Tag Archives: Fr. James Martin

The joy of love for celibates

Although I have been celibate all my life, I will have to take a solemn promise of celibacy if I am ordained to the diaconate, perhaps next June.

Although this is a bit overwhelming, it is becoming more real and more fulfilling than I could have imagined.

It does have a downside, which Fr. James Martin attributes to Father Paul, the abbot, in his recently released novel The Abbey:

His novice director told him that the biggest challenge of religious life lies in knowing that you’ll never be the most important person in anyone else’s life.

That’s humbling – and a bit fearful since I would like to be considered important in others’ lives.

But it is not so much a question as being loved as loving in response to God’s love.

Today I came across this quotation from G. K. Chesterton’s Saint Francis of Assisi, which refers to the saint’s frolicking in the snow:

A man will not roll in the snow for a stream of tendency by which all things fulfill the law of their being. He will not go without food in the name of something, not: ourselves, that makes for righteousness. He will do things like this, or pretty nearly like this, under quite a different impulse. He will do these things when he is in love.

One of the most delightful scenes in the film The Great Silence is when the Carthusian monks frolic in the snow, laughing all the time.

Celibacy should not make us dour and sad. It should give us life and laughter. For a man or a woman will not – or should not – take a vow or promise of celibacy if she or he is not in love with God.

James Keating’s The Heart of the Diaconate is particularly helpful in considering this:

Celibacy is a way of being human; not a way of avoiding our incarnate state. Anyone who chooses celibacy for reasons other than being captivated by the beauty of God and looking into that beauty as one’s chosen pleasure is setting oneself up for disappointment and sadness

It’s a question of falling in love with the beauty of God.

And though he is referring to married deacons, Keating makes it clear that our love and the love of Christ for us are central to any consideration of celibacy – or, I would say, chastity, whether married or celibate:

Celibacy only makes sense in light of one being deeply affected by the Person of Christ; so affected, in fact, that the man receives from him the fulfillment of all desire. This is why one question for all married men seeking entrance into the permanent diaconate must be: Is Christ enough for you? Do you have or are you going to develop a contemplative prayer life deep enough to satisfy your spiritual-erotic needs for self-transcendence? This is mainly a question about vulnerability before the love of God and one’s own capacity for self-knowledge.

And so I ask myself: Am I open enough, empty enough, vulnerable enough to let myself be loved by God – and make him central to my being?

That’s my question today – as I prepare for being installed as a lector at one of the confirmation Masses this weekend in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, one step on the road to the diaconate.

May God help me love and let myself be loved.

The Jesuit Pope Francis’ Examen on violence

I don’t know what I expected from Pope Francis but his homily at the Peace Vigil in St. Peter’s Square is full of surprises, though it is also very traditional

He starts his homily with a short reflection on the goodness of creation. His first words, from Genesis 1, were “And God saw that it was good.”

…this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the “house of harmony and peace”, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel “at home”, because it is “good”.

Is this the place to start at a homily at a vigil for peace? Not with a strident critique, but a call to vision, a call to return to the beginnings, to the vision of a world of peace.

As I reflect on the homily, I think this reveals the deep Ignatian identity of Pope Francis and, I believe, reflects Examen promoted by St. Ignatius of Loyola. (A good summary is in James Martin’s The Jesuit Guide to [Almost] Everything.)

The first step of the Examen is to ask for God’s grace. In gratitude, we recall the good things that God has done for us during the day.

Pope Francis, after recalling this “house of harmony and peace,” asks:

Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

Only after this does the pope asks us to question whether this is the world we experience:

Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war.”

The second step in the Examen is to ask for the grace to know one’s sins.

Using the Genesis account of Cain and Abel, the pope asks:

We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another!

He then goes on to identify the sin of war and violence and their causes, perhaps reflecting the third step of the Examen: reviewing one’s day.

Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists. We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death!

Pope Francis’s third point is centered on conversion:

“Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?”

The fourth step of the Examen is to ask God’s forgiveness for one’s sinfulness. The fifth is to resolve to change.

In the midst of this final section, Pope Francis makes a plea to put the Cross at the center of our meditation:

My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!

This very much reflects the importance of the Crucified Lord for St. Ignatius.

In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius urges the person making the exercises to look upon the crucified Lord and reflect on three questions: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?

Recalling the remarks of Ignacio Ellacuría, the martyred rector of the Jesuit university in El Salvador, Father Jon Sobrino wrote:

Concluding his meditation on sin, Ignatius Loyola asks us to look at the crucified Christ and ask ourselves what have we done for him, what are we doing for him, and what are we going to do for him. Ignacio Ellacuría, also crucified, asks us to place ourselves before the crucified people and answer the same three questions: What have I done to crucify them? What am I doing to take them down from their cross? What should I do to ensure their resurrection?

Pope Francis is, I believe, also asking us to look upon the crucified, but not merely as a victim of the violence of the world. He is calling on us to look upon the Crucified Lord as providing a way out of the spiral of violence.

Though he does not use these words, I think Pope Francis is asking us to follow the nonviolent crucified Lord.

How very Christian, how very Jesuit, how very Francis – and how very human.


Becoming Saints

Last night I finished re-reading Jesuit Father James Martin’s Becoming Who You are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints. It was a fitting way to begin celebrating All Saints Day.

Father James Martin is a prolific writer with several high profile books who is also an associate editor of America. But I think this little book is one of his best – short, to the point, and a delight to read. I encourage others to read it.

In the book, by stories from the lives of Jesus, saints, and even himself, Fr. Martin opens up for us the meaning of a quote from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation:

 For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is the problem of finding out who I am and discovering my true self.

Being a saint is not mimicking a saint, trying to be a St. Francis or Mother Teresa. Each of us is called to find, in the depths of our true selves, the saint God wants us to be – not someone else, but my own self.

When we don’t recognize this personal call to holiness, we can mistake our weaknesses and failings as signs that we can never be saints. But when we see God’s call to each of us and recognize that all the recognized saints had to face their own weaknesses and failings, we can begin to open ourselves to that call.

 Saints are not just those who have lots of times for prayer. They are those who make of their lives a prayer – the mother who deals with a child with special needs, the worker who confronts a difficult situation at work with prudence, the poor who struggle each day so that their children may eat, the suffering who resiliently endure their pains. They are those who love God and their neighbors and so are perfected by God. If you want to read about some of them look at Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time as well as Blessed Among All Women: Women Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Times.

And so, today, on All Saints Day, let’s remember our call to holiness, looking at the “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us (Hebrews 12:1), even among our family and co-workers.

And let us remember these words of St. Francis de Sales, which Fr. Martin quotes:

 When God the Creator made all things, commanded the plants to bring forth fruit according to its own kind. He has likewise commanded Christians, who arc the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion… in accord with their characters, their stations and their callings…. Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

Let us become the saints we are called to be.