On My Bookshelf: In Good Company

in good companyI mentioned yesterday that our parish library found itself with an extra copy of James Martin’s first memoir, In Good Company: The Fast Track from the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. I see there’s a tenth anniversary edition now–that wasn’t the one I read.

The original was published in 2000, but the book was written many years earlier, when the author was convalescing from a serious illness while serving in the Jesuit Refugee Service in Africa. I’ve read a few other James Martin books, and this volume contains a familiar style. But it’s not quite as fleshed out or mature.

The author shares many of his vulnerabilities. What also comes through strongly is his confessed lack of maturity. These are reasons why this book is so appealing. We can appreciate Jim Martin as a friend because he gives us a lot. Like his early hero,  Thomas Merton, he lets us in. And like Merton, he reserves entry into his most intimate spaces. We get a measure of some of the author’s fears. Not too much about sex.

I found myself in spiritual alignment as the author described his struggle with self-acceptance. That’s been a theme of my online retreat this week, and this book was a serendipitous discovery.

I also enjoyed the recounting of his Long Retreat at the Jesuit center just outside of Gloucester, Massachusetts. “I was there,” I thought, “Just a year before he was. I know that spot. I know that chapel. I know that walk.”

One striking point of harmony involved his experiences with ministries he would rather have avoided. When I was his age, I was also nervous about visiting the sick and hospitalized. I resisted my pastor’s suggestion–I didn’t benefit from the situation of being an obedient novice. I also recalled my initial resistance to doing chaplaincy work in a youth psychiatric hospital. That one I had to steel myself to do. But I found the reasons for many things when I did it. And as the book continues, one sees the author growing, learning, and gaining perspective.

I would recommend this book without hesitation to any young person considering a religious vocation. It’s honest, well-written, and would serve to calm many of the biggest fears that young adults have. I had originally planned to grab the book to give to a person I know. So it’s not staying on my shelf for very long. But it’s worth at least a brief stay on yours.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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