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: Why 42 had to be impeached twenty years ago

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Twenty years ago this month, I found myself seriously double-booked, so to speak.

The editing of the first volume of my John Paul II biography, Witness to Hope, was entering the ninth inning, and I was furiously engaged in exchanging edited and re-edited copy with my editors in New York. At the same time, the Clinton impeachment drama was cresting. And as I had long done speechwriting for Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I spent week after week of split time, working on John Paul II from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., then switching to impeachment for a couple of hours before returning to Witness to Hope in the evening.

It was not the optimal way to work but it had to be done, even if it seemed likely that the president would be acquitted in a Senate trial. On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives voted two articles of impeachment and senior House members, including Mr. Hyde, solemnly walked the two articles across the Capitol and presented them to the Senate’s leaders. On toward midnight, Henry Hyde called me and, referring to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, said, “We’re not going to make it. Trent won’t fight; I saw it in his eyes.” After a long moment I replied that, if we were going to lose, we had a duty to lay down a record with which history would have to reckon.

Which is what the great Henry Hyde did during the January 1999 Senate trial, where he bent every effort to prevent the proceedings from descending into farce.

For Hyde, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an unavoidable piece of nasty business. It was not a matter of partisan score-settling, nor was it a matter of punishing a president for gross behavior with an intern in the White House. It was a matter of defending the rule of law. As Henry put it to me when it seemed clear that the president had perjured himself and obstructed justice, “There are over a hundred people in federal prisons for these crimes. How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States be guilty of them and stay in office?”

Impeachment is a political process and it was clear by mid-fall of 1998 that the politics were not breaking toward removing the president from office. They had been pointed that way over the summer, though. And as the pressures built, it seemed as if the Clinton presidency might end as Richard Nixon’s had: Party elders, in this case Democrats, would go to the White House, explain that it was over, and ask the president to resign for the sake of the country. Then around Labor Day that year, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times and other columnists began suggesting that, if Clinton were impeached and convicted, the sexual revolution would be over, the yahoos of reaction would have won, and we’d be back to something resembling Salem, Massachusetts, during the witchcraft insanity.

That was preposterous. It was also effective. And within days, at least in Washington, you could fill the templates shifting: This wasn’t about the rule of law, it was about sex and the yahoos couldn’t be allowed to win. (That Henry Hyde was the leader of the pro-life forces in Congress neatly fit this storyline, of course, abortion being a major plank in the platform of the sexual revolution.)

So once the game was redefined — Are you for or against the puritanical yahoos? — there was little chance to wrench the political process back to what it was really about: the rule of law. In his opening speech during the president’s trial, Henry Hyde tried valiantly to refocus the argument, insisting that high office did not absolve a man from obeying his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States and his oath swearing to tell the truth to a federal grand jury. To suggest that it did was to “break the covenant of trust” between president and people, dissolving “the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice.”

It wasn’t a winning argument. But it was the right argument. And on this 20th anniversary, the nation should remember with gratitude those like Henry Hyde who, under fierce assault, stood for the rule of law.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore | Flickr