SCOTT SIMON, host:
Jesuit priests are widely admired as scholarly, witty - and even being a little debonair. They have sometimes been known as God's soldiers after being founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534. But would most of us really want to live like a Jesuit, with a vow to adhere to poverty, obedience and, well, you know, chastity? Maybe just a little.
Our friend Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, associate editor of "America," the Jesuit magazine, and a very funny and fine man has written a new book, "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life." He joins us from the studios of Carnegie Hall in New York. Father Martin, thanks so much for being with us.
Father JAMES MARTIN (Author, "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life"): My pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: Help us understand a phrase you return to in this book: God in all things.
Father MARTIN: Well, that's a shorthand understanding of Jesuit spirituality. As you say, the Jesuits were founded by St. Ignatius. And his idea was that God was not confined simply to the walls of the church or to just sort of prayer or reading scripture, that God could really be found in all experiences in your life, and that every moment of your life was an invitation to meet God.
And part of what I talk about in this book is how to meet God in different parts of your life - in work, in relationships, in simple living - in all sorts of things.
SIMON: You know, there's a new film out, "Brooklyn's Finest," about cops there in New York. Contains one of my favorite current lines about spirituality, where one of the characters complains in the confessional to the priest. He says, damn it, I don't want God's forgiveness, I want His help. Is it wrong to make a prayer practical? Is it greedy?
Father MARTIN: No, not at all. I mean, I compare a relationship with God to a relationship with a good friend. If you're in need, it's unnatural not to ask someone for help. So, I think petitionary prayer is a noble way of praying. But it can't be the only way that you relate to God because that's kind of, you know, it's sort of a one-way street, basically. But I think it's natural and human.
And you know, Jesus, in the "Our Father," says: Give us this day our daily bread. And that's, you know, you're asking for something. So, I think it's an essential part of prayer.
SIMON: Speaking of daily bread, vow of poverty doesn't mean you have to starve. And you begin a section talking about the vow of poverty by talking about a splendid dinner once in a Jesuit house.
Father MARTIN: Yes, the most famous Jesuit joke about poverty is about the young novice who's brought into a Jesuit community on the Feast of St. Ignatius, which is our big, patronal feast. And he sees the tables laid out and filet mignon on the plate and beautiful flowers. And he says: If this is poverty, bring on chastity.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Father MARTIN: So - and you know, we tell that against ourselves. Our vow of poverty is supposed to be complete. And you know, we dont own things individually. We own things in common. We live on a very simple budget. But you know, we're not supposed to be, as I say in the book, twig-eating, cave-dwelling hermits.
It's a sensible simplicity. And in the book, I talk about the value of living simply, basically. I mean, there's a whole magazine - I think - still about that, and the Jesuits have been doing it for 450 years. So I think living simply means freeing yourself up from things you don't need and ultimately, that leads to happiness.
SIMON: Father Martin, I dont have the nerve to ask you about sex, so I'm going to ask you about...
Father MARTIN: Oh, feel free.
SIMON: Well, I'm going to ask you about chastity.
Father MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Go ahead. Well, the same thing, I guess.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: Well, youve got a section in here where you explain how you believe the vow of chastity makes for a better priest.
Father MARTIN: Well, yeah. Chastity is not for everyone. And I think that most people tend to define it negatively, i.e., chastity means not having sex. But I define it positively, and I say that chastity means loving many people very deeply and very freely. And people feel free with a person who's chaste, really. Because they know that you're not being friends with them or being close to them just for sex.
SIMON: I have to present you with, well, the argument that I think many people feel deeply about particularly, in recent years.
Father MARTIN: Mm-hmm.
SIMON: That priestly celibacy has been harmful, and not just for the priests. It resulted in priests behaving criminally, and how many thousands of priests - we dont really know - sexually assaulting children.
Father MARTIN: Yeah, I mean, I would say that that's more related to people who are psychologically unhealthy and also, you know, bishops who have moved priests around. That's not directly related to chastity. I don't think, you know - celibacy and chastity do not cause pedophilia, no more than, you know, I mean, most sexual abuse goes on within families - no more than marriage causes sexual abuse. So I think there's no real cause-and-effect relationship.
SIMON: Father Martin, I've saved, I think, almost the hardest question in life for last. If there is a God, why do little children suffer?
Father MARTIN: That is the hardest question. And I think the answer is, we dont know. There are no satisfying answers for that. However, for the Christian, there is the person of Christ who has gone through suffering himself, and who understands our suffering. And I think for the person who feels alone, that can be extremely consoling.
But in confronting suffering, I think everyone has to come to a sort of meaning for themselves. So part of the book talks about how to find meaning for yourself through prayer and through meditation and Scripture, and through the perspectives that our belief traditions give us.
But you know - really, Scott, the best answer to that question is, we dont know. And can we believe in a God whose ways that we dont understand? And I think the answer is yes.
SIMON: James Martin of the Society of Jesus, associate editor of "America" magazine, and he has a new book, "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life."
Thanks so much.
Father MARTIN: My pleasure.
SIMON: You can read an excerpt from Father Martin's book at our Web site, NPR.org. Youre listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.