“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).