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A Jesuit’s Jesuit Guide

I’ve been reading the new book about Ignatian spirituality called “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.” It’s by James Martin, S.J. Perhaps you’ve come across him or the very effective publicity campaign that’s getting him through media clutter. I’ve heard him on NPR and seen at least two reviews in print. With his exposure, he has to be breathing down the neck of Lady Gaga for total media hits during the past six weeks.

Martin is breaking through the information “meteor belt” for good reason. He writes accessibly, has a sense of humor that doesn’t offend, and sprinkles engaging anecdotes across his pages.

I thought of one of the strengths of the book today while attending the Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel in honor of the feast of St. Ignatius. Martin writes very nicely about how Ignatius’ spirituality doesn’t shy away from human desire. I just completed the yearlong Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. (The Center for Ignatian Spirituality offers that service to any staff and faculty members who experience the desire to make them.) While I’m no scholar of Ignatius, I don’t recall Ignatius spending much time explaining why desire is crucial; instead, the point is that Ignatius uses desire.

We often view desires as surface-oriented only. Martin explains that Ignatius believed our desires reflect who we are and what we want in life, so they’re very closely related to how we see ourselves and what motivates us, gives us hope, enslaves us, and perhaps more.

Martin tells us that to Ignatius, understanding desire is a process — an exercise really — that creates an opportunity for God to speak to us. Martin describes the humorous series of events through which he eventually acknowledged his deepest desire and that was a place where God met him, let’s say with conclusiveness. A door opened for Father Martin. OK, I’ll give a small hint, in the hope that you’ll want to learn more yourself: Anesthesia played a role.

Ignatius provides a way for people to recognize a desire that may not only open a door but change their life. Yet he also provides a way for someone to confront and acknowledge a desire for something they cannot have, even if it is a good thing and right thing. Sometimes the good and right thing cannot be had, or cannot exist. To face that is an exercise of looking at yourself and reality in full light. For Ignatius, it’s a moment of spiritual epiphany, and God is ready to meet people right there, too. When God says, “What do you want?” it isn’t necessarily to give you the perfect birthday present. Ignatius might say it’s God’s way of saying, “Tell me what you want because then you’re telling yourself, and me, who you truly are. And everything begins there.”

I often think about what students at a private university rooted in Jesuit and Marymount traditions can receive that is truly different than other universities. I’ve worked at three universities, and I know that other institutions also have exceptional faculty members who are devoted to students. I’m reaching a conclusion that LMU and universities like it are equipped and ready to provide students with the best academic, social and recreational opportunities that they can. But they’re also ready to offer a supportive environment to a student who wants to look at the reality of the world and reality of who he or she truly is or can be in the world. Those universities have faculty and staff members who can help a student take the steps that follow from there. All students may not take 100 percent of that offer. Perhaps the difference is that not only do LMU and universities like it prepare students for successful lives and careers, they are ready to meet students where they are — when they get there, as Ignatius might say.

(Photo by Kari Baumann)