Father James Martin, SJ on authentic love in the age of social media

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?


As arguably the second best-known Jesuit in America, Fr. James Martin, SJ might be both the most unlikely and most well-positioned sage to guide our relationship with social media.

For a guy with half a million followers on Facebook alone, and who was the unofficial chaplain of the Colbert Report, Father Jim rolls up his sleeves and gets in it with us.

It’s hard to imagine that Ignatius of Loyola, when he founded the Jesuits, ever could have imagined that his order of “contemplatives in action” would someday be involved with the celebrity industrial complex that our globalized, hyper-connected world would create.

My relationship with social media can best be described by “should.” I should go on less. Should have better boundaries. Shouldn’t look at it in bed. Should, should, should. But it’s hard.

So I’m mighty thankful that guiding lights like Father Jim are meeting people, like me, where I am.

It could be his Philly roots, but Father Jim’s wonderfully approachable, joyfully humorous, straightforward style is deeply engaging. An Ivy League graduate, who is an articulate intellect, Jim is everything good about the gritty city of his boyhood—a city that values being a straight shooter, being “real” more than just about anything. In our weird times where so many are aggressively selling themselves online, Jim is a beacon of authenticity.

I was first drawn to him when he pulled back the veil of the priesthood in his bestselling “My Life with the Saints.” His candid writing about his own struggles with the vows of Poverty, Chasity and Obedience left me breathless in its stark contrast to the tenor of my childhood Catholicism.

He brings this same openness to our conversation. Father Jim talks candidly about the real temptation of fame in the online world. He credits a strong foundation of contemplative practice with helping him guard against it.

Jesuits are called to meet people where they are. And it’s pretty clear in 2016 where most of us are. On platforms designed to be addictive, how do we engage with each other in a way that leaves us full instead of empty?

Ours is the first generation tasked not only with figuring out the answers, but, perhaps more importantly, ensuring that we’re asking the right questions: Can virtual community be healthy? When does it denigrate our relationships? To what extent can an online community nourish us? And most importantly: What is real, authentic love?

Thanks to the beautiful Daylesford Abbey for being generous hosts for this conversation.

Father James Martin, SJ (Part 2) on the stillness necessary to fully engage in life

In this second part of our conversation, Fr. James Martin, SJ reflects on a moment of his life when he was out of balance between stillness and service. As a young missionary serving African refugees, he burned himself out trying to do his part to save the world.

So many faith traditions counsel believers to strike a balance between contemplative practice (prayer, meditation) and action (social justice, service).

Previous 3-Minute Storytellers have shared how navigating this tension was at the heart of their awakening. Anna Lovind’s experience as an international humanitarian aid worker left her sick and exhausted. She stepped back, got still, took stock, and drastically changed—and simplified—her life. Now it’s joy alone that guides her.

Eboo Patel called it ‘hero effort’ that, for him, was a one-way ticket to burn-out. So he let go of chasing fame and settled into a reasonable work pace that he could sustain for the long haul. Here, Father Martin echoes this wisdom from his vantage point as a notable figure in the Catholic Church.

One of the most thrilling parts of this work, for me, is seeing the threads of wisdom that run across diverse voices that transcend race, gender, nationality, religion. It feels like if this wisdom is vetted that thoroughly, it becomes the “truthiest truth,” as Father Jim’s buddy Stephen Colbert might say.

In this story, Father Martin’s reminder that Jesus didn’t visit or heal every person in Galilee and Judea gave me pause. This whole concept of “enough” runs rampant in our modern culture. It encourages me, somehow, that even priests struggle with it.

Today, for example, between a work crisis, out-of-town guests arriving, deadlines to complete this write up, and an unexpected sick child, I am jacked up and my mind is racing 100 miles an hour.

How incredible then, to be able to listen to Father Jim share this story of St. Francis deSales.

“How long should you pray?” they asked him. “Twenty minutes,” he answered, “ . . . unless you’re really busy, then one hour.”

Similarly, Gandhi’s advisors told him once that he had an extremely busy day ahead, with lots of emergencies, so could he skip morning meditation and get to work? Gandhi’s responded that if he had twice as much work to do, please clear his schedule because he’d need to meditate twice as long.

Across time and continents, the truthiest truth rises up.

The secret, I’m finding, is somewhere in the letting go.

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