Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Father James Martin, S.J.:George Carlin With a Roman Collar and No Potty Mouth

I've "known" Father James Martin S.J. for years. My friend Webster Bull was deeply influenced by his book "My Life with the Saints" and so I read it too.  The book, which explained to me for the first time and in a very accessible way,  who and what saints are, is  a huge part of my continuing conversion. I follow Father Jim on twitter, I am a "friend" of his on Facebook and I read his articles as Editor at Large of  America magazine when they pop up on my facebook newsfeed. And I have seen his frequent appearances as the unofficial "chaplain" of the Colbert Report.

So in my 21st century way, I felt like I "knew" him. Of course, I didn't. I had no idea how laugh-out-loud funny the man is until I went to a talk he gave tonight on the Rutgers campus. My girlfriend Melissa, who went with me, compared him to George Carlin. Yes, a G-rated George Carlin with a Roman collar and without profanity.

Given my high regard for Father Jim, my heart skipped a beat earlier tonight when he walked through the Rutgers Catholic Center, with Father Matt Malone, S.J,  editor of America magazine.right past our School of Community. (America magazine is the Jesuit magazine published weekly since 1909). Let me tell you, I was in serious middle-aged Catholic geek happyland.

About 7:30 I drove over to Piscataway with Melissa for a talk Father Jim gave to a standing-room crowd of more than 200 people. Really, the talk about finding joy in one's spirituality is part of his tour promoting his latest book: "Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life."

Our parish, along with the Rutgers Catholic Student Association and the Knights of Malta hosted Father Jim in a multipurpose room on the Busch Campus.

My words can't do justice to the man, the way he spent 90 minutes weaving hilarious jokes into his eight (yes eight) talking points about why we need humor if we want to be holy. I took copious notes while he was talking but really the gift of the evening was the man's presence and witness. He reminded us that humor is a sign of holiness, of our humanity, that humor humbles us and helps us "get over ourselves." Christ himself has a sense of humor, but that is often lost in translation, so to speak, since humor so often is bound by culture and current events.

For example, Father Jim, said, Christ comparing the way we judge others to having plank in one's eye and taking the speck out of someone else's was supposed to be funny; being understood at the time He was using humor to make a larger point.

He gave another example, but first he asked for a show of hands of how many of us knew who Nathanial was in the Bible. I saw not a single hand go up. "Okay, you don't know Nathanial, I can see this is a good Catholic crowd.," he quipped. Father Jim explained that when St. Philip told Nathaniel about Christ, his comment was: Nathanael said to him, 'From Nazareth? Can anything good come from that place?' This was a joke, he told us. It would be like saying "Can anything good come from Rutgers" The crowd groaned and guffawed.

At the end of the event, Father Jim took questions. One question came from a Rutgers graduate student. She asked what is the one thing that audience members could take with them - other than his book  - back to their families, their studies, their work - that would help them begin to find joy in their lives.

"Remember that Christ is risen!" Father Jim answered with a broad grin.


  1. I'm so glad that you got to go hear Fr. Jim; he is really wonderful. Last year I had the same pleasure, not once, but twice. What a gift he is to our church and our world.

    Hilariously funny, deeply authentic, and a true man of faith.

  2. I would LOVE to hear him speak - I enjoy his books, and his FB page, and his articles so much. I tell you - a perfect weekend would be a retreat with Fr. Robert Barron and Fr. James Martin (oh, and Papa Francisco as well)!

    1. Paula, I love Fr Barron too, but my two big heroes are Fr. Jim and Fr. Richard Rohr. I got to hear both of them give a day of reflection in November, it was amazing. I like your idea, maybe that can be next.

      Jim Martin is also about the nicest person that you will ever meet. So down to earth, so kind.

    2. I am not familiar with Fr. Richard Rohr. Will have to check that out! Thanks Fran.

    3. I would not be Catholic today without him. And to think that I collaborated on a book with him and Jim Martin still seems unreal to me, although it is quite real! God is so good!

      He is a great wisdom figure, someone who had guided me richly through the years. He is a Franciscan. Here is his website.