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Poverty And Chastity For Every Occasion

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 people really want to live like a Jesuit? With a vow to adhere to poverty, obedience and, well, chastity?

Well, maybe just a little.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and associate editor of America, the Jesuit magazine, has written a new book for those interested in borrowing from Jesuit tenets to live simpler lives. It's called The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.


Taking a vow of poverty is entirely different from starving, and Martin begins a section about the vow of poverty with a story about a splendid dinner in a Jesuit house.

"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," Martin says. "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.' "

Though Jesuit priests live a simple lifestyle, which includes communal sharing of possessions and living on a tight budget, Martin says poverty has more to do with simplicity than starvation.

"We're not supposed to be, as I say in the book, twig-eating, cave-dwelling hermits," he says. "It's a sensible simplicity ... I think living simply means freeing yourself up from things you don't need and ultimately, that leads to happiness."


Chastity is another central tenet of the Jesuit lifestyle, and Martin explains its benefits in his book.

"Chastity is not for everyone and most people tend to define it negatively," he says. "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 for sex."

But celibacy has taken a hit in recent years, as reports of priests sexually assaulting children came out. Martin says he doesn't see a connection between the two.

"I would say that that's more related to people who are psychologically unhealthy and also, bishops who have moved priests around — that's not directly related to chastity," Martin says. "I don't think — celibacy and chastity do not cause pedophilia. No more than — most sexual abuse goes on in families, no more than marriage causes sexual abuse."


In addition to chastity and poverty, Martin's book also addresses ways to deal with human suffering.

"In confronting suffering, I think everyone has to come to a meaning for themselves," Martin says. "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 believed traditions give us."

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