Helpful guidelines for the spiritual life

Jared Staudt

“You are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary.”

We recognize Jesus’ response to the busy Martha in these words (Luke 10:41-42), but can we see ourselves in them as well? Do we focus on the one thing necessary or do we get caught up in the daily grind? We spend so much effort on our daily tasks, sacrifice to make time for exercise and maintain our health, and seek help through counseling and career preparation and advancement. How much time do we devote to our souls and the cultivation of the interior life? St. Ignatius pointed out that the spirit needs exercise, even more than the body, for when the body passes away we will be judged by the state of our soul.

Therefore, with the arrival of summer, and some additional free time, it’s an opportune moment to take spiritual stock and to make some new resolutions! A recent reprint of a spiritual classic can help, providing some guidelines for a reboot of our spiritual life. Sophia Institute Press has recently reprinted a classic in Fr. Basil Maturin’s Spiritual Guidelines for Souls Seeking God (2016). The book offers a poignant spiritual vision, delivered by a remarkable man.

The author was an Irish born priest of the Protestant Church of Ireland, sent to the United States to serve Irish immigrants. He converted to Catholicism in Philadelphia and after being ordained a priest was later sent to serve as the Catholic chaplain of Oxford. He returned to the United States in 1915 to conduct a series of talks and booked his return passage to Europe on the RMS Lusitania. This fateful boat did not reach the shores of Europe, struck by a German submarine, and Fr. Maturin died heroically attempting to rescue others.

What strikes me most about Fr Maturin’s book comes from his emphasis on relating to God. We strengthen our spiritual life and engage in exercises of the spirit not for an abstract reality, but to enter more deeply into the love of God. The priest tells us that “we must endeavor to keep near to God, to learn to know Him better, to understand the tokens of His will and the method of His dealings with us; in a word to get on terms of loving and reverent friendship with Him” (57). All of Fr. Maturin’s guidelines come down to growing in our ability to grow in friendship with God.

In order to love God more, we have to grow in a life of virtue and remove any obstacles that stand in the way. Therefore, Fr. Maturin speaks much of penance and mortification, because we have to begin moving “the long clogged wheels and rusted springs of the spiritual life . . . through penitent contrition . . . the mother of all virtues” (16). Only by preserving through challenges do we come to “a love that has been tested in every conceivable way. . . . Habits are being formed here under the pressure of temptation and difficulty that unfold in perfect form and beauty when that soul has developed these habits passes into its heavenly home” (44).

Fr. Maturin focuses on this goal, of reaching our true home, and laments that so often we forget where we are going! “There is nothing sadder to see,” he says, “than an aimless life” (33). The spiritual guidelines he offers should help us to focus on the one thing necessary, teaching us how to abide in Christ and to persevere until the end. He describes how we can grow in our intimacy with Christ over the course of life as all of our efforts and the graces of God blossom in eternal happiness: “He who longs and strives to be good has already created a bond of sympathy with Christ, has returned, indeed, a long way toward Him. As one after another of these barriers that we have set up in ourselves are removed, light and love come streaming in, and the bonds of that mystical friendship become woven, to grow stronger through eternity” (95-96).

COMING UP: Swole.Catholic helps people strengthen body and soul

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St. Augustine once said, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow.”

Humans are both body and soul and both must be strengthened. This is the reason for the existence of Swole.Catholic, a group of people who dedicate themselves to nurturing their soul while strengthening their body, and through their ministry, motivate others to do the same.

According to Paul McDonald, founder of Swole.Catholic, they focus on encouraging faithful fitness. “We must take care of our temple of the Holy Spirit, because our bodies are one of God’s greatest gifts to us,” he said.

McDonald solidified the idea of faith and fitness when he was a sophomore in college. While “going through a huge moment in my life, at the same time I was really learning about the gym and learning ethical statements on my own. Both things clicked together,” he told the Denver Catholic. As a young guy, he started bible studies, and in those studies, he always had an analogy back to the gym.

He decided to make shirts for him and the guys in the bible study during his senior year. The shirts ended up becoming good conversation starters, and he decided he needed to do something with it — evangelize and motivate others to take care of their body and soul.

Thus Swole.Catholic was born. “Swole” is a slang term for bulking one’s muscles up from going to the gym, and of course, the Catholic part is self-explanatory — not only because of the Church but also for our faith and how it defines us in all we do. Swole.Catholic launched officially in Jan 2017.

The ministry consists of a website which provides resources to helps people with Catholic gyms, Catholic workouts, Catholic trainers, podcasts as well as workout wear.

The workout wear works as an evangelization tool. The word “Catholic” is printed on the front of the shirts and a bible verse is placed on the back.

“This raises questions or interest in others. It also works as a reminder of the purpose of the workout,” McDonald said. He added, “Most of the gyms we are going to have mirrors and all that, making you focus into yourself.” But the real purpose of the workout, as the members of Swole.Catholic say, is to strengthen your body and soul to live a healthy life.

Swole.Catholic also has rosary bands, a simple decade wrist band that people can wear while they workout and be flipped off at any time to pray a quick decade.

“Because everyone’s faith journey is different and everyone’s fitness journey is different, what we are trying to do is connect people with people [for them] to be able to have the correct support with their faith and fitness,” McDonald said.

That is why Swole.Catholic now has outposts around the country, with passionate Catholic members who love to help and inspire others in the fitness world while pursuing God in everything they do.

“Each one has its own flavor,” McDonald said. “In Florida we have a rosary run group where a bunch of girls meet up and pray rosary while they go for a run.” Among the outposts, there is also a group of guys in North Dakota who do a bible study and lift together. Similar to these two groups, members from other states have formed their own Catholic fitness groups and are now part of Swole.Catholic, including in Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio and Wyoming and more.

“We encourage faithful fitness,” McDonald concluded. “We think your fitness fits in your faith as much as faith fits in your fitness. We are body and soul and we need to be building both.”

To join a group or a workout, visit swolecatholic.com or find them on Facebook.