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Jesuits Telling Jokes: A Serious introduction to Ignatian Spirituality

by Nikolaas Sintobin, S.J.

As Jesuits like us to know, God is with us and cares for us deeply. God even has a sense of humor….who else could feed 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fishes!? I have been honored to interview and review books of many Jesuits. As a college professor I liked their style of making sure people know the purpose of the gathering, class or meeting. This purpose drives what they have to say! In this book, Sintobin, certainly has something to say. He begins each of the 20 chapters with a joke and then deals with them in light of the Gospels.

In the first chapter, Sintobin, gives us a brief history of the Jesuits. He explains that Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits (1492-1556) although often looking icy cold had a self-deprecating sense of humor. Ignatius was averse to black and white thinking and was interested more in questions than answers. This book will tell you a great deal about the Jesuits and their spirituality. Each chapter assists us in understanding the Jesuits a little more deeply and invites us to transform in a way that is helpful for our Church and society. The jokes are good but I want you to buy Sintobin’s book so I’ll leave that until you buy it.

In this next chapter, Sintobin, expands on the issue of black and white thinking. He states: “The Jesuit tradition works against these desires by inviting people to explore the difference and often contradictory or irreconcilable aspects of a problem when searching for a solution. Ignatius asks his companions to consider both sides of an argument.” We all know that we often have to work with people whose thoughts are different than our own so we really need to be gentle in our responses. This gentleness gives us a chance to speak about the argument without losing the friendship of the individual speaking.

Sintobin relays to us in Chapter 3 the importance of trust. Jesuits by and large are encouraged to support others and to give someone another chance. Even when the act seems bad or comes across that way, we don’t know the intentions of the person and so we invite that person to be part of the conversation. We need to take seriously what the person is saying and how their actions play out in the community in which they live. The next section deals with the issue of obedience and the fact that obedience in and of itself gives us freedom. When the Jesuit superior visits a particular community, he asks all who live there to speak openly with the superior and to speak about their own mission. There needs to be trust expressed by the superior and the priest speaking to his superior. This openness leads to a discernment of the person to complete his task or explain why it should be changed. So there is not ‘blind obedience’ but an openness to the will of God. Jesus Christ becomes the true companion of discernment.

Discernment is for ourselves and for those we serve. So being joyful and excited about how we can use our gifts for the service of others is one often thought/felling in speaking with a Jesuit. “The Jesuits’ dealings with people entrusted to us for the purposes of education or guidance only begins to be truly fascinating when we are prepared to put the other person first and show a willingness to learn ourselves.” (p.24) This would certainly imply an emphasis on the personal growth of the person and an adherence to the will of God. “Excellence is in something as Ignatius understood it, is only fully liberating when it originates from love.” (p.32)

Sintobin’s explanation of the Examen of Conscience reminds me of my 5 year old granddaughter who calls me before she goes to bed to tell me about her day. One evening she called and said: “Grandmother, I did something wrong today.” And I asked her to tell me about it. She said: “I took two turns at a game and I was only supposed to take one.” I am sorry and I won’t do it tomorrow.” She then asked me if I ever did something like that and I explained that I did, I was sorry and told God I was sorry. She really got the essence of the Examen. It is wonderful to me how quickly she understood the need to talk it over and tell our loving God how she wished to behave in the future.” The Examen is also sometimes referred to as praying with the “fifth gospel” or praying with the story of God in your own life. Sintobin gives us his thoughts about adaptation and points to Ignatius who invited us to be constantly aware of the context in which events took place. A certain context could mean that we have to consider a different response to problems that, at first sight may seem very similar in nature.”

In the next section, Sintobin expresses the importance of the spirituality of the present moment. Ignatius spoke of the good of the past but not to get side tracked by nostalgia. Living in the present moment fills us with the joy of that moment. If we are walking along the shore, walk with gusto! If we are teaching, teach with gusto. If we are praying, pray with gusto. If we are telling jokes as the author does, tell them so others have a hearty laugh. The present moment is sacrosanct. The way we approach it makes it blessed. In the essay on “Challenges of Enculturation” he states: “Responding too quickly is often considered imprudent or even threatening. Communicating too directly can produce the opposite effect than the one intended. After all, humans are not machines who can be preprogrammed. We must first win people’s confidence and get to know them over a period of time, and doing this requires both space and time and lots of patience.”p.63)

In finishing the book, Sintobin discusses community life both the pros and cons and ongoing difficulties. This community experience is one in which they learn from each other and all those they live with throughout their lives. He also has an essay explaining the investment they make in social justice in a physical and spiritual way. They attend to this social justice all over the world and continue to bring the word of Christ to all they meet and assist. He tells of the deep commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church. He explicitly tells us about the constant companionship with Christ. This is an inspirational book in which each reader will come away with what it means to be a Jesuit and how humor assists all of us in following our vocation in the best way possible. The author has a deep interest in online ministry and spirituality and continues his own ministry in this regard. Remember, he also has 20 good jokes. Dear reader, buy the book, read it and share it with friends.


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