December 01, 2016

Transcript for James Martin — Finding God in All Things

December 17, 2014

Fr. James Martin, S.J.: God met me in an apartment in Stamford, Connecticut, watching TV. [laughs]

I wasn't praying in church before a statue of Mary, saying please make me a priest. I was tired at the end of the day, a terrible day, had just finished a bowl of spaghetti that I'd heated up, and I was watching PBS. [laughs] and that's where God met me. Because that's where I was.

And so that's where we need to meet people. Where they are. That's where Jesus met people. He meets everybody where they are. And that should be our model, too.

Krista Tippett, host: Before Pope Francis, Fr. James Martin was perhaps the best known and loved Jesuit writing in American life. He’s followed the calling of the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to “find God in all things” – and in 21st century forms, as editor of America magazine, but also as a wise and witty presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Stephen Colbert has proclaimed him the chaplain of “the Colbert Nation.” To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the spiritual exercises St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. These underpinned the Jesuit way of “contemplation in action” and are now shaping the Vatican in a new age.
 
I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.

 

[music: “Seven League Boots” by Zoe Keating]

Ms. Tippett: James Martin has been a member of the Jesuit order, the Society of Jesus, for 26 years. He lives in the America House Jesuit Community in midtown Manhattan. He grew up in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. And he’s the author of many books including The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and more recently Jesus: A Pilgrimage.

Ms. Tippett: You know, of course I've known about you and kind of read you for years, and it was fun to dive in. I did not know the part of your story that, because you are known as a religious figure, it didn't surprise me that much that you didn't grow up especially religious. Or grow up to be religious. But I did not realize that you studied business in college, and worked in corporate finance for GE into your mid-20s. And only then were captured, it seems, by Thomas Merton. Is that right? Was that really what the big turning point for you?

Fr. Martin: It was. I grew up, what I say, in a lukewarm Catholic family. That doesn't mean my parents weren't good people or Catholic, but, you know, we weren't super Catholic.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: I certainly never thought about being a priest, or I didn't know what a Jesuit was. And I went to — from 1978 to 1982. And got a degree in finance. We were told finance, not finance. You know, it's much more...

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] I’m glad I learned that at this late stage in my life.

Fr. Martin: ...prestigious. [laughs] Yes. Yes. And, I took a job with GE, General Electric, in New York. And worked for GE, in finance and accounting. And then in human resources at GE Capital, their financial services arm, for six years before I figured that this was just not the right place for me. And I came home one night, and in the midst of a lot of confusion about my future, I turned on the TV and saw a documentary about Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, who I'd never heard of.

And, the documentary was so compelling that it prompted me to go out and read his book, The Seven Storey Mountain, which, to coin a phrase, changed my life.

Ms. Tippett: Mm. It's pretty amazing, the number of really interesting Monastics in particular who were led down that path by Thomas Merton's book, The Seven Storey Mountain. Isn't it? I mean, you must have come across that.

Fr. Martin: Oh, dozens.

Ms. Tippett: So many...

Fr. Martin: And, you know, here's...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: Yeah, here's a book written in the '40s that still speaks to people. And I think, for those who don't know what it's about, he's a sort of a lost young man who lives a fairly dissolute life. Born in France, studies in England, finally comes to Columbia University, and stumbles on the Trappist monks and finds his vocation and enters.

Ms. Tippett: You know, I was also, I also noticed that you found his book, No Man is an Island, important because I'd say that's the book that kind of crossed my path at a moment where I was opening my mind to all of this in a new way. And it was really transformative and somewhere in one of your books, you pull out this first paragraph of No Man Is an Island. “Why do we spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be? If only we knew what we wanted. Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?”

Fr. Martin: Yeah, that's the line that changed my life, really, and I just thought, well, why? [laughs] Why am I doing that?

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: And it felt like he was speaking directly to me. And I felt like, you know, business is a real vocation for a lot of people. And it just wasn't for me. And I was miserable. And I didn't know what I was doing. And I didn't know how I could find a way out. And that sentence, which really was like a thunderbolt, just prompted me to shake things up and ask myself that question. And I always say to young people, what would you want to do if you could do anything that you could do? It's a very clarifying question for people. And, you know, Jesus asks people that. What do you want?

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: Kind of understanding your desires. So, yeah, I love that paragraph. I go back to it a lot.

Ms. Tippett: I think something that really runs through all your writing is that callings and vocation as opposed to a mere career is not something that's restricted to monastics.

Fr. Martin: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely or priests or sisters or brothers.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: Everyone has a vocation. I mean, the most fundamental vocation is to become the person whom God created. And it's both the person you already are, and the person that God calls you to be. And I think we find that out through our desires. What moves us. What touches us, what are we drawn to? And part of that's career. But, only part of it. I mean, it's really who you are called to be, and that's why that question really spoke to me. But yeah, there's a popular misconception that having a quote unquote vocation means that you have to be a priest or a sister or a brother. But a vocation is your deepest identity, and as well, being called to married life, or being a lawyer, or...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. Being a parent...

Fr. Martin: ...a teacher.

Ms. Tippett: ...I think is a vocation.

Fr. Martin: Absolutely.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: And you know, a much harder vocation than being a priest, frankly. We don't get up at 3:00 in the morning for feedings.

