There is a quotation by the American writer Patricia Hampl on the cover of Andrew Krivak’s account of nine years spent as a Jesuit. She tells us that it is ‘the best spiritual memoir I’ve read since Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain’. From the outset I wanted to cheer Krivak on in his attempt to describe this spiritual journey. What does it mean to be a Jesuit today? Is it hard? How different is it from other dedicated religious vocations? The book is fairly well-written, and nakedly honest in its spiritual preoccupations. Yet I found myself distracted by that well-meaning comparison with Merton’s powerful, historic account of becoming a Cistercian monk, published more than half a century ago in Britain as Elected Silence.
Christian spiritual autobiography has a long and fascinating pedigree going back, via Bunyan, to St Augustine’s remarkable Confessions. Such narratives had degenerated by the eighteenth century into instruments for preaching and hagiography. In the mid-Victorian period, however, the genre was revitalised by the publication of John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro