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The Five Best Pieces of Jesuit Wisdom I've Ever Heard
by Jim Martin, SJ
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.
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:
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
The night before leaving for
"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
2.) "You don't have to be someone else to be holy."
Too much of my time as a novice was spent trying to be like other people. I knew that I wasn't holy myself, and saw other novices who seemed far more holy, so, I figured, I needed to be like them. One guy was soft-spoken and diffident, and he was pretty holy, so I decided to be meek and mild. "What's wrong with you?" another novice said after seeing me piously moping around the house. Another novice woke up super-early and prayed before our morning prayers at 7 a.m. He seemed holy, too: so I started to get up super-early. "Wow, you look tired," one guy said. "Aren't you getting any sleep?"
Finally I said to my spiritual director, David Donovan, "I'm not sure how to be holy. Who should I imitate in the novitiate? Who's doing it right?" "Jim," he said, "you don't have to be someone else to be holy. Just be yourself. That's the person God called into the Jesuits, after all." David's advice helped me to relax, and to be appreciated for who I was, not for who I wasn't. Plus I got more sleep.
3)"You're not married to everyone."
When I was in philosophy studies at
For example, one guy got annoyed if you didn't move his wet clothes from the washer to the dryer. (Why didn't you put them in the dryer? They're all wet!") Another got angry if you did put them in the dryer. (Why did you put my clothes in the dryer? They'll shrink!") Another guy didn't like to talk about his studies at meals: too stressful. Another did: it helped him let off steam. I found it hard to keep track. How could I please everyone? One day I said to my superior, "I feel like I have to remember what everyone wants. And what everyone's little likes and dislikes are. It's driving me nuts."
Dick Vande Velde, the director of the Jesuits in formation in
Behind the good desire to please everyone was the not-so-good desire to have everyone like you. Which is impossible. Even Jesus in his earthly life wasn't universally admired. Why should I be?
4)"Don't let anyone prevent you from becoming the person you want to be."
I'll keep this story vague. At one point in my Jesuit training I lived with a difficult person in community. (Imagine that!) He had many good qualities, but he was also argumentative and combative. (Eventually he would leave the Jesuits.) Since I was always running into him, it seemed that I was slowly changing in response. I was always on guard – combative and argumentative myself – in order to protect myself.
At one point, I told my spiritual director that his personality seemed to be making me into a different person, someone I didn't like. I was becoming someone in reaction to him.
"Don't let anyone prevent you from becoming the person you want to be," he counseled. "He has no right to do that, nor does he really have the power. God desires you to become loving and charitable. Don't let him distract you."
It was hard advice to follow. But it was essential. Rather than let someone else's problems mold you, become the person God wants you to become.
5)"You're not Jesus."
After philosophy studies, I worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in
After a few months, I confessed to my spiritual director, George Drury, a New England Jesuit stationed in
What a dumb question, I thought. Well, I said, that's what Jesus would do. He would visit them. He would check on their businesses. He would fix their problems. He would help to heal them. He would listen to them. And George said, "That's true. But I've got news for you: you're not Jesus! No one person can do everything. And even Jesus didn't heal everyone in
Later on another spiritual director put it more succinctly: "There is Good news and there is the Better News. The Good News is that there is a Messiah. The Better News is that it's not you!"
James is culture editor of