Jesuit Wisdom from James Martin, S.J.

Culture Editor Fr. Jim Martin, writing for our friends at The Jesuit Post:

Unlike most of the guys who write for The Jesuit Post, I’m not exactly a “young Jesuit.” I’m 51. (On the other hand, these days anyone under 90 could be considered “young” in a religious order.) But even though I may not know as much about the latest music (read: nothing) I have a leg up when it comes to experience.

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I’ve been a Jesuit for 23 years. I’ll spare you the complete description of my training or “formation,” as we say. (Short version: Boston to Jamaica to Chicago to Nairobi to New York to Boston to New York to California to New York.) Instead I’d like to boil down the most helpful things that I’ve heard from my elders: those who have trained me, who have been my spiritual directors, who have been my superiors, and who have been my colleagues and friends.

All of these pieces of wisdom stopped me in my tracks and left me speechless; all of them changed the way I look at life, God and my fellow human beings. And all of them, I hope, will be helpful to you, whether or not you’re a Jesuit.

1.) “Allow yourself to be human.” In 1989, as a brand-new 28-year-old Jesuit novice in Boston, I was told that I would be sent to work for four months in the slums of Kingston, Jamaica. Though work with the poor was part of our life, I was terrified. Never having spent any time in the developing world, I was almost paralyzed with fear. What if I got mugged? What if I got sick? (It didn’t help that one of the second-year novices kept telling me how dangerous it was: he was, by the way, exaggerating.)

The night before leaving for Kingston I was sitting in the living room staring at (I was too nervous to read) The Boston Globe. An elderly Jesuit came in to say hi. Joe McCormick, an experienced spiritual director, was one of the freest people I knew: warm, open, joyful. “Ready for Jamaica?” he said. Out came my worries. Joe patiently listened to them all.

“What’s your biggest fear?” he said. I told him that I was worried that I’d get so sick I would have to come home. That would be embarrassing, I thought darkly.

Joe nodded and said, “Can you allow yourself to get sick, Jim? You’re a human being with a body, after all, and sometimes bodies get sick. The worst that could happen – coming home – isn’t the end of the world. So why not just allow yourself to be human?”

A cloud lifted. Yeah, why not just relax and be human? Getting sick wouldn’t be the end of the world. I went to Jamaica…and never once got sick. But I got more human.

Read the rest at TJP.

Tim Reidy

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