Today The Rev. James Martin — perhaps the most well known Jesuit besides Pope Francis — will give Gonzaga University’s 1,146 graduating seniors advice that’s “short and practical.”
Martin is the editor-at-large of America Magazine and has penned more than 10 books, including “Jesus: A Pilgrimage,” “Seven Last Words” and “The Abbey.”
Before entering the priesthood, Martin attended University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and began a career in corporate finance. He did that at General Electric for six years until a friend asked him, “If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?”
Martin, inspired by a documentary he had seen on Trappist monk Thomas Merton, said, “Be a Jesuit.”
“Why don’t you?,” his friend asked.
“Ya? Why don’t I?”
That was about 20 years ago. That experience taught him a lesson he wants graduates to know.
“The most important question you can ask yourself is: What would you want to do if you could do anything you wanted to?,” he said. “I think it’s important people at least reflect on that, especially when they’re young.”
He said that will help them determine their passion, which will in turn help them discover what they’re good at.
Martin said he understands the desire to find good paying jobs after graduation, but said it can be unfulfilling if that’s the only driving force.
“It can’t just be about the money, eventually that loses its appeal and you’re left with a job you don’t really like, or a life you don’t really like,” he said.
The Rev. Frank Case, vice president for mission at Gonzaga, said most students will be familiar with Martin because his New York Times best seller, “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life.” The book, which is about Ignatian spirituality, is used in many campus reading groups. But students may also know Martin from his appearances on The Colbert Report, where he’s chatted with Stephen Colbert about his books, Mother Teresa and Pope Francis.
Case said Martin’s wit is partly why he’s such a popular speaker.
“He knows how to couch his message with a bit of humor and get the message across very plainly,” he said.
In his book, “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life,” Martin writes about the importance of laughter and illustrates how the Bible is filled with comedy and playfulness.
Martin also has a large and active social media presence with nearly 72,000 Twitter followers, 30,000 Instagram followers and more than 430,000 Facebook likes.
He said he sees social media as a preaching tool.
“It’s a ministry to help spread the Gospel and preach the good news and talk to people about Jesus, the church and Catholic perspective,” he said. “It’s a great way to reach people where they are.”
Martin said social media is the medium of today, just like parables were the medium of Jesus’ time.
Plus, he said, “It’s tons of fun, although it can get dicey sometimes.”
In his magazine columns and on social media he doesn’t shy away from contentious issues, particularly defending LGBT people.
“It’s what the church needs to do more of,” he said. “The few (Catholic) people who speak out specifically about LGBT people do it in very vague and bland ways. We need to let them feel welcome, they are welcome.”
Martin is in the midst of writing his next book, “How to Pray,” which like most of his writings, will include his personal experiences with the topic.
He said he’s looking forward to his first visit to Spokane.
This weekend Gonzaga confer a total of 2,025 undergraduate, graduate and law degrees.
The undergraduate commencement, where Martin will speak, will be Sunday at 9:30 a.m. at Spokane Arena. There he will also receive an honorary degree.
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.