Ms. Tippett: Well, you don't get any of that training. You just — you're plunged into it.

Fr. Martin: No, we do not.

Ms. Tippett: I mean, I love the use of the word desire, because again I think if we do separate, if we do think about vocation or calling in kind of narrow spiritual terms, which sounds very serious, um...

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: ...then we probably wouldn't use that language of desire that it does — that is has to do with your desires and in fact being in touch with them is one kind of compass, but in fact there is a very long and deep philosophical and theological tradition of thinking about desire and calling.

Fr. Martin: Yeah. And you know, I'm a Jesuit and our founder, St. Ignatius, in his classic text, "The Spiritual Exercises," talked about praying for what you desire. And also praying to understand your desires. What are your deepest desires that moves you, because I believe that your deepest desires, the things that you're drawn to, the person you're called to be, are really God's desires for you. I mean, how else would God call us to something?

You know, you'd think of a married couple, that's the easiest example. You know, they're drawn to each other. And that you would ask them, do you feel drawn to each other? Do you feel God drew you to one another? They'd say sure. Well, how does that happen? Desire. Physical, emotional, spiritual.

It's the same in different jobs. It's the same in religious vocations. But it's also the same in the person you desire to be. I think we all have an image of the person we want to become. You know, more loving, more open, more free.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: That's a call. That is God calling you to become that person. And it starts with desire, which I think is so beautiful. It's just...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: ... it's helping people understand that and recognizing it, that in a way that — to tell them it's not selfish. Desire ultimately is not selfish.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, its freeing and it opens the possibility that this — not necessarily is easy, but is a is a process that has joy in it [laughs]. And delight.

Fr. Martin: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: And, uh...

Fr. Martin: And heartache sometimes...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, of course.

Fr. Martin: As we let go of the things that we're not called to be, and the parts of our lives that are keeping us back. I mean, this comes up again and again in direction. People, they see...

Ms. Tippett: In spiritual direction.

Fr. Martin: ...who they are before God. Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: In spiritual direction. They see who they are before God, and they feel the sense of wanting to, in a sense, move beyond that and become someone different. And I always tell them, this is good. This is God calling you, you know. This is a process. And it's ultimately liberating, which is a...

Fr. Martin: ...great message for people.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. So, spiritual direction is an example of something, I think, like contemplation in Christianity, that that for a long time was kind of consigned to experts amongst the nuns...

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: ...professional religious people. but I do think that St. Ignatius of Loyola, who's the founder of your order of the Jesuits, was a kind of exception to that rule of keeping these things for specialists, and that's something that I think people are rediscovering also through you at this moment.

Fr. Martin: Well, I hope so. You know, you're right. "The Spiritual Exercises" and spiritual direction in our practice is at the heart of Jesuit spirituality or Ignatian spirituality. And, you're right, Ignatius meant that for everyone.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: And that got him into a lot of trouble when he was alive in the 16th century. He liked to say that the Creator could deal directly with the creature. So that God can deal directly with us through prayer, through our daily experiences. And spiritual direction is basically helping people see where God's activity is happening in their lives, mostly in their prayer, but also in their daily lives.

And I do a lot of spiritual direction with a lot of different kinds of people. And it's beautiful to see how God is at work in people's life, and it's a real grace to be able to do that. It kind of increases your own faith, too. But you're right, Ignatius meant that for everyone, because God deals with everyone directly. Even though people sometimes aren't aware of it. It's just a question of inviting them to notice it, to be aware of that, and to kind of awake to that.

Ms. Tippett: So how would you begin to talk about the distinctives of Ignatian spirituality?

Fr. Martin: Probably the shortest way of describing it is “finding God in all things.”

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: And the idea is that God is not simply to be found in our prayer life, which is very important. Or in worship services and Mass. Or in reading the Bible. All those are important and at the center of that kind of spirituality. But in your daily life. You know, in your relationships, in your work, in the emotions that come up, in those moments that you see a sunset, and you say my gosh that's so beautiful. Why am I feeling like this? Or, you see an infant for the first time, like your niece or your nephew or your son or your daughter or granddaughter or grandson, and you say, my gosh, where are these feelings coming from? And, these are ways that God has of communicating with us through our daily lives in all things.

And then the second way we look at it is being a contemplative in action. So we're not monks; we Jesuits are not monks. We're out in the world. And yet we have that contemplative stance towards everything, so that every moment is an invitation to encounter the living God who wants to encounter us. So, it's a beautiful spirituality. It's very kind of spacious and it fits people, and it's user-friendly.

I'm directing a young man through "The Spiritual Exercises" right now, and it's wonderful to see how his life is changing. And I have other people who are spiritual directees, as they're called in the trade, and it's just beautiful to see. That's Ignatius's great gift to the world. The Jesuits’ great gift is not our schools and our high schools, as wonderful as they are. It's Ignatian spirituality, and the spiritual exercises. So, it's life changing.

Ms. Tippett: Like, for somebody who'd never experienced it, I mean, there's this imaginative, visual aspect...

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: ...which is very accessible.

Fr. Martin: Yeah, so, the kind of prayer you're talking about is often called Ignatian contemplation or Ignatius calls it “composition of place.” And it's using your imagination to place yourself within a scripture scene and to see what comes up. By way of emotions or feelings or desires. And it can be very transformative. So for example, you take a simple passage like the storm at sea. Jesus calming the storm at sea. You would ask the person, on your own or maybe in a guided meditation, imagine yourself on the boat with Jesus.

