Just what Catholics — and the world — need: Real-life advice for (almost) everything

June 14, 2010

Bobz Book Reviews

Jesuit Guide cover

Are you curious about the Catholic faith?

Or are you a Catholic curious about a book with an intriguing-if-boastful title?

You both will love Father Jim Martin’s “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.”

First the curious: Read this 400-page HarperOne book from cover to cover and , well, if there was a test to get become a Catholic, you’d learn enough to pass, maybe even get a gold star!

And you faithful Catholic? This book is a powerbar that will build the intellectual muscle of your faith, fill in the gaps from the times you weren’t paying attention in religion or CCD class, remind you of  details about your faith you may have forgotten and fuel the love you have for being part of a vital, stimulating, tradition-laden church.

More than just empty calories

For a while after buying Father Jim’s book I would open it at random pages and browse, snack on parts of chapters and nibble at the dozens of boxed anecdotes and sidebars.

Distracted by real life, I’d return — like the snack-food junkie that I am — when I needed a burst of hope and enthusiasm for the my own spiritual life. Father Jim would hit the spot with his obvious love of his priesthood, his storytelling approach to explain complex theological nuances and his wonderful use of an incredibly diverse variety of sources.

Eventually the tasters weren’t enough, and I went back to read this excellent book from the beginning.

No matter where you are on your spiritual journey — and maybe especially if you don’t know what spirituality is and doubt you’re on that kind of journey — “The Jesuit Guide” will fill you up and satisfy.

Not just for Jesuits

Being the member of the Society of Jesus that he is, Father Martin’s base ingredient is St. Ignatius Loyola and the “way of proceeding” that that 16th-century Spaniard taught his followers. As Father Jim writes, it has “led people to more fulfilling lives for over 450 years.”

It’s not just for priests and brothers. The gift that Father Jim offers are ways that you and I can make use of Jesuit tools to live happier, holier and more satisfying lives. They’ll help you answer questions like the following that appear early in the book:

  • How do I know what I’m supposed to do in life?
  • How do I know who I’m supposed to be?
  • How do I make good decisions?
  • How can I life a simple life?
  • How can I be a good friend?
  • How can I face suffering?
  • How can I be happy?
  • How can I find God?
  • How do I pray?
  • How do I love?

Of course The Spiritual Exercises play a key role, and the “Examen” portion of the exercises leads the way. Father Martin makes them understandable and usable — and you’ll have such a good time reading about them that you may not notice that you’re learning.

What will you learn? Well, how to see God, for one thing. How, as an adult, to think about and relate to God. About desire and prayer and sex and “downward mobility.” About every other page, too, you’ll read a paragraph that you want to cut out and tape to your mirror so you read it every morning. For example:

“Religion can provide a check to my tendency to think that I am the center of the universe, that I have all the answers, that I know better than anyone about God, and that God speaks most clearly through me.”

There are dozens and dozens of those kind of wise statements from the author, but even better may be the myriad of sources he quotes about almost every topic he touches upon. Any they come from all worlds.

He quotes Henri Nouwen and Peggy Lee.

Quotes come too from C.S. Lewis, W.H. Auden, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and cartoons from the New Yorker magazine. Sprinkled throughout are pertinent anecdotes from the well-known and the unknown.

Easily digestible and good for you!

It’s deep thinking with a light hand on the tiller, great advice that’s not just for remembering but to lead his readers  to examine themselves and their lives and to act, to think and to change if need be. It’s all well and good to learn how to find God, how to see God’s hand in our lives and how to pray well, he points out, but eventually you have to do something.

“Prayer should move us to action,” Father Jim writes, “even if it simply makes us want to be more compassionate and faithful. Entering into a relationship with God will change us, will make us more loving, and will move us to act.”

Along the way Father Jim sneaks in stuff about the Jesuit saints, but more importantly he explains what the Catholic Church teaches and why on any number of subjects, including what happens at Mass, different forms of prayer, and Catholic ways of looking at human sexuality, among other things.

“The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” explains in simple language, conversational style and a warmly pastoral personal touch what I wish everyone knew about our church and what it means to be a Catholic. It’s a catechism for real life. Get a copy, read it, and pass it on to someone you love. — bz

About Bob Zyskowski

Bob is the Client Products Manager for the Communications Office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A 42-year veteran of the Catholic Press, he is the former Associate Publisher of The Catholic Spirit. You can follow him on twitter or email him at zyskowskir@archspm.org.

View all posts by Bob Zyskowski
  • a.i.sanchez

    I picked this book up at Barnes and Noble’s a few days ago and I could not put it down. After all, it is one of those books that you can play “page roulette” with. I didn’t buy the book though because I went in for a specific historical book but of course got distracted in the religious section. Although, it is on my short list and may have gotten on the shorter list after reading this review. Thanks