The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life

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Article Reviews
The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life By James Martin, S.J. (HarperOne, 2010)

“Who is St. Ignatius Loyola, what is a Jesuit, and why should you care?” Concise, factual answers to the first two questions can be readily found in James Martin’s book, but it’s his consideration of the third that provides the heft for this guide to all things Jesuit.

Ignatian spirituality always has been intended not just for Jesuits but for the widest possible audience, writes Martin, a Jesuit priest, bestselling author, and culture editor of America magazine.

Drawing upon the wisdom of Jesuit saints, contemporary Jesuits such as Pedro Arrupe and Anthony de Mello, and his own community members and spiritual directors, Martin shows how Ignatian spirituality sheds light on everything from friendship to living simply to sexuality.

The wisdom of St. Ignatius can be especially helpful in making important life decisions about things like relationships and careers. Martin provides a spiritual backdrop and practical strategies for faith-filled decision-making. Good discernment includes identifying one’s deepest desires, he explains, but also should factor in the reality of one’s situation: talents, needs, interests, and circumstances. The latter should be seen as God’s fingerprints just as much as the former, Martin says.

Prayerful imagination plays an important role in Ignatian methods of discernment, and Martin shows a variety of ways to incorporate it into one’s decision-making. For example, St. Ignatius suggests imagining a person whom you do not know, then imagining what advice you would give this person regarding the same decision you are facing.

Readers interested in trying out Ignatian traditions of prayer will enjoy Martin’s step-by-step explanations, particularly his walk-through of the examen, a simple, five-step prayer that is usually prayed in the evening as a way to review one’s day.
Martin’s personal stories of great insights from his many mentors could be a bit hard to relate to for a layperson without the resources for all that spiritual direction. Still, he is an engaging writer and successfully shares the wisdom of Jesuits past and present with many accessible stories and a healthy dose of good cheer.         

This article appeared in the June 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 6, page 43).