What do you see, first of all? What's the boat look like? What do the disciples look like? What's Jesus look like? What do you hear? What are the waves like? What do you feel? You feel the cold water on your back? What do you smell? Is there a smell of fish? What do you experience in terms of like what you're wearing? And you basically trust that God's going to be with you, 'cause, you know, God created your imagination and it's an entrée into experiencing God.

And you notice what happens. And, oftentimes, not always, some pretty amazing things can come up. For example, you see Jesus asleep in the boat. And, you start to realize, wow, why is he asleep? Doesn't he care? You might connect it with something in your own life. You know, why is Jesus asleep? Why does God not care about me right now? You see him do the miracle and still the storm, and you say to yourself, wow, that's really beautiful. Are there times in my life where I was worried that God was asleep and things worked out OK? Do I need to have more trust? So, those kinds of feelings can come up.

Just something as simple as I'm angry at God for being asleep can lead you into an encounter with God, or a conversation with God, which can be very healing for people. So, it's not for everybody. Not everybody likes it. Some people like more content-less prayer, like centering prayer, which is just kind of quiet. But it's the primary way I pray, and for most people, it's really transformative.

Ms. Tippett: It's kind of interesting as I hear you talking about it. It's kind of like a contemplative, visual Christian form of midrash, right? Jewish midrash, which is about kind of...

Fr. Martin: It is. And...

Ms. Tippett: ...reading between...

Ms. Tippett: ...the lines in order to understand the words better.

Fr. Martin: Well, also, yeah. You also notice things that you would have not noticed.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Fr. Martin: I did a meditation with a group a year or two ago. And it was the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. And in one of the stories, where Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fishes, and feeds the crowds, there's a little boy who brings five barley loaves and two fish. And, this one woman in this group I was facilitating, said I never noticed that little boy. She said, I've read this story probably hundreds of times, and heard it at Mass, and I never knew he was there. And she said, I spent time just looking at him and noticing how he was able to bring what little he had to Jesus. And that was her insight.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: And, I've been a Jesuit for 26 years now, and that's happened to me dozens, and dozens, and dozens of times. And I've heard it in direction. And I've heard it from my other Jesuit brothers. And it's astonishing. I mean, the gospels become your own. And it's great. I mean, you feel like you get to know Jesus, and that's the goal of Ignatian spirituality in the end.

[music: “Wonder” by Hauschka]

Ms. Tippett: I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today with Jesuit writer and spiritual teacher, Fr. James Martin.

Ms. Tippett: Tell me what you mean when you say and when you write, the way of Ignatius was about finding freedom. How are you using that word?

Fr. Martin: Well, Ignatius wanted us to be free of anything that kept us from following God. He called them disordered attachments. And the idea is that if anything keeps you from being more open to God's will in your life, get rid of it, basically. A simple example. When I was a Jesuit novice, the first part of the Jesuit training, I went into my novice director and we were supposed to assigned to different ministries working with the poor the first year of our Novitiate. And I said, well, you know what?

The last thing I want to do [laughs] I said, is work in a hospital. I don't think I could stand that. The smells, and the sights, and the sounds. And he said, well, good, then you'll be working in a hospital. [laughs] And why's he doing that? It wasn't to punish me. It was to kind of free me up from that. So, his insight was, which is a very classic Jesuit insight, if that is something that's going to be preventing you meeting people, and from doing your ministry, you need to let go of it. And the way to let go of it, in this case, was to kind of experience it. And now I can go into hospitals, and imagine a priest who was so unfree that he couldn't set foot in a hospital. You know, or a Jesuit who couldn't...

Ms. Tippett: So is that this concept...

Fr. Martin: ...do that.

Ms. Tippett: ...of agere contra?

Fr. Martin: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: To act against, which...

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: At the end of your book, The Jesuit Guide to Nearly Everything, you said in this interview you wished you'd written more about that. And I think that's what you just described, isn't it, that sometimes, in fact, we have to act against our instincts to do what we actually really want to do. Right?

Fr. Martin: Yeah. Yeah. So, agere contra, to act again is exactly that, and it's a way of freeing yourself up. And it can sound kind of masochistic but it's basically — it's confronting those fears, not simply for the sake of confronting them, to kind of show how how strong you are, master them, but to let go of it.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: Uh, you know, Ignatius wanted us to be free.

Ms. Tippett: There's so much, I feel, in Ignatian spirituality that is just so resonant with now, in a moment which I think is just profoundly historic in that for the first time in centuries, if not ever, human beings are not inheriting their belief system anymore. And the Six Paths to God, as you lay them out, belief is one of them. [laughs] but that the others are very familiar. Disbelief, independence, return, exploration, confusion.

Fr. Martin: Yeah, and that's just based on my experience with people. You know, that's where they are in, trying to accompany them, and I was on all those different paths at one time or another in my life. And...

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: ...there are a lot of people who do grow up with a very strong belief system, and, are born into a family that's very religious or very spiritual. But, even those people, I find in their 20s and 30s often break off. They have to kind of re-appropriate it. But you're right. People are coming at it from different points of view, and I think that one of the strengths of Ignatian spirituality is, is that meets people where they are.

