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A Book Review… How To Build A Firm Foundation For The Spiritual Life

July 17, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY
Spiritual Guidelines for Souls Seeking God, by Fr. Basil W. Maturin (128 pages, Sophia Institute Press, Paperback and Kindle). Visit www.sophiain
stitute.com for ordering information, or call 1-800-888-9344.

Spiritual Guidelines for Souls Seeking God is a slim but enlightening book by Fr. Basil Maturin (1847-1915). He was born in Ireland and after being ordained as an Anglican, crossed the Atlantic in 1876 to serve in Philadelphia. He was received into the Church in 1897 and ordained a Catholic priest the following year.
In 1915, during World War I, after making a successful preaching tour of the United States, he returned to England on the Cunard liner Lusitania. This ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915, and Fr. Maturin, after helping many of his fellow passengers to safety, was drowned.
Spiritual Guidelines for Souls Seeking God exemplifies his gentle approach to spiritual direction and guidance, and focuses on practical ways we can get closer to God. The book has ten chapters with titles such as, “Cultivate the Virtues that Underlie Holiness,” “Dwell in the Presence of God,” and “Persevere.”
The author begins by telling us that we need a definite aim in our spiritual lives, but with a realization that we must start from where we are, despite all our sins and imperfections. And we should focus on growing in virtue rather than just on particular sins, that is, have a positive rather than a negative approach. The aim should be to develop a virtuous character.
So we shouldn’t just aim to avoid evil, but rather focus on being positively good, and producing in ourselves a free, honest, and prayerful nature. That is, we should aim to live a life modeled on the Beatitudes in which we put forth our strength and energy in the loving service of God and man.
But in order to do this, we need to build our Christian life on a firm foundation, and that foundation is, for nearly everyone, penitence. We have all sinned and few people retain their baptismal innocence. And penitence, as in the case of saints such as St. Augustine, or St. Mary Magdalene, was the great force behind their attainment of holiness. Penitence implies conversion, and Fr. Maturin argues that there are two conversions, firstly from sin to self, and then from self to God.
And true contrition accepts the consequences of past sin without disquiet, whereas discouragement after a fall is a subtle form of pride.
One of the consequences of our sinful nature, and