One of my favourite spiritual autobiographies is the story American Jesuit James Martin tells of his journey from the world of corporate finance to Jesuit novice. Fast-paced, funny and not at all pious, Martin describes the process by which God led him to discover what he really desired. He describes how with a degree in finance from the University of Pennsylvania Warton School of Business he went to work for General Electric, eager to enjoy the high salary, the Manhattan apartment and the prestige that went with it.
But after a few years the gloss had worn off. Dubious accounting practices, constant overtime, uncaring redundancies, top executives who seemed less than human, led to Martin beginning to hate his job, and his life. The physical symptoms of stress just confirmed this. Seeking peace he began to attend the Saturday evening Mass at nearby St. Patrick’s Cathedral. God the fisherman was beginning to reel in his line.
The events of one week summed it all up. A long-serving employee was scheduled for redundancy. Martin protested to his manager, ‘Have some compassion!’ His answer was short: ‘xxxx compassion!’. The gospel reading the next Sunday was the story of the rich young man. Then, coming home late from work, too tired even to eat, Martin turned on the television. It was a programme about Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk. Martin could not get this story out of his mind. Maybe he could be a priest, or a monk, or…something. But that was too weird and embarrassing to think about, so for the next two years Martin tried to forget all about it.
The stress of his job combined with the stress of ignoring his growing sense of vocation finally led James Martin to a psychiatrist:
‘What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?’
‘That’s easy. I’d be a priest’.
‘Then why don’t you?’
Suddenly it all made sense. Martin realised that this was what he really wanted to do, more than anything else. The application procedure included writing an autobiography, getting seven references, psychological and personality tests, and seven interviews, including questions that Diocese of Lichfield candidates are never asked! The final testing time came when Martin realised he would have to hand in his notice before he received confirmation from the Jesuits that he had been accepted.
The book ends with James Martin sitting in the chapel after making his first vows, reflecting on God’s plan and path for him, grateful that he had dared to follow his deepest desires.
In the Introduction to the 10th Anniversary Edition James Martin writes, ‘I hope that [this book] helps you…to discover your own path in life, to find God in all things, and to learn that you, too, are called to something special in life, to a unique vocation that God has fashioned for you before you were born.’
*James Martin, ‘In Good Company: The fast track from the corporate world to poverty, chastity, and obedience’ Sheed & Ward 2000