It was Tuesday afternoon on the Southside of Chicago. I was helping a very talented 17-year old named Nate record a freestyled rap in the restorative justice center where I was working as a Jesuit. Nate stepped into the booth and began freestyling. As he rapped, it seemed he was no longer just describing violence, but promoting it. I was upset. I stopped the instrumental track in the middle of his freestyle and asked him, “Nate, how many times do we have to go over this? Don’t you see the contradiction between what you are promoting and our mission to foster peace and justice through music here at the center?”
Looking at me with a combination of anger, frustration and sadness, he paused and responded: “Michael... I don’t know peace. I don’t know justice. How do you expect me to rap about something I don’t know?” I had no answer. I stopped for a moment and just gazed at him. Silence. Everything I thought of responding seemed unsatisfactory.
I asked the Holy Spirit at that moment to illuminate my response. After a period of silence, I said: “You are right Nate. You don’t know peace. You don’t know justice. But that is what we are here to do, to discover and experience that peace and justice together every time you walk into this lab and are loved as you are; every time you speak your truth prophetically into that microphone and share your story.”
The world cries out daily for healing and reconciliation. This is what my vocation story is about, learning to walk with and be present to both the wounded and resurrected Christ in my daily life.
As a Belen Jesuit “lifer” and proud graduate of the class of 2009, the most important lesson that I learned in my seven years at Belen - after considering all the incredible teachings by the faculty, counselors, priests, administrators, and friends - boils down to one invaluable insight: There is no greater project worth living or dying for than the project of the Kingdom of God. It was here at Belen where my journey towards the priesthood in the Society of Jesus began and where I first felt called to a life of discipleship.
Five years into my Jesuit formation and beginning my “regency” as a freshman and senior theology teacher at my alma mater, I look back on my vocation story and cannot help but be filled with the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola himself: “all is gift, all is grace” [Spiritual Exercises, 322]. My hope is that in sharing some of the joys, challenges, insights and graces of my Jesuit vocation story, I encourage the entire Belen Jesuit community to pray for me and my Jesuit brothers in formation. Who knows, maybe this article will even inspire someone to respond generously to God’s invitation to the Society of Jesus.
I first heard of Belen from my Jesuit grand-uncle Father Gerardo Freire (ordained in “Colegio de Belen” in La Habana in 1954), who told my mother, “I needed to attend Belen.” My own journey in Jesuit education began in the sixth grade and continued through college at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York where I majored in psychology and philosophy. I also studied abroad at the Jesuit University of San Salvador, El Salvador in 2012 where I felt confirmed in my desire to join the Jesuits in Latin America. At the age of 22, and after many years of challenging and fruitful discernment, I entered the Society of Jesus in the Antilles Province (Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Miami) in 2013. My Jesuit education profoundly shaped the way I saw and experienced the world and my mission in it.
The first stage of formation consisted of two years in the Jesuit Novitiate San Estanislao de Kostka in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. Here is where I took part in a life-changing 30-day silent retreat, served at a public hospital and worked in a factory in Haiti for a month. Next, I spent a 3-month apostolic experiment teaching at Belen in 2015. During those two years in the Dominican Republic I did not use a cellphone and limited my internet usage to one hour a week, experiencing the gift and challenge of simple living and solidarity.
After completing my first two years I was missioned to complete graduate studies in Social Philosophy and Digital Media and Storytelling at Loyola University Chicago. It has been the greatest of joys to blend my love of filmmaking, hip-hop music, poetry, and philosophy into my Jesuit vocation (www. mikemartinezsj.com). During that time, I volunteered at a Hip-Hop media lab at a restorative justice center on the Southside of Chicago (where I met Nate) and my last year was a chaplain at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center with children aged 10-16.
In the end, it was through Belen, my participation in Christian Life Community, peer ministry, rigorous academics, service through Key Club, Belen Youth Missions, time spent with the Jesuits at Villa Javier, and in particular through my Ignatian Spirituality class with my spiritual director at the time, Jesuit Father Guillermo García-Tuñón ‘87, that I learned the importance of the daily Examen prayer. I was taught to ask the question that oriented every decision made in my life then and now: where do my deepest desires meet the needs of the world? I discovered that it was in consistently learning “to sit with this question” that I eventually learned to “live my way into its answer,” as poet Rainer Maria Rilke beautifully articulates. I discovered that it was only in answering this question that I would bring myself and those around me most ‘fully-alive’.
Therefore, in service of the Kingdom and united to the way Christ lived in this world, I professed my first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a Jesuit scholastic on the feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, August 28, 2015 during a schoolwide Mass of the Holy Spirit at Belen Jesuit.
With the vow of poverty, I desired to empty myself of all material and spiritual attachments to allow God to be my only peace, joy and treasure. With obedience, I desired to become free enough and totally available to do the will of God -- whatever the cost. With chastity, I desired my celibacy to integrate my entire being-- body and soul to becoming intimately, creatively and undividedly united with the universal love of God and neighbor.
My vocation story has been and continues to be the ongoing journey to learn to what it means to live “Eucharistically”: blessed, broken, and shared for others. It is the mission of sharing the message of God’s peace and justice “for and with” the Nates of the world. For if there’s anything this vocation journey has taught me is that this is not my personal mission, not Belen’s mission, not Society of Jesus’s mission, but Christ’s mission which I’ve dedicated my life to; the only project worth living and dying for.