Twenty years ago this month, commentator James Martin left a job in corporate America for the Society of Jesus, the Catholic religious order better known as the Jesuits. That means 20 years of poverty, obedience and chastity. According to Martin, it's that last vow that most people find hardest to understand.

Mr. JAMES MARTIN (Jesuit Priest): My friends and family all said the exact, same thing, are you out of your mind?

People think that getting a call, as it's known, means hearing voices or seeing visions. But discovering your vocation is as simple as believing that God speaks to you through your desires. That's what happened to me. One night after a lousy day at work, I turned on the TV and stumbled on a documentary about a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton. He seems so happy in the show. Suddenly, I knew that I wanted to be happy like that.

I love being a Jesuit priest. Since entering the novitiate in 1988, I worked with refugees in Nairobi, in a prison in Boston, with Mother Teresa's sisters in Jamaica, and even with street gang members in Chicago.

Now, I know what you're thinking. What about the whole chastity thing? Do those sexual desires ever go away? Well, I'll tell you what one elderly Jesuit said when I asked him that question. He said, oh, yeah. They go away 10 minutes after you're dead.

Chastity means finding ways of loving and being loved that don't include having sex. It also means having lots of friends with whom you can really share your innermost joys and sorrows. That may not work for you, but it does for me.

And some of history's most loving people have been celibate, Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and oh, yeah, Jesus of Nazareth. He was a pretty loving guy. Chastity is one way of loving many people deeply and freely.

Life in a religious order isn't for everybody, but it's not supposed to be. Every one has their own vocation which flows in their desires and talents. Some people feel drawn to be lawyers or doctors or teachers or mothers or fathers. I like to think that these deep desires are God's dreams planted within us. And by following these desires, we fulfill God's dreams for the world. People still ask if I regret leaving the corporate world, and I have an easy answer. Nope. Life in the Jesuit fits me. It's far from perfect, but I couldn't imagine living any other way.

After almost 20 years, I'm happy that God called me. I'm even happier that I answered.

BLOCK: James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of "A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Center Stage With Jesus, Judas, and Life's Big Questions."

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