It says, OK, you're starting to be interested in God because of a book you read. Great. Let's start there. Let's start with your reading. Or, you're interested in God because of some movie you saw and it made you moved, or — fine, let's start there. What's your experience of that movie. Let's talk about that. That's very Ignatian. And it's just very open, because again it's finding God in all things.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: So you don't say, well, because you weren't in church when that happened, it doesn't count. You meet the person where the person is, that's where God met me. God met me in an apartment in Stamford, Connecticut, watching TV. [laughs]

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs].

Fr. Martin: I wasn't praying in church before a statue of Mary, saying please make me a priest. I was tired at the end of the day, a terrible day, had just finished a bowl of spaghetti that I'd heated up, and I was watching PBS. [laughs] and that's where God met me. Because that's where I was.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Fr. Martin: And so that's where we need to meet people. Where they are. That's where Jesus met people. Jesus met people where they were. He didn't sit on His butt all day in Capernaum. He sat on His butt a little bit, and people came to him, but most of the times, He went out. And He met people where they were. You know, if you're fishing, I'm going to go to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, I'm going to say, follow me, and I will make you, you know, fishers of people. I'm going to even use a phrase from your argot basically.

Ms. Tippett: Mm. Mm.

Fr. Martin: So it's terrific. He meets everybody where they are. And that should be our model, too.

Ms. Tippett: Tell me what it means for you to have a Jesuit now on the throne of St. Peter.

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] It's hard to put into words. It's great. I think the most exciting part is seeing him invite people into Jesuit spirituality without even using those words. I mean, he very rarely — he'll at times advert to St. Ignatius Loyola, or "The Spiritual Exercises," but he just does it in his own way. I think it was a year ago, at his Easter Mass, he started talking about imagining yourself on Easter Sunday morning, running with the women to the tomb. It was a kind of Ignatian contemplation. He said, imagine what it would be like. And I was watching...

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Fr. Martin: ...with my mom at my sister's house, with her family, and my mom said [laughs] do you think he read your book?

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] And I laughed and I said, you know, this is Ignatian spirituality. And so...

Ms. Tippett: We read some of the same books.

Fr. Martin: Yeah. And you know, in other times, he'll say now close your eyes and let's imagine ourselves in this scene. And he will do what's called a guided meditation, where you kind of invite the person into the scene imaginatively. It's all Ignatian spirituality. And so to be able to see this kind of on a worldwide level is just beautiful. And I just love the guy. I mean, I think his emphasis on the poor is fantastic. I think meeting people where they are. And you know, frankly, I think the key to understanding him is his Jesuit background.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: I mean, here's a guy who is free. You know, who does not have disordered attachments, and imagine if someone was so attached to having to do things the way that they were done. For example, like living in the Apostolic Palace. He's not. He's free of that. I don't have to do that.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] Right.

Fr. Martin: I'm free of that.

Ms. Tippett: He's free of the shoes as well, isn't he? Like...

Fr. Martin: Yes, he's free of the shoes. And in all seriousness...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: ...imagine if he had said I must continue to do this. Ignatius would say, are you being free? What do you really need? What's necessary? And it's beautiful. I find him very inspiring. He makes me want to be a better Jesuit, a better priest, a better Catholic, a better Christian, and a better person.

Ms. Tippett: Mm. So, across the years, I've interviewed a fair number of Jesuits.

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: And they've been really different people, you know. They've been astronomers, they've been social activists...

Fr. Martin: You know the old expression if you met one Jesuit, you've met one Jesuit?

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] No, I did not know that. But I was going to say is, the one thing they all have in common is they're funny. OK? Really. You have all had a great sense of humor.

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] Well, I hope so. I mean there are a few unfunny Jesuits [laughs].

Ms. Tippett: Well, I'm sure there are.

Fr. Martin: But, let's say more serious. But, I would hope the part of that is perspective. One of the things that the spiritual exercises and Jesuit formation teaches you is that you are not perfect. The beginning of the spiritual exercises is actually an encounter with your own sinfulness. Which not that — it's to make you feel terrible about yourself, because we're all God's creations, but we're all human beings.

We all have sins. We all have flaws and failures and things like that. And that's very humbling to be able to see that about yourself. And I think that gives you a lot of perspective. And it means that you can laugh at yourself. My spiritual director likes to say there's good news, and there's better news. Do you know this, by the way? Have you heard this?

Ms. Tippett: No. No.

Fr. Martin: The good news is there is a messiah. The better news is it's not you.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] Yeah.

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] So, it's not all up to you. And I come up against my sinfulness, and my flaws, and my struggles, daily. I really do. And I don't mean that as, like, false humility. That is true. And that keeps you humble, I think. And I think that means you can laugh at yourself. And most Jesuits...

Ms. Tippett: Well...

Fr. Martin: ...are pretty good at laughing at themselves.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I mean, I agree with the last part of that, that I've met a lot of Jesuits who are good at laughing at themselves. I mean, it can cut both ways, though. You've pointed out [laughs] you've written a whole book about joy, and laughter, and humor, and you said, and I think we can all identify, “I've come across a surprising number of spiritually aware people who are in a word grim,” and that joylessness...

Fr. Martin: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: ...is — it's ecumenical, interfaith…

Fr. Martin: Yeah, the frozen chosen.

