A Jesuit’s Path to Priesthood

The U.S. Jesuits have kicked off a video series, following one Jesuit on his “Path to Priesthood.”

Jesuit deacon Radmar Jao shares about his vocation, his past life as an actor and his thoughts as he anticipates his ordination as a priest this June.  Check it out, and stay tuned for further updates as the day approaches!:

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L.A. Week: Countdown to Congress

After a pretty busy February spent giving talks and retreats in various places, I’ve finally reached my Spring Break vacation, of sorts.  I’m about halfway through my week in L.A. which has been a great time to reconnect with family and friends and prepare myself for what promises to be the somewhat overwhelming experience of my first Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, which some refer to as “Catholic Disneyland.”

My brother lives and works here as the Art Director for the show Parks & Recreation (my mother was somewhat taken aback a couple of years ago when he said his new job was with Parks & Recreation!  She hadn’t heard of the show.)  I spent the first part of my trip with he, his wife, and their three children.  They have twins–a boy and a girl–who are, as my nephew repeated more than once, “6 and three quarters” years old, and another four year old daughter.  The weekend was a reminder of the pros and cons of family life, as we moved from one sporting event to another.  There was T-ball with my nephew, where I was drafted as a third base coach, and practice for the two girls’ soccer teams that my brother coaches.  One of the Moms asked me, “Has he always been so wonderful with kids.”  And while this was the first time I’d seen him coach, I had to admit that he’s pretty darn good!  I’m also proud to see what a great father my little brother has turned out to be!  Saturday was soccer practice, and Sunday was the soccer games, and I had the joy of seeing my youngest niece score a goal!

She scores!

It was a bit of a surprise, because just minutes before she didn’t seem so into the game!  This was true of most of the girls on the team, whose interest seemed to wax and wane throughout the game.  Sustained competitive intensity is probably not so a common a trait for most four year old girls.

While all this was going on, I also provided entertainment–some voluntary, some not–for the niece and nephew who was not playing at the time, at one point simultaneously pitching balls to my nephew and kicking the soccer ball with my niece.  It was wonderful to spend time with them, as I don’t see them as often as I’d like, but also exhausting!  A reminder that I really need to get into shape!

I also had a wonderful dinner last night with my friend TerriAnn, who asked if she could bring her boyfriend, Ronnie Kovic, along.  I wrote back to her that I would be delighted if he could come and, isn’t his name the same as the guy from Born on the Fourth of July?  Not only was it the same name, but also the same guy!  It was wonderful to see TerriAnn, who I always visit when I’m in L.A., and to meet Ron, who is a lovely man, and who doesn’t look anything like Tom Cruise! 🙂  It was a privilege to meet a man who has really struggled with great hardship in his life, but has now achieved such great peace.  And he an TerriAnn are such a lovely match.

TerriAnn & Ron

We talked for hours, about all sorts of things.  Ron quizzed me on what I’ve been doing, I of course asked him about his experiences (and since I’m a movie nut, it was also exciting to be sitting with a Golden Globe winner!), and I got caught up with TerriAnn, who I hadn’t seen since my last visit to L.A.  How wonderful it was to see my friend, who lost her husband some years ago, to be so happy with someone new!  What a blessing.

All this is a prelude to the L.A. Congress which I hope will be an enriching experience, and also an opportunity to spread the news about my book, and to see a lot of friends and colleagues from around the country who I don’t get to see as often as I’d like!  I’ve also volunteered to be available for Confessions, which is always such a great privilege.

If you’re coming to the L.A. Congress, look for me at the booths of the Jesuits, Charis ministries or Saint Anthony Messenger Press (where you can also buy my book!).  I’ll report more on the Catholic Disneyland experience in a future post!

In Conversation about My Vocation & Writing

Fordham University has produced a series of video interviews with Jesuits at Fordham entitled “Jesuits in Conversation.”  You can now watch my approximately thirty-minute interview, in which I discuss my vocation, my ministry and my writing, in particular the then forthcoming book, Already There.  You can access the video, as well as interviews with various other Jesuits, by clicking here.

