone makes mistakes and God loves us just the same – that is, despite out imperfections. That knowledge alone is enough to make me happy.

One of these days, I’d write a reflection on The Jesuit Guide. But for now:

Ad majorem dei gloriam.

+++

*Spiritual But Not Religious. For a discussion, see p. 44.

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