Ms. Tippett: The frozen chosen. Yeah.

Fr. Martin: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: But you...

Fr. Martin: But...

Ms. Tippett: ...on the — go on. Go on.

Fr. Martin: No, I was going to say that it's also very un-Christian. I mean, the ultimate message of the gospels, and of Christianity is Christ is risen. Right? I mean, that's the end of the story. And that's a joyful message. I always laugh at people who say, joy is really — not too much joy, not too much happiness. And I say, imagine the disciples on Easter Sunday. Do you think they were going around with long faces? And Jesus himself lived a joyful life. You can see signs of that in the gospels in terms of His clever parables, and His funny stories. And for Pete's sakes, His first miracle was at a party. A wedding party.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: Where he was a good boy and did what his mother told him to do.

Fr. Martin: (laughs) That's right.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] That's what I appreciate about that story.

Fr. Martin: Although he's pretty harsh with his mother. That's a great story.

Ms. Tippett: But he did turn the water into wine.

Fr. Martin: He did eventually.

Ms. Tippett: If he'd been thinking about his legacy, he might not have had that as his first miracle, but his mother asked him to do it.

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] I never thought of that. Right? He wanted another first miracle.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] I'm doing an Ignatian, you know, I'm being in the story.

Fr. Martin: You know what?

Ms. Tippett: And I'm taking...

Fr. Martin: You know what? And you know what's great about that, what you just said? Who knows, that could have been it. I mean, that's one of the things that comes up in Ignatian contemplation. You focus on Mary, and you say...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: ...for example, in the wedding feast at Cana what is she thinking? And you can get into the story and say what's going on there?

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: And yeah, who knows? But yeah, He's a joyful person, and I think if we miss the joy in Christianity, we are missing the point.

[music: “The Best Paper Airplane Ever” by Lullatone]

Ms. Tippett: You can listen again and share this conversation with Fr. James Martin through our website, onbeing.org.
 
I’m Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.

 

[music: “The Best Paper Airplane Ever” by Lullatone]

Ms. Tippett: I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today, for the Christmas season, with beloved Jesuit writer and teacher, Fr. James Martin. He follows the call of the founder of the Jesuit order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to “find God in all things.” He brings the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius to diverse modern people — and offers spiritual wisdom in diverse 21st Century places.

Ms. Tippett: And, you happen to be the Chaplain of the Colbert Nation, according to Stephen Colbert himself.

Fr. Martin: Yes, well, until the show ends, you know.

Ms. Tippett: Well, no, but, I mean, here's the question I wanted to ask you — I know everybody will be wondering about, if you'll preside over his installation at the Late Show.

Fr. Martin: I always say if he invites me, I will come.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]

Fr. Martin: I am free enough. Plus, funny enough, it's like two blocks away from my Jesuit community, so. [laughs].

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]. I do pay attention to language and how a lot of the words that we most need get a little bit messed up in the way they get used. I feel like the way you're talking about joy, and laughter, and humor, it's not exactly what — the way we use the word happiness. I mean, I just...

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: ...seems to me it's kind of like the difference between hope and optimism.

Fr. Martin: Yeah. I mean, I think that joy is different than happiness. Joy is happiness in God. Joy has an object. Joy is about a relationship. Happiness can be very evanescent, can come one day and leave the next. But joy is a lot deeper than that. And you know, I'll tell you something. I had a friend of mine who just died a few days ago. Just this incredible Jesuit. His name is T.J. Martinez.

And he died of stomach cancer at age 44. And, he even towards the end was joyful. And I mean that in the most sort of the fullest way. It wasn't fake. It wasn't insincere. But he was joyful. You know, towards the end of his life, he sent me a message through a friend, saying, the last six years of my life, he'd worked in a school for poor children in Houston, called the Cristo Rey school that he founded. Said the last six years of my life have been my best assignment ever. And he said, my next assignment will be even better. You know, he would send me these texts that were joyful and so, why is that? Was T.J. happy about having cancer? No. Not at all. But he was in a relationship with God, and he had this trust and he had this experience of joy. And so that's the difference, I think.

Ms. Tippett: This theme of humor as a virtue, and humor as a kind of mark of God, also is something that's run through my life of conversation, and I think it's just most profoundly embodied in Desmond Tutu.

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: Who first of all just again embodies it. He just...

Fr. Martin: Yeah you know, we're drawn to people like that. And the people who are most in touch with God are those who are joyful, and vice versa.

I was walking up Madison Avenue the other day. I live in New York. And I was — sometimes you overhear these snatches of conversation. And these two guys, these two young executives, were talking and, [laughs] the one said, yeah, I've got to meet my girlfriend's mother this weekend. She's really religious.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] And I thought, that doesn't sound like a compliment.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: Versus, like, you know, Pope Francis, or Desmond Tutu, or the Dalai Lama, I mean, they're religious, but it's not like you're terrified to meet them. And, I think, a fundamental misunderstanding of how we view God, and for the Christians, how we view Jesus. Because we have viewed Jesus as the man of sorrows, primarily.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Fr. Martin: You know, and you go into a Catholic church, you know, under the...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: ...my denomination...

Ms. Tippett: All those depressing [laughs]...

