A Jesuit walked onto a college campus…

Finding joy in the pope, the Christmas season, and faith with Rev. James Martin, S.J.

By Rita Buettner  |  Photo by Larry Canner

When Rev. James Martin, S.J., visited Loyola to celebrate the kick-off of the University’s Bright Minds, Bold Hearts campaign, he kept his audience laughing. He also encouraged them to find joy—and realize that humor can be part of faith.

“People who are in touch with God are joyful,” Fr. Martin told a crowded McGuire Hall at Loyola on Saturday, Dec. 7. “We need to get away from this idea that Jesus is always morose and dour and depressed.”

Readers of the Bible may be missing many of the jokes because we are encountering them in a different time and culture, Fr. Martin explained.

“Scripture scholars tell us that some of Jesus’ parables and stories weren’t just clever, but they would have been ha ha funny,” he said. “The idea that a man would build his house on sand? Ha ha funny.  The idea that someone would have a plank in his eye and criticize the speck of dust in someone else’s? Ha ha funny.  We’re missing a lot of Jesus’ humor in these parables and in these stories.”

Loyola magazine spent a few minutes with the Jesuit priest, writer, and humorist to talk about Pope Francis, Loyola, and what’s on a Jesuit’s Christmas list this season.

You’ve visited many Jesuit universities. What makes Loyola different?

I’ve never been to a Jesuit school where there is such enthusiasm and such buy-in for Jesuit values from top to bottom. That really stuck with me.

Christmas is coming. What’s your favorite Christmas song?

“Good King Wenceslaus” by The Roches.

How can people not let cynicism take over Christmas?

First of all by making a conscious effort to pull back a little bit, not buy so many gifts, not send so many cards, not do so much shopping, and carve out time for spiritual practices, whatever it might be. Whether it’s reading scripture or taking time to pray or spending quiet time with a friend. So I think that’s a way to recover it, by making a conscious decision.

What is your favorite Bible verse about joy?

Well, there are the Gospel verses that are about joy. “I came that you might have joy, that your joy might be complete.” But frankly it’s Sarah, who said all will laugh with me because God has brought laughter into my life, which is really very sweet. I tell people that, and they say, “I don’t know that part of the story.” That’s the story of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac, and that’s the start of Judaism and Christianity, so you could say God begins that with a laugh.

What about Pope Francis as a person is attracting all this attention?

He’s authentic, and I think that what really changed people—or what really cemented their affection for him—was not what he said, but what he did. So moving out of the Apostolic Palace into his two-room suite, ditching the limousine for the 1984 Renault car that he drives himself. And people just like him, I think because he gives the impression—and I think he is—that he’s very down to earth. Not to say that other popes were not down to earth, but he does it in a way that’s a lot more appealing to people.

Is Pope Francis what you would have expected of a Jesuit pope in 2013?

The answer is yes: concerned with the poor, not interested in some of the trappings of the office, free. One of the great lines in the Apostolic Exhortation that he did two weeks ago was we can no longer use the excuse we’ve never done it that way before. That’s amazing, and that’s the Jesuit quality that we call being detached or free. So he’s free. But I didn’t think he would make the changes so quickly. It’s only been eight months. It takes a lot of freedom and a lot of self-confidence, too.

How can people bring about change in the Church?

Well, I think the most important way is to live that change yourself. If you want more joy in the Church, to be more joyful yourself. If you want more openness in the Church, to be open yourself, if you want more change in the Church, to be more open to change. I think the idea of living your vocation joyfully also makes sense for changing the Church.

What are your impressions of Loyola’s living learning program, Messina?

The idea that you’d have small groups of students that were facilitated by a dedicated faculty member who can reflect on their experiences, rather than being in a sort of nameless group. Frankly I wish I had had that in college. I also like the themes, that they’re doing that in a very intentional way.

What Messina theme would you like to see?

“What Brings You Joy?” to have them reflect on that. The other thing for college kids is “Who Am I Called to Be?” If they could spend time on that, that could be really beautiful.

Whom do you follow on social media humor-wise?

You’re going to laugh. I follow a Twitter account called @KimKierkegaardashian, which combines Kierkegard with Kim Kardashian. There’s also one called @JustinBuber that blends Justin Bieber with Martin Buber.

Where do you get your inspiration to do all the magis, all the extra?

I have to answer, it’s God. I do all this for Jesus. I feel I get whatever inspiration from God, and when I’m tired, like this morning I had to get up at 6, I literally said in the shower, I’m doing this all for you.

Now that we have a Jesuit pope, what’s left to put on a Jesuit’s Christmas list this year?

I guess a Jesuit president?

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1 Comment

  • Posted by Susan Rohrer | December 16, 2013

    I was there: it was a wonderful, inspiring experience. Thank you, Loyola and Father Martin. I agree with Father Martin about Loyola supporting/living Jesuit ideals. My daughter is a junior, and my son just graduated in May, 2013. Thank you, Loyola for upholding the Jesuit ideals with such passion!

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