 

Pray With And For Refugees

The Jesuit Refugee Service is offering an on-line retreat, beginning Monday November 1.  It’s a good opportunity to “schedule in” some daily prayer, as well as to learn more about the plight of refugees around the world.

Here’s the information from JRS, for those of you who would like to participate:

Online Retreat

This November 14th is the 30th anniversary of the founding of Jesuit Refugee Service. We recall fondly Father Pedro Arrupe’s sound advice to “pray, pray much” as he encouraged the struggling first generation of Jesuit Refugee Service team members in Southeast Asia to bring the overwhelming challenges of their new apostolic work to the Lord in prayer.

To highlight the anniversary and our on-going work with refugees and forced migrants, on November 1 we will makeavailable on our website an Online Retreat. Each day of this online retreat will offer the opportunity to reflect prayerfully on the situation of refugees via the lens of The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

By linking the Spiritual Exercises to the plight of refugees and vulnerable migrants, we believe that the retreat will provide an easy way for people to fuse spirituality and social justice into their daily life. During the next four weeks we invite you — day by day — into an experience of “prayerful storytelling” as we share with you the grace-filled stories of God’s powerful love for all of us.

I hope you can join them!

Sting Does Jesuit Poetry

There is another Jesuit poet besides Gerard Manley Hopkins.  British Jesuit and poet Saint Robert Southwell lived from 1561 to 1595, when he was executed during the English Reformation.  He was one of many priests who secretly ministered to the Catholics in England during this time and, like many of the others, was arrested, accused of treason, imprisoned and eventually executed.  Despite his young age and the circumstances under which he lived, he did manage to published a couple of volumes of poetry during his lifetime.  Though not as well known as Hopkins, he considered by many to be of comparable talent as a poet.

Here, the pop singer Sting does a very interesting interpretation of Southwell’s poem, “The Burning Babe“:

My Favorite Book by Fr. Jim Martin (so far) . . .

One of the exciting things about being a priest, especially a Jesuit priest, is that we are not always sure what kind of situations we might find ourselves in that demand our ministerial skills. The recent General Congregation spoke several times, as has the Pope, about how often as Jesuits we are especially called to be on the “frontiers” of faith and culture. Some of my most privileged moments of connecting with people have been outside of typical “church” contexts. Traveling from one place to another, for example, you never know what kind of need you might encounter. Often there’s a chance to help someone, or listen to their story in a way that is part of my priestly vocation, even if that person doesn’t even know that I’m a priest (I don’t wear clerics 24/7). But I also like it when I’m with a group of people, my fellow German language students one summer, for example, in which I just happen to be a priest sharing an experience with them. A lot of the time the fact that I’m a priest doesn’t make a difference, but there are times that it does. There are the conversations—what’s it like? And there are the times when people do have a need to talk about something, or ask for help, and they know that I’m someone who they can probably count on.

I’ve noticed recently that I run into a lot of people that I would term “religiously indifferent.” They’re not hostile toward God or religion. And they are often very good people. However, for some reason, it hasn’t occurred to them that God should be a part of their life. It makes me wonder what it would be like to be “chaplain” to a group of people that one is not typically chaplain to. Like bikers, circus performers, journalists, buskers, CEOs or something like that. Those are interesting “frontiers” one could explore!

Father Jim Martin has offered a peek into just such an experience in his bookA Jesuit Off-Broadway. Don’t let the title fool you. This isn’t a light-hearted reminiscence on one Jesuit’s brief dalliance with the New York theatre world. It is a remarkably engaging and often deeply moving account of being a priest on the frontiers of faith and culture, of finding God in new and surprising ways. He almost seamlessly moves from his account to being theological advisor to the off-broadway production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot to reflections on some of the most profound theological questions, and does so by showing us how the troupe of actors which he came to know and love struggled with those same questions. Fr. Martin admits to being a little star-struck at first, especially having the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the play’s director. But he soon enough got over that to see how real these people were, and how serious they were about honoring the lives and beliefs of the characters they were portraying—Saint Monica, Saint Thomas the Apostle, Judas, Jesus, Mother Teresa, etc. As his story progresses, we witness not only the sometimes uncomfortable birth of a work of art, we see how Fr. Martin and the cast are transformed by the experience. All this is placed in the context of the Christian tradition in a revealing and enlightening way, and as one continues to read, one starts to feel as if they know and love this group of people, just as Father Jim comes to know and love them too. And one sees how the Spirit works in varied and surprising ways because a priest has been introduced into what at first seems a “foreign” context, but which eventually is revealed by compelling portraits of each of the cast members, as a place—a holy place—not so foreign at all. I think I’ve become one of this book’s biggest fans.

One of the most moving parts of the book for me, came at the very beginning, in the foreword by the playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis. He explains:

“I asked many questions that, perhaps, one is not supposed to ask, and, on occasion, Father Jim would reply with answers that perhaps he was not supposed to give. I tried to—and needed to—leave no stone unturned, and Father Jim, secure in his faith and his priesthood, never did anything but supply direct answers to pointed questions. And he did so kindly, thoughtfully, and with both a passion for the subject and a wealth of com-passion for me—his confused, often irate and disconsolate lapsed Catholic Interrogator. In short, he was everything I think a Priest should be: caring, thoughtful, strong, unimpeachable—and up for the challenge. In short, I have no doubt that Father Jim is one of Jesus’ true soldiers. And trust me: I’m not the doubt-free type. I drown in doubt, and to the degree that that’s true, Father Jim, from our first meeting and right up to today, is slowly teaching me to swim.”


Saint Ignatius on the Christian Vocation

As part of a project I’m working on, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading through Saint Ignatius’ letters.  I found this quote, from his letter to the Jesuits scholastics and fathers at Coimbra to be particularly inspiring.  He’s speaking specifically of a Jesuit vocation here, but I expect this would be relevant to anybody who has a strong sense of a vocation to service of Christ and the Church:

“To sum up my meaning in a few words: If you thought carefully about how deeply you are bound to defend the honor of Jesus Christ and the salvation of your neighbor, you would see how much you are obliged to dispose yourselves for every toil and labor to make yourself apt instruments of God’s grace for this purpose, particularly nowadays, when there are so few real laborers, so few persons who seek ‘not the things that are their own but the things that are Jesus Christ’s [Phil. 2:21]; you need to strive all the harder to make up for what others fail to do, since God is giving you such a special grace in this vocation and resolve.”

Saint Ignatius’ Advice For E-Mailers & Bloggers


Well, not exactly . . .

I’ve been reading Saint Ignatius’ letters for a project I’m working on, and it struck me today that his guidelines for Jesuits writing letters back and forth–and making distinctions between what should be public and what private–are well applicable to electronic correspondence today. Once again, Ignatius seems a bit ahead of his time. He writes (to Pierre Favre, a.k.a. Peter Faber):

“I will describe what I myself do and, I trust in the Lord, will continue doing in this regard so as to avoid mistakes when writing to members of the Society [of Jesus]. I make a first draft of the main letter, reporting things that will be edifying; then, after reading it over and correcting it, keeping in mind that it is going to be read by everybody, I write or have someone write it out a second time. For we must give even more thought to what we write than to what we say. Writing is permanent and gives lasting witness; we cannot mend or reinterpret it as easily as we can our speech. And even with all this I am sure I make many mistakes, and fear doing so in the future. I leave for the separate pages other details that are inappropriate for the main letter or lacking in edification. These pages each one can write hastily ‘out of the overflow of the heart,’ with or without careful organization. But this may not be tolerated in the main letter: it must be composed carefully and edifyingly, so that it can be shown around and give edification.”

Saint Ignatius was the most prolific letter writer of his time. So, he knew a thing or two about writing letters. And his advice is well-taken for those of us too whose writing “gives permanent and lasting witness.”