Fr. Martin: Well, you see...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: ...Jesus on a cross, which is very important, I always tell people, but that is a part of his life. You know, most of his life was, needless to say, not on the cross, and not about suffering. And so he's the man of joys, too. And you see statues of the saints, and they all look ticked off.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: You know, they all look like they're mad about something. Or they smelled a piece of bad cheese.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: And what that does is it subtly influences how we see holiness in our own lives. Because of Jesus, and the saints were morose and dull, and overly pious. And as Pope Francis said, look like they went around sucking on a lemon. Then we're like that, too. And, as a result, we think that when people are joyful and happy, they're somehow not religious or they're not serious.

Ms. Tippett: Right. Right.

Fr. Martin: And, I did this book on joy, and humor, and laughter, I was stunned to find the number of books on humor, and laughter, and the Christian tradition are maybe fill like half a shelf, because it's not seen as important. Now, you go to the Christian section of your library, and look up suffering. Well, there you go. And you can read from now until kingdom comes.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. I know, but also that there's a difference between — I think — there's just a lot of — religious jokes, I think, don't tend to be very funny, but that's not the same...

Fr. Martin: Oh...

Ms. Tippett: ...as humor.

Fr. Martin: Oh, really? [laughs].

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]Do you know what I mean?

Fr. Martin: I don't know, I know some pretty great religious jokes.

Ms. Tippett: Oh do you? Well, another time. [laughs].

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] Another time.

Ms. Tippett: Let's see if we have time at the end of this interview. You can tell some.

Fr. Martin: Sure. Yeah, sure.

Ms. Tippett: This does touch on something I wanted to ask you about. Something you've said that the way you think about friendships can help you think about and deepen your relationship with God.

Fr. Martin: Absolutely. And, it's usually the most clarifying way for people to start to think about a relationship with God. And the idea is that a friendship is an analog, with a relationship with God. So, for example,what makes a good friendship? What is required? Well, time, for example. You know, you would scarcely say, I'm good friends with this person and never spend any time one-on-one with him or her.

Well, what about your relationship with God? Do you spend one-on-one time with God? Is there time? How about honesty? You know what happens if you're not honest in a friendship. Well, it starts to grow cold or formal or very distant. Same with God. If we're not honest in prayer about what we feel about our struggles, our anger, our sorrows, our relationship gets very cold and distant. How about listening? If you had a friend that all you did was talk at, that wouldn't be a very deep friendship. Can you listen to God's voice in your daily life and in your prayer?

So,this is an insight from Father William Barry, who's a Jesuit in New England. And it's been very helpful for me. And it really helps people, because it really gets their spiritual life kind of back on track. Can you relate to God in a similar way that you relate to a friend? You know, time, honesty, openness, silence. Are you comfortable with silence? Does your friend have to call you...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, and I think...

Fr. Martin: ...every day and say I like you?

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] Right. Right. Or also companionable silence. Right? Just this...

Fr. Martin: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: ...just the being able to — the people you're closest to, you don't have to be talking all the time, or have them talking to you.

Fr. Martin: Yeah. I always use the example of, if you're quiet with God in prayer, this is sort of the, I wouldn't say the opposite of Ignatian contemplation centering prayer, which is just — centering prayer is just being in the presence of God, simply put. Can you imagine that, like, taking a long walk on a beach with a friend and saying nothing? I mean, is that any less of a relationship or relating than if you're talking over a dinner? No, it's just a different way of relating.

There's no right way to pray or a wrong way to pray. That's another great insight of Ignatian spirituality. Whatever helps you feel closest to God is great.

Ms. Tippett: You know, you write in a very winsome way about being monastic and being a modern person, and also not in a tell-all way, but I think you are revealing, and you're writing to a broad audience. So, it's taken by a place in one of your writing where you say that when you were becoming a Jesuit, you said you're not monastic, right? Is that right? Am I getting that...

Fr. Martin: Well, I'm not a monk.

Ms. Tippett: You're not a monk. But it is a monastic order. Right?

Fr. Martin: Well, no, no, not really. Um...

Ms. Tippett: Or is it technically not?

Fr. Martin: So there are monastic orders, which would be, you know, cloister and living in monasteries.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: But we're more — religious order is kind of the broader term.

Ms. Tippett: OK. OK.

Fr. Martin: Yep.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, so, sorry. I'm sorry. I've been getting that wrong.

Fr. Martin: That's OK.

Ms. Tippett: But it is...

Fr. Martin: That's OK. I didn't know that before I entered the Jesuits.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I guess I was conflating religious orders and monastic orders.

Fr. Martin: Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: Um...

Fr. Martin: That's OK.

Ms. Tippett: ...but anyway, so that when you were becoming a Jesuit, someone said to me, one of your teachers or mentors said, you will fall in love, right? You're taking...

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: ...you're taking this vow of celibacy, but you will fall in love. And you said you did fall in love. [laughs]. And I think that that's, I think that's important for people to hear, to humanize this way of life that you've chosen. And that many other people of great integrity have chosen across time.

Fr. Martin: Yeah, I also think it's important for people to hear. I think, when you enter the religious order, you don't check your sexuality at the door. You fall in love. And my novice director said, and if people don't fall in love with you, something's wrong. You know, because you're living a loving life, and we're human beings. And, actually, I was horrified. I thought oh, my gosh, what if I fall in love — not that love is a bad thing, but, this would be terrible, and I did. I fell in love in a very deep way. And I had to make a decision. My spiritual director at the time, which was really helpful and human and real, and I've had this experience with people coming to me, said to me, OK, you fell in love, and it's beautiful, and someone fell in love with you.

And that's beautiful, too. And now you have to make a choice. Do you continue with this way of life, right, which is about chastity, and loving people freely and deeply, but not exclusively, that's how we say it. You know, not just one person. Or do you choose to leave? And continue this relationship with this person? So I chose to stay. After looking back on my life and seeing how happy I was as someone who was living chastity. So, I thought it was really important to put that in the book, because it's true, first of all. It was an experience of discernment. But it's also, as you say, kind of dispels these notions that people don't fall in love. I mean, and it happens to married people.

Ms. Tippett: Right. Right.

Fr. Martin: To people who are already in a committed relationship. And it's kind of the same thing. It's OK, now what do you do?

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: You know, now you're given a choice. What do you do? At was a gift to me in the end. I mean, it was very turbulent, obviously. But it was a gift to me, because it was beautiful to fall in love, and have someone fall in love with you. But it was also a gift of discernment, and it also helps me understand people.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: You know. As does, by the way, on a more practical level, just having worked, made it much more, kind of, simple level. I mean, just being out in the world, and earning a paycheck. So, I tend to think that it's better for priests and religious people and religious orders to have those experiences before they enter so that when someone says my boss is a jerk, you don't just say, oh, well, you must pray for him or her.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] Right.

Fr. Martin: Or offer it up.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Fr. Martin: You know.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Fr. Martin: You can [laughs] you know what that means.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: Or you know, I'm struggling with my paycheck. Or I'm worried about losing my job. Or I've fallen in love, or I've fallen out of love. Or, you know, I'm having an affair. You know, Jesus became human, right? Jesus participates in humanity, and so we're called to participate in humanity. And I always say to people, there's a reason Jesus didn't come down as a book. I mean, he came down as a person. He incarnates himself. And so, we're called to kind of identify and participate in people's lives like that.

[music: “Head's Contents” by Butcher The Bar]

Ms. Tippett: I'm Krista Tippett and this is On Being. Today with Jesuit writer and spiritual teacher, Fr. James Martin.

Ms. Tippett: So you're very active on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram as well? Is that right?

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: And, so I just would love to hear how you think about St. Ignatius of Loyola's call to find God in all things, and how that works for you in social media. In these 21st century places.

Fr. Martin: Well...

Ms. Tippett: Where we congregate.

Fr. Martin: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that Pope Paul VI said to the Jesuits I think was that you are to be found on the boundaries all the time. On the margins. And Pope Francis said that to us. And so we're called to be on the boundaries, and this is where people are. And so I have this public Facebook page, and Twitter account, and Instagram, which I'm new to. This is where people are.

Ms. Tippett: Well, I think...

Fr. Martin: So if you want to...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, one in six people on the globe now is on Facebook, I heard recently.

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs]

Ms. Tippett: So it's not even margins anymore. [laughs]

Fr. Martin: Well, that's true, too. That's a good point.

Ms. Tippett: We're on the margins here in public radio. OK, let's be clear.

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] That's funny. Well, at least Instagram is on the margins.

Ms. Tippett: OK. Instagram's on the margins.

Fr. Martin: But, no, that's where people are. And I actually see it as kind of a ministry. I really do.You know, I work at America Magazine, which is a media ministry of the Jesuits. And so we're kind of a clearinghouse for things. So, I try to mix it up in terms of evening meditations, and prayers, videos, you know, not my own, but other people's, articles, and to just show people the riches of the faith, and to help them a little bit. And, you know, the number of messages I get from people about their gratitude for being able to find something on my page is really beautiful.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Fr. Martin: And I love it. I really enjoy it. And by the way, it doesn't take a whole lot of time. Just maybe half an hour to an hour a day. I mean, a lot of it is kind of cleaning up the comments, which are kind of crazy. But it's great. And then every morning I tweet out a 140-character homily for people.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Fr. Martin:Just for the heck of it. And I always say to people, well, I won't say who — this person came up to me after mass and said, I don't think it's really appropriate that you are tweeting, and you’re kind of denigrating the gospel. And I looked up all the Beatitudes. You know, blessed are the poor. They're all under 140 characters.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs] And I tweeted them out one day just to kind of, show people that you could say things with substance in less than 140 characters.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: Yeah. Jesus did, and so why shouldn't we? But really, the point is, that's where people are. And so why not go where they are?

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. So, we're talking around Christmastime, and I'm actually not a big Christmas person, mostly because I just...

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: ...have been so discouraged by what's happened to it.

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: What we've done to it.

Fr. Martin: Well, that makes two of us.

Ms. Tippett: And — it's not even — I mean, the commercial thing is part of it, and the compulsory gifts, and all that. But it's also, even in churches, the story itself, doesn't have its fullness. I just wanted to ask you...

Fr. Martin: Well, I do — I think it's been tamed.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: It's not only been commodified and commercialized, it's been tamed.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: It's a nice, pretty story about two nice, good looking people, usually white...

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: ...you know, had a pretty baby in a manger. But in a sense, it's a terrifying story. In terms of what they had to undergo. And it's also, I have to say, it is a shocking story. It's not just a baby. It is God being born in human form. And it's just as shocking as the resurrection. And I think we've tamed it. And in a sense it doesn't demand our belief. We can just kind of look on it, and say, well, that's cute.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm.

Fr. Martin: But if you say to people do you believe that that is God incarnate in that stable. What does that mean for you, that God comes to us as the most helpless being that you could imagine? You know, sort of crying, and wetting his pants, and needing to be nursed. What does that say to us about who God is for us, and how God is for us, and how much God loved us to do that. And that, I think is an entirely different story than, you know, the — the kind of Christmas-cardy stuff that we see.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Fr. Martin: So, we set it aside. And I actually have to say, I am like ready getting to the point — I'm starting to loathe the Christmas season.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah.

Fr. Martin: The commercialism makes me — I saw Chris Rock recently on Saturday Night. He was talking about Jesus's birthday season. And he says, you know what? We have taken the person who's the least commercial person who's ever lived, and turned his birthday into — and he said not just his birthday, but there's a whole season around it.

Fr. Martin: It's what we do with Jesus and the saints.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, all of these characters are like Thomas Merton, who we talked about at the beginning. What was that? What was the phrase you used about him? A wonderfully complicated — full of wonderful contradictions.

Fr. Martin: Mm-hmm.

Ms. Tippett: But fully human. Messily human.

Fr. Martin: As Merton said, for me to be a saint means to be myself.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Fr. Martin: And I remember in the novitiate, there was a young novice who would get up in the morning at 6:30 and pray all the time. And I thought well, gee, to be holy, I guess I have to do that. So I'd get up and I'd pray, and I was falling asleep all the time. And then there was another novice who was super quiet, so I thought oh I have to be really quiet, and diffident. And, sort of soft spoken. And my spiritual director said to me, what's wrong with you? You're so quiet. I said, well, so-and-so's quiet. And he's really holy. And he said, you know, in order to become holy, you don't become someone else. You just become yourself.

Ms. Tippett: Mm.

Fr. Martin: So, there's a sense that we forget that the saints were themselves, too. And Jesus was himself. We tame them. Take all the rough edges off of them. And we put them on a pedestal. And then they make no claim on us because we say, well, we can't possibly be like that. We can't be perfect like they were without any rough edges. So therefore, I don't have to be a saint. I don't have to try. And that's what happens. And that's how we let ourselves off the hook from holiness, from the call to holiness.

[music: “The Lion” by CTB]

Ms. Tippett: Fr. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America Magazine. His new book is Jesus: A Pilgrimage He’s also the author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, and Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life.

Ms. Tippett: Do you have any jokes about Dominicans, Benedictines...

Fr. Martin: Oh, my gosh, are you kidding?

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]

Fr. Martin: I've got like 100 of them. Um...

Ms. Tippett: OK, so you said some of them were good, so tell us one that we would universally...

Fr. Martin: Well, yeah, I wouldn't tell you my bad ones. I'm not going to tell you the bad ones. A guy is trying to find some help with a problem he has. So he knocks on the door of a Dominican church, and he says, do you say the rosary here? And the Dominican says, yeah, he says, you know, we're Dominicans. And he says, if I give you a little donation, will you say a rosary for an intention I have? And the Dominican says, what's your intention? And he says, I want a Lexus. And the Dominican says, I don't know what that is. And the guy says, well, forget it. I'll go to a Franciscan church.

So he goes to a Franciscan church, knocks on the door, guy opens up in his brown habit. He says, will you say a rosary if I give you a donation? And if I tell you my intention? And the Franciscan says, sure. I'm happy to do that. What's your intention? And he says, I want a Lexus. And the Franciscan says, um, what is that? And he says forget that. So he says, I'll go to Jesuits.

So he knocks on the door, guy opens up, and he says, are you a Jesuit? Yep. He says, listen before I go any further, I need to ask you something. He says, do you know what a Lexus is? He goes, do I know what a Lexus is. He says, you know, half my parishioners drive Lexuses. Or Lexi.

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs]

Fr. Martin: And he says, will you say a rosary for my intention if I give you a little donation? And the Jesuit says, yeah, what's a rosary?

Ms. Tippett: ...[laughs] Right.

Fr. Martin: ...[laughs]

Ms. Tippett: OK that's...

Fr. Martin: I literally have about 50 of those jokes, so.

Ms. Tippett: All right, well, I'm glad I asked. [laughs]

[music: “L'Espionnage Pomme de Terre” by Tuatara]

Ms. Tippett: Hear Jim Martin tell another joke and read a beautiful prayer by Thomas Merton in my unedited interview with him. That’s always part of our weekly podcast. Subscribe on iTunes. Download it on our website. You can even stream On Being through our iPhone and Android apps. Discover all the ways to listen and share at onbeing.org.

 

[music: “L'Espionnage Pomme de Terre” by Tuatara]

Ms. Tippett: This week, you’ll also find an essay I wrote that’s kind of my version of Fr. Martin’s notion of “untaming Christmas.” It’s called “Why I Don’t Do Christmas.” Again, find that at onbeing.org.
 
On Being is Trent Gilliss, Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Chris Jones, David Schimke, and Bekah Johnson.

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is a Jesuit priest and editor-at-large of America magazine. His books include Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, My Life with the Saints, and, most recently, Seven Last Words.

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