Themes and Thoughts
Food From Thought

7 The Jesuit Guide To (Almost) Everything

James Martin SJ, The Jesuit Guide To (Almost) Everything, New York, HarperOne (Harper Collins Publishers), 2012.

ISBN 978-0-143269-9

Ignatian spirituality, it seems to me, is booming; all kinds of Christians follow the Spiritual Exercises, and conferences and courses, aimed at many disparate groups, are everywhere encouraging the use of St. Ignatius’s “way”. This book is surely part of that movement, or rather it has drawn much of its success (which it apparently has had, in the USA) from that surge of interest.

Yes, the book is very useful and practical, and derives much from Fr. Martin’s sharing of his own personal story, how the insights of the Jesuit founder – and many other subsequent Jesuits – led him along the path to full membership of the Society of Jesus.

To me, and perhaps most “ordinary Christians”, the most useful part was that dealing with the Examen, or nightly examination of the blessings and challenges of the day, and our own shortcomings (throughout the book, but particularly pp. 95-100). I would want to find out more about this, though the idea of examination of conscience has long been part of many Christian traditions, particularly, perhaps, in its possible connection with sacramental confession; but the idea of a daily, or rather nightly, spiritual assessment has much appeal.

Something else that I warmed to (which, as readers might expect, derives from Ignatius) is the emphasis placed on desire, which can also be described as a spiritual longing (none other than C. S. Lewis, in his sermon The Weight of Glory, refers to the unfortunate weakness of our desires, longings, and hopes) (Chapter 3, ‘What Do You Want?’).

If anything slightly surprised me it was the virtual equivalence which the author seems to give to the religious experience and spiritualties of Christianity, Judaism and Islam; I fancy this seeming to put the three (or rather, the third) on an equivalent footing with Christianity will discomfort some readers. He is realistic, in my view, about the potential selfishness of much New Ageism (p. 47). I have referred elsewhere to the surprising (to me) emphasis on God loving us, seemingly as we currently are, and accepting us as we presently are. The author’s willingness to express frustration with God’s seeming inaction is shown in a lovely story about his anguished prayer “How about some @#$% help, God!” – to which his spiritual director replied, “That’s a good prayer” (p. 124).

In all, the book seems to me to be unnecessarily long, and later sections verge on the repetitious; the middle chapters would surely be very useful to anyone contemplating admission to the Jesuit order – but most of us are not. A lot of information is included on the contributions of Jesuits, long past and more recent, to history and towards the creation of the societies we live in; there is bound to be something here that will surprise most people (eg. the Jesuit contribution to the development of theatre). I know little of the Society of Jesus, and have known only one Jesuit (I have the awful feeling, however, that for some there is allegedly a darker side to the order’s history, in which ‘Jesuitry’ means deception, but let’s hope I’ve got that wrong; you don’t read of that here, of course.)

One curious, but surely chance thing, is that my copy of the book (a rather solid paperback) has a strong smell (the paper, presumably) … but what, oh what, does it remind me of, just a little … yes, I know, incense …

October 2015


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