One of my favorite terms in publishing is the “pub date,” which refers not to the night when you go out for a beer with pals at your local haunt, but the publication date of a book. Anyway, for the last four years I’ve been working on a book called, at various times, The Jesuit Guide to Life, The Jesuit Guide to Everything and, finally, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. The final one was recommended by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., who said that the “Almost” would clue people into the tongue-in-cheek quality of the title.
The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, whose pub date is today, March 9, hopes to be an introduction to Jesuit or Ignatian (I explain the difference in the book) spirituality for the general reader. Many fine books have been written for specifically Catholic audiences on the topic, and with Catholic publishing houses; I hoped to offer one for a more general readership. So it assumes that you know nothing about St. Ignatius Loyola or the Jesuit Order, introduces you to both and then invites you into a discussion of: the various paths that people take on the way to God (six, for the sake of ease); finding God in daily life with the examen; beginning a personal relationship with God; the many ways to pray; and then moves into a focus on the active life, with discussions of simple living, friendship and love, suffering, work, vocation, and decision-making. Throughout the book, episodes from the life of Ignatius and the early companions, the Jesuit saints, wonderful Jesuits I've known, and men and women (priests, brothers, sisters, lay people, friends in general) who have walked along the way of Ignatius, are used to illustrate different concepts in Ignatian spirituality. Oh, and there are plenty of Jesuit jokes, too.
One of the immense joys of this book has been being calling upon so many great Jesuit spiritual masters during the writing process. In addition to Fr. Harrington vetting my New Testament references and commentary, I sent early drafts to John W. O’Malley, S.J., the author of The First Jesuits; William A. Barry, S.J., the author of numerous books on Ignatian spirituality including God and You; David Fleming, S.J., another noted Ignatian expert and author of What is Ignatian Spirituality?; Charles M. Shelton, S.J., a Jesuit psychologist at Regis University; John Padberg, S.J., the director of the Institute of Jesuit Sources, and Margaret Silf; the popular Ignatian writer and author of Inner Compass, among others. (The late John W. Donohue, S.J., of America magazine, provided me with a single-spaced three-page commentary after his reading.) Each of them—as well as many other experts—helped to make this book more rich.
And helped to correct some errors! May I share with you a favorite story? Early in the book, I talk about the wide variety of ministries that Ignatius and the early Jesuits set up—as a way of showing how broadminded his spirituality was. Their spirituality could be understood not only through what they wrote, but what they did. Anyway, I had written that he founded the Casa Santa Marta in Rome, a “house for prostitutes.” Father O’Malley wrote puckishly in a note, “That would be a house for reformed prostitutes. I think the distinction is rather important.” Without Fr. O'Malley there wouldn't be a book. The same could be said for all my Jesuit spiritual directors over the years, and my Jesuit friends. That's why this book is dedicated to Fratribus carissimae in Societate Jesu--my dear brothers in the Society of Jesus.
As for a preview of the book, you may have heard the podcast here with Tim Reidy last week. Also, there was an excerpt from one of the chapters in America last week. And another one here on NPR's website. HarperOne, my publisher, has also set up this cool author’s website, which includes videos, photo albums of the life of Ignatius, the great Jesuit saints and friends included in the book, as well as related essays and other fun stuff. Moreover, HarperOne has a feature that allows you to browse inside the book here. There’s also a Facebook page about the book (and My Life with the Saints) where readers can ask questions and make comments.
The goal of all Jesuit works is to “help souls.” So I hope that this new book helps readers find God more readily in their daily life, become contemplatives in action, learn to see God in an incarnational way, and grow in freedom and detachment. Overall, I hope the Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything helps at least a few souls.
Update: HarperOne is sponsoring a drawing for free copies of The Jesuit Guide at their Good Reads site here!
James Martin, S.J.