on 9 December 2010
This very lucid and enjoyable book, which includes several "laugh out loud" moments, is a superb introduction to an approach to life which is at once practical and deeply contemplative. Much has been written about St Ignatius opf Loyola, the Jesuits and their approach to spirituality. However, I doubt there has ever been a clearer and more down-to-earth account, at full book length, than this volume. It quotes many of the other great works on Ignatian sprirutality anyway, so acts as a good gateway to the wider literature. I was already familiar with quite a few elements of Ignatian spirituality; this book filled in a lot of gaps and gave me a far deeper appreciation of all the major aspects. I particularly commend the exposé on "The Examen" - a daily exercise of counting your blessings and identifying where God was active in your life each day - as well as where you turned a blind eye or deaf ear to his presence. I've pasted the summary of the Examen from Fr Martin's book on my bedroom wall and using it has already greatly improved my gratitude for the here and now. I highly recommend this book to anyone remotely interested in what are, without wishing to sound morbid, truly matters of life and death - of a life well lived and well examined, and a death enfolded in hope.
on 9 May 2012
I first became aware of this book when it was featured on some television talk show I had been watching. I must admit at first I was disappointed because I thought it was going to be a much lighter read perhaps even a humorous account of some religious blunders a certain religious order had been found guilty of. On the contrary, I found the book to be very thoughful in nature, deep and philosophical. At first it intrigued me intellectually. Father Martin begins by informing the reader how the Catholic religious order of the Jesuits was founded by a recuperating soldier (Inigo de Loyola) in mid-sixteenth century Spain. Inigo, whose name in Latin is Ignatius, was ordained in 1537 and founded the Society of Jesus, officially approved by Pope Paul III, in 1540. What I personally liked was that although Ignatius "counseled the Jesuits always to carve out time for prayer, they were expected to lead active lives...they were to be active people who adopted a contemplative, or meditative stance to the world. The "contemplative in action", according to St. Ignatius Loyola, "not only contemplates the active world and sees wonderful things but also sees in those wonderful things signs of God's presence and activity. The contemplative in action is deeply aware of God's presence even in the midst of a busy life. It is a stance of awareness. Awareness of God."
The more I read this book the more I liked it. My favorite chapters, for instance, Chapters Twelve "What Should I Do? The Ignatian Way of Making Decisions" and Thirteen "Be Who You Is! Work, Job, Career, Vacation...and Life." were in the second half of the book.
Father Martin has a remarkable ability to reach others through his writing in a most compassionate and understanding way. I truly believe this is a gift he received from God. He left me with much to think about in my own journey. When you find yourself over 50, with advanced education, many years of experience and still not able to find a job after three years of unemployment, you start to wonder what purpose do you have. I realize however I am not alone in this. There are many out there just like me. I do feel, however, that deep prayer and meditation, keeping our faith in God, realizing he has a purpose for each and every one of us is the key. As Father Martin pointed out we all have gifts that come from God and prayer helps us connect with him to find the best ways of using them. I am left therefore feeling truly inspired and uplifed by Father Martin's writing. I strongly recommend this book to both Catholic and non Catholic alike.
on 3 November 2015
(This is the review I added to my site Affirming The Faith - Bookshelf: http://www.affirmingthefaith.com/book/ )
James Martin SJ, The Jesuit Guide To (Almost) Everything, New York, HarperOne (Harper Collins Publishers), 2012.
Ignatian spirituality, it seems to me, is booming; all kinds of Christians follow the Spiritual Exercises, and conferences and courses, aimed at many disparate groups, are everywhere encouraging the use of St. Ignatius’s “way”. This book is surely part of that movement, or rather it has drawn much of its success (which it apparently has had, in the USA) from that surge of interest.
Yes, the book is very useful and practical, and derives much from Fr. Martin’s sharing of his own personal story, how the insights of the Jesuit founder – and many other subsequent Jesuits – led him along the path to full membership of the Society of Jesus.
To me, and perhaps most “ordinary Christians”, the most useful part was that dealing with the Examen, or nightly examination of the blessings and challenges of the day, and our own shortcomings (throughout the book, but particularly pp. 95-100). I would want to find out more about this, though the idea of examination of conscience has long been part of many Christian traditions, particularly, perhaps, in its possible connection with sacramental confession; but the idea of a daily, or rather nightly, spiritual assessment has much appeal.
Something else that I warmed to (which, as readers might expect, derives from Ignatius) is the emphasis placed on desire, which can also be described as a spiritual longing (none other than C. S. Lewis, in his sermon The Weight of Glory, refers to the unfortunate weakness of our desires, longings, and hopes) (Chapter 3, ‘What Do You Want?’).
If anything slightly surprised me it was the virtual equivalence which the author seems to give to the religious experience and spiritualties of Christianity, Judaism and Islam; I fancy this seeming to put the three (or rather, the third) on an equivalent footing with Christianity will discomfort some readers. He is realistic, in my view, about the potential selfishness of much New Ageism (p. 47). I have referred elsewhere to the surprising (to me) emphasis on God loving us, seemingly as we currently are, and accepting us as we presently are. The author’s willingness to express frustration with God’s seeming inaction is shown in a lovely story about his anguished prayer “How about some @#$% help, God!” - to which his spiritual director replied, “That’s a good prayer” (p. 124).
In all, the book seems to me to be unnecessarily long, and later sections verge on the repetitious; the middle chapters would surely be very useful to anyone contemplating admission to the Jesuit order – but most of us are not. A lot of information is included on the contributions of Jesuits, long past and more recent, to history and towards the creation of the societies we live in; there is bound to be something here that will surprise most people (eg. the Jesuit contribution to the development of theatre). I know little of the Society of Jesus, and have known only one Jesuit (I have the awful feeling, however, that for some there is allegedly a darker side to the order’s history, in which ‘Jesuitry’ means deception, but let’s hope I’ve got that wrong; you don’t read of that here, of course.)
One curious, but surely chance thing, is that my copy of the book (a rather solid paperback) has a strong smell (the paper, presumably) … but what, oh what, does it remind me of, just a little … yes, I know, incense …