In his new book, Father Jim Martin describes his journey from a high-powered, high-paying corporate position at General Electric to the Jesuit priesthood and a vow of poverty.
It would, I realized be impossible to wait until August 15 to find out the Jesuits' decision, and then simply quit my job. I couldn't give such short notice and just leave, without spending a few weeks helping to recruit and train my replacement. Instead, I would have to make a decision: Should I leave my job before I knew whether the Jesuits had accepted me?
At the time, I expected a dramatic, incontrovertible answer to this dilemma. In other words, a sign. I figured if I was committing my life to God, God could at least provide me with something more tangible. But after a week of frustrating indecision, nothing came; no definite answer, no voices, no visions, no warm feelings. Of course, if any of those things had happened, I probably would have been scared to death. Still, I began to wonder if the experiences of the retreat--Jesus being my friend and all the rest--had been an illusion.
Then next Sunday I found myself in another church in Stamford, St. Mary's. During the Mass I prayed for a sign, something that would help me see what I had to do. After Mass, out of desperation, I knelt in front of a statue of Jesus. I was so frustrated; hot tears filled my eyes. I prayed and said, "Take me!" as hard as I could. And suddenly I felt a wordless voice within me saying, "I will." It was unlike anything I had experienced. I had felt the words inside my head. Surprised, and a little frightened, I stood up immediately and bolted out of the church. Had I imagined the whole thing? I wasn't sure...I didn't think so. But what I didn't imagine was the sense of clarity about what I needed to do.
I gave my notice the next day. I sat down in Karen's office and explained that I was leaving, to become a priest.
"You're kidding right?" she said.
After I assured her that I was not kidding, she asked me if I could stay to help her find someone. Then she thought for a minute and said, "Wow! Could you baptize children?" I guessed so. "Great. Maybe you could baptize mine?" Sure, I said, why not?
After six years at GE, it was difficult to believe that I could give it all up so readily. But the intense desire to enter the Jesuits made leaving the company easier. I knew that I would miss my coworkers but, by this point, not the work. And the more I thought about it, the more I couldn't wait to enter the novitiate.
I had enormous fun spreading the news. By this time my secretary was calling me "Father Martin" and I felt great about the whole thing--a bit pious, basking in the glow of The Man Who Gave It All Up. But underneath that vanity was a real sense of relief and excitement, even joy.
When I had left for the retreat I hadn't told anyone, other than my secretary, where I was going. After I returned from Boston, my friends at work were more than a little curious about where I had disappeared to. "Where were you?" my friend Kate asked at 9:00 on Monday morning.
"Let's have lunch, and I'll tell you," I said. "Bring along Chris and Chip, too. I have some news for you."
Such a mysterious response, I knew, would guarantee their presence at 12 noon in my office.
"I have something to tell you," I said after I shut the door.
"That's the easy part," I said. "Now you have to guess why."
"You're moving back to Philadelphia," said Chris.
"You're going to get your M.B.A."
"Oh God," I groaned, "no way."
This continued for a few minutes.
"Give up?" I asked. They nodded.
"I'm joining the Jesuits."
Silence and puzzled glances.
"Isn't that..." said Kate tentatively. "I think that's like a priest...isn't it?" "Yup," I said.
Kate jumped out of her chair, "You're kidding!"
Later that day, since I figured word would spread rapidly, I visited some other friends, most of whom also said some variation of "You're kidding." My friend Reid played the same guessing game, failing miserably. Finally I told her and she jumped out of her chair and shouted, "You're kidding!" attracting the rest of her department, with whom I had to share my secret.
I couldn't wait to tell Rob, my old roommate, in person, so I phoned him at his office.
"A priest? You're kidding," he said. When I assured him that I was not, he said, "Mazel tov!" I mentioned that I thought it would be fun to tell the rest of our friends over dinner.
"Promise me that you'll let me come," he said. "This I've got to see."
So I invited a few close friends from Penn to my favorite restaurant in Manhattan, called Le Brasserie, to spring the news on them. They were miffed at all the secrecy that I had intentionally let accompany the dinner. We sat down and I watched them squirm in anticipation. Finally, my friend Jim said, "Okay, Martin, what's going on?"
At that point, the waiter arrived and asked us if we needed more time.
"Yes," said Andy, "we need a lot more time."
I swore them to secrecy until I could tell other friends face to face. I met with another friend from Penn, another Andy, now a lawyer. We went out to lunch.
"So are you going to tell me the big news that no one is willing to tell me?" he said right off.
"Okay, I'm going to become a Jesuit priest."
"What?" said Andy, incredulously.
I thought he might not have heard me. "I'm going to become a priest."
"What?" he said again.
"I'm going to become a priest."
"I heard you. You're what? Since when?" I explained the whole thing the best I could. That night, Andy would tell me later, he went home and looked up the definition of Jesuit in Webster's dictionary. He found:
1.) a member of the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order for men, founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1534, and 2.) a crafty schemer; cunning dissembler; casuist; hostile and offensive term, as used by anti-Jesuits.
Many of my friends thought I was running away. My standard response to this was that I was running toward something, not away from something. Which, of course, was only partially true. Many of my GE friends suggested I slow down a bit. Was there really any need to enter right away?
What was I running away from? Family problems for one thing. I thought that by entering the novitiate, God would somehow take care of all of that, or at least make things better. I was definitely running from many of the things the corporate world stood for, at least in my own mind. The lack of compassion, the glorification of money and acquisitiveness, the emphasis on competition, the lack of respect for human dignity. But these were good things to run away from.
There was a "Peanuts" cartoon that shows Linus running away from home. "You can't run away from all of your problems," says Charlie Brown. "Why not?" answers Linus.
"Well, what would happen if everyone ran away from their problems? Where would we be then?"
"At least we'd all be running in the same direction," says Linus.