Key Takeaway: Fr. James J. Martin, S.J.’s book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, is a great read for anyone across all walks of life – not just Roman Catholics or Christians – wishing to explore spirituality more deeply. The truths taught by the Jesuit founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, are universal, timeless, practical, and flexible: a recipe for reaching out to the entire world.
Yesterday, I wrote about having a “personal life bible”, a book – other than the Bible, or perhaps your Scriptures if you’re not Christian – that has such an impact on you that it practically serves as your guidebook to life. Today, I’m going to talk about the one book that does this most for me.
I’ve already mentioned that one can have more than one personal bible, and for this bookworm, this is certainly true. But one book stands above all others, so much so that on the first page, I immediately knew that this was the book for me, that here was my pocket mentor (though it doesn’t literally fit in my pocket). It may have been something to do with the fact that I was Jesuit-educated all my life, but be that as it may.
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, this book, we were made for one another.
Written by an American Jesuit named Fr. James J. Martin, S.J., The Jesuit Guide is, as its title implies and subtitle states, a spirituality book that can be applied in everyday life by the everyman. This is because the Jesuits – the Society of Jesus, to use its formal name – emphasize active engagement with the world more than other Catholic orders – “contemplative in action” as they put it. In fact, so effective is the way of Ignatian spirituality – named after St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Society’s founder – that it can be lived out successfully and flexibly by even non-Catholics – and even non-believers, according to anecdotal evidence from the author!
It’s a mark of how Ignatius was simultaneously attached to and detached from the world. The Jesuit school of thought is attached to the world because it emphasizes proactivity, engagement, and flexibility – a “practical spirituality”, as they call it; the prayerful life is not restricted to church and quiet prayer time. However, as is with Buddhism – and many great spiritual traditions the world over – it also calls for detachment from the world – that is, freeing the self from worldly desires and self-interests, from inherently good things that become bad once they are made the goal of one’s life. Or, as Father Martin puts it, “‘newer’ gods” – and thus a violation of the Judeo-Christian First Commandment, “You shall not have any other gods besides me.”
Once again, the ancient Chinese philosophy of yinyang proves to be of timeless and universal wisdom here: Everything should be kept in balance, kept in moderation. Whoever first taught that philosophy is a sage among sages.
The Jesuit Guide teaches us how to live a good life – a purposeful life, if you will! – from this universally-appealing school of thought – by finding God in all things without and within, being contemplatives in action, seeking detachment and true freedom by living a life of simplicity, love, and obedience, by seeking God or praying according to your own circumstances or personal beliefs. This last bit is important because the Jesuits firmly believe – as I do – that God meets us where we are. Even non-believers! What matters is that we remain open to and honest with ourselves.
Here we have a spiritual consequence and application of your Life Kit – the combined portfolio of your background, beliefs, interests, and abilities. If you “don’t feel spiritual” or “don’t feel close to God” at the moment, or at all, then it is not to worry about, says Father Martin. Just be open, and God will take care of everything else.
It also teaches the one universal truth that God has been teaching and in fact personifying – “deifying?” – throughout the ages: that living a good life is all about a life of love. Authentic chastity, according to Martin, is actually about loving the most rather than suppressing it. Active engagement with the world – proactive interactions with people and planet – is all about true, overflowing love. And that’s what TDY is teaching: the lifeblood of purpose rooted in awareness and service is love. Without love, the sane world would cease to exist.
That’s why The Jesuit Guide is appealing to everyone. It teaches timeless, universal things, framed into a very “real-istic” structure – its being part of Roman Catholicism aside – that doesn’t alienate anyone, doesn’t leave anyone behind. It extends an equal invitation to anyone and everyone to walk forward together in the light of the love of God – an invitation that is so much worth accepting.
The Featured Photo is the painting Saint Ignatius in a cave in Maresa by Domingo Martinez, 1740, taken from A Catholic Mom in Hawaii.