Editor’s note: The following is excerpt from What’s So Funny about Faith? by Jake Martin, SJ, copyright 2012 by Loyola Press. This is reprinted with permission of Loyola Press. To order copies please call 1-800-621-1008 or go to http://www.loyolapress.com/whats-so-funny-about-faith.htm.
Oct. 15, 2003
Subject: Come and See Weekend
Greetings and happy feast of the Little Flower. She is one of my favorite saints and I pray to her regularly. Anyways, my name is Jake Martin and I would like to attend the upcoming Come and See Weekend at Loyola University. I am currently a comedian/writer/office clerk/waiter/receptionist/telemarketer/dogwalker/gardener – and also have a BA in theater and a minor in gender studies.
I have not attended a Jesuit institution; however, I have had other exposure to the Jesuits and think that I might have a vocation based upon that experience.
Oct. 15, 2003
Subject: Re: Come and SeeWeekend.
You can’t attend the Come and See Weekend without my approval. I need to meet you first. When are you available?
“Btw” it’s the feast of Teresa of Ávila, not the “Little Flower.” Her name is Thérèse of Lisieux and her feast was two weeks ago.
Dave Godleski, SJ
“Peace”? I felt “hostile” would have been a more appropriate closing line to the e-mail. The Come and See Weekend alluded to was a gathering for men interested in joining the Society of Jesus. The agenda for the event included various discussions on prayer; on the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; and on the history of the Jesuits.
As I perused the weekend’s agenda on the official website, I was dismayed to note that none of the scheduled activities seemed to touch on the subject of exorcisms or demonic possession.
I assumed this omission from the public record was meant as a deterrent to kooks and fanatics. Once the weekend got under way, the real candidates such as myself would be slowly indoctrinated into the inner workings of the Society and learn some of the various tricks of the trade, such as what really went on during an exorcism.
I thought maybe there would be an exorcism workshop of a sort, and while I did not expect to learn the whole rite in one weekend, perhaps they’d offer some tips for emergency situations, such as what to do when someone is possessed and no priests are available. Or perhaps they’d teach us how to identify those in need of an exorcism (I had a definite list of candidates from my job at the telemarketing call center) and show me how to whip the wand with the holy water around and yell, “The power of Christ compels you!”
If nothing else, I hoped there’d be a question-and-answer session with the top Jesuit exorcists, all flown in from places like Iraq and Georgetown (the two locations used in the film The Exorcist), who could answer my questions, such as “Is there any way to anticipate the projectile vomiting so as to get out of the way before it hits you in the face?” They would respond in hushed tones and indecipherable European accents while staring off into the distance at a demonic foe far too terrifying for the rabble to understand.
The abrupt tone of the reply from the vocation director, however, did little to stoke the flames of hope, and I began to think that using a film as my vocational model might not be the best blueprint for mapping out the rest of my life.
The man who greeted me at the door appeared unassuming enough except for the shock of blond, pointy hair that stuck straight up all around the top of his head, making him look like a punk-rock Christmas elf. He shook my hand enthusiastically.
“Hi, I’m Dave.” This was hostile Dave?
“Follow me,” he said, and we walked to the dining room.
This was my first encounter with the Society of Jesus in the flesh. After our initial inauspicious e-mail exchange, Dave and I had decided to meet for dinner at the Jesuit residence at Loyola University on a chilly November night in Chicago. Dinner had already started, so Dave led me to the buffet. The dinner selection that night was fish or chicken. I was not particularly hungry, but I chose the fish because it seemed like the holier option.
Dave took me to a round table where six Jesuits sat, ranging in age from early twenties to late seventies. The youngest at the table, Joe, from St. Louis, introduced himself; he was in philosophy studies, the second phase of Jesuit formation. One of the older men was a math professor, and another guy, probably in his fifties, had just returned from Peru, where he had been working to establish an elementary school in an impoverished region.
“And what do you do, Jake?” The clanking of forks suddenly stopped and I felt the heat of their gazes on me; for once I could have done without being the center of attention. I focused intently on cutting my fish. “I’m a comedian,” I mumbled – and involuntarily squeezed my eyes shut for fear of the reprisal.
“A comedian, no kidding?” A voice belonging to someone I could not make out through my squint laughed.
“Do you know George Drance or Bill Cain or…” He presented a litany of Jesuits who were comedians, or performers, or who knew comedians, or who may have once told an amusing story at dinner fifteen years ago.
All of the men at my table were fascinated by the fact that I was a comedian. On the one hand, I felt as if I was eating dinner in a Petri dish; on the other hand, any concern about a lack of acceptance of my previous occupation completely flew out the window. I was inundated with questions about the life of a comedian: Where had I performed? Who did I know? Did I know that Bob Newhart and Bill Murray were both Jesuit alums?
After dinner, Dave took me to a small parlor for what he called “coffee and casual conversation,” although it was not exactly casual, and I knew this would be an informal interview from which Dave would decide whether or not I could take the next step and attend the Come and See Weekend.
He asked me a lot of questions, mostly regarding my prayer life (I had one), my involvement with my parish (I was), and service work (I did). I thought things were going well, and then he asked me why I was interested in the Jesuits.
Did I tell him the truth? That my interest in the Jesuits was based entirely on a film that had been released twenty years before and was most famous for a twelve-year-old girl spitting pea soup on a priest? I wanted to lie; I wanted to tell him that I admired Jesuit spirituality, that I had read multiple books on the Jesuits, that I knew the life of St. Ignatius backward and forward, that I wanted to travel the world saving souls like Xavier and Ricci, or become a doctor of the Church like Bellarmine, or a martyr like Miguel Pro. But the reality was, the Jesuit I most admired was a fictional character from a horror movie.
Lying to a priest was probably not the best course of action in the discerning of a vocation. So I had to fess up. “Well, I really like movies, you see.” Dave smiled patiently, but I could tell he was thinking that my love of film hardly made me unique among candidates for the Jesuits, or among human beings in general.
“And the thing is, when I was in college I took a film course, and we had to pick a movie to write our final paper on and I chose The Exorcist.” Dave stared at me blankly, not making the connection I thought was so readily apparent.
“The priests in the film were Jesuits,” I said.
“Uh-huh.” Dave looked confused.
“And I was very impressed with the work that they did.”
“In the movie?”
“Yeah, in the movie.”
If there was a way I could push my head down into my neck, I would have done it. This was not going the way I had hoped.
“We don’t perform a lot of exorcisms, you know.”
“Oh, I know!” I laughed, though my chest fell ever so slightly with disappointment.
“But, I do know one of the Jesuits in the film. Bill O’Malley, he was the one playing the piano at the dinner party.”
“Oh, when she comes downstairs and pees on the floor,” I said excitedly – and then immediately tried to bite the words back into my mouth. That was it; my vocation went up in a burst of flames.
“Yes.” Dave laughed nervously. “That’s the scene.”
I walked out into the crisp night convinced that Dave thought I was insane. When I arrived home, I logged on and immediately Googled “Benedictine vocations,” ready to take a new direction in the vocation discernment process.
An hour later, I started looking up some old comedy friends to see who could set me up with some shows to get me back in business. This whole vocation thing had been nice, but I was a comedian and not a priest.
I sent out a few e-mails asking whether anyone could use a spare on an improv troupe, or whether I could get in on a stand-up set somewhere. I wrote down some ideas for jokes and scenes, and then I laid down, told God that I had tried, and fell asleep in the holy darkness.
“Prayer before e-mail” was my mantra in the morning, but e-mail almost always won. The morning after my dinner with the Jesuits was no different. I opened up my account to see:
Re: Come and See Weekend
Great, I thought, slurping my coffee. This must be the “Thanks for playin’! See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!” e-mail that all the rejects get. I clicked on the message.
Had a great time getting to know you tonight. Your story is fascinating. Would love for you to attend the Come and See Weekend.
P.S. I love how you came to know the Jesuits; so original. I’ll have to start handing out DVDs of The Exorcist with my vocation materials.