Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. Is Not Jesus And Neither Am I

Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. has a wonderful piece over at the Jesuit Post today on the 5 Best Pieces of Jesuit Wisdom He’s Ever Heard.

My favorite of the 5 pieces has been one that has been spoken to me by my famed Jesuit spiritual directors, Jim Mcdermott, SJ, Rocco Danzi, SJ, and Br. Chris Derby, SJ in some form. It sounds simple but for those of us who truly try to achieve much, and of whom much is asked, we may indeed suffer from a messiah complex. Fr. Jim reminds us that we are indeed not the messiah.

“You’re not Jesus.” After philosophy studies, I worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Nairobi, Kenya. It was fantastic work. (Needless to say, I had gotten over my worries about working in the developing world: I asked to go!) But gradually I started to fret about doing all that needed to be done. Our work was helping East African refugees start small businesses, which meant: meeting with them on a regular basis; checking on their businesses (tailoring shops, bakeries, restaurants, chicken farms); helping them navigate their way through government agencies; arranging for them to get medical help when they were sick; and just listening to them. How could I do it all?

After a few months, I confessed to my spiritual director, George Drury, a New England Jesuit stationed in Nairobi, how overwhelmed I felt. “Where did you get the idea that you had to do everything all at once?” he said.

What a dumb question, I thought. Well, I said, that’s what Jesus would do. He would visit them. He would check on their businesses. He would fix their problems. He would help to heal them. He would listen to them. And George said, “That’s true. But I’ve got news for you: you’re not Jesus! No one person can do everything. And even Jesus didn’t heal everyone in Palestine.” Accepting my limitations and my “poverty of spirit,” that is, my own limitations, helped me to do my best and leave the rest up to God.

Later on another spiritual director put it more succinctly: “There is Good news and there is the Better News. The Good News is that there is a Messiah. The Better News is that it’s not you!”

And it’s not me either. I’ve spent the last few days feeling blue that I had to cancel a retreat scheduled for this weekend because there just wasn’t enough interest. One of my colleagues reminded me that on our very secular campus providing a rich spiritual experience might just be a bit too advanced for our students–especially when we offer more than one in a given year. Perhaps smaller steps are called for? The term retreat often connotes “advanced” for many. Our student leaders don’t even think that it’s for them. One even said “I’d rather do habitat than sit around talking with others all weekend,” clearly not understanding the purpose of the retreat or even just being too afraid to be a bit vulnerable with others, preferring “doing over being” and never letting things get too deep with others and just keeping it superficial. It’s Christian Smith’s “Moral Therapeutic Deism”–essentially, a spiritual motto of “Just be nice because that’s all God requires” and not much else. It’s why alternative breaks get sold out quickly and the deeper more spiritual elements take a lot more effort.

Or not…

As a spiritual director I need to pay attention to the fact that these students need great care to open up to these deeper experiences. That I need to be patient with that.

Our students often don’t have the experiences that we have and nor do many even trust us enough to give them more than a free dinner. We are not even close to being trusted sources for many of the students. And I don’t know about you but I’m not going to go away with a bunch of people that I don’t trust. So why should they? More time, more time, much more time is needed to be spent with these students in settings that allow us to talk with them and to deepen their experience of college. Then and only then, will they be able to trust us enough to head away for a day or so on a deepening experience.

I often think that I have to do it all. And the truth is that I can’t. Doesn’t that just suck? God has to work on these people, to open them to the experience of His love and to use us in Campus Ministry where we can be most effective. But people’s conversion to being open depends on them and their openness to what Jesus offers them. I can’t change that and it happens on God’s time, not mine.

I’ve been thinking about the students that I have taken on retreat and sure enough, they’ve been the students who have gotten to trust me through break trips, casual conversation, experiences in classes, or even Sunday mass (imagine that!).

So today I will shake the dust from my feet and head out to gather the medical students for a lunchtime lecture. The few students who were interested in our retreat will get a doodle for a day of reflection down the road. And we’ll start trying to build up the trust factor a bit more. Perhaps by semester’s end next year, we’ll be able to pull off a retreat.

Until then, I’ll let Jesus continue to work on both them and me.

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  1. Mike, thank you for this post, especially the comment: “As a spiritual director I need to pay attention to the fact that these students need great care to open up to these deeper experiences. That I need to be patient with that.” I have recently been in the reverse situation. I’ve struggled to open up, be transparent and vulnerable with someone who’s like a spiritual director, to share in a deeper spiritual experience. What I’ve learned is I have to take great care with myself, that I need to be patient with myself, that I need to examine my expectations and motivations if I’m getting frustrated with my “lack of growth” and “feeling stuck/stagnant.” Often, it means I need to pause, be still, and take a step back. Not push forward and force “more” — sometimes the deeper experience comes by letting go and gently pulling apart the brick wall, not going after it with a hammer or a bulldozer.


    1. EXACTLY! We need to be comfortable in order to share more of ourselves with a trusted source. A priest-friend here in Buffalo was saying that whenever he hears a confession he thanks people for trusting him with that information. Amazing.

      The key for the directee to realize eventually is that being open to God, not to me, is the important part. God already knows what’s going on and is the ultimate trusted source. So there is no need to withhold. Often withholding means that we’re avoiding something. That there’s something we don’t want to admit to ourselves or that we’re afraid to tell God something deep and maybe dark about ourselves. We’re either ashamed, embarrassed or afraid of something. To get to the deeper relationship, we need to be open enough to go deeper. That doesn’t happen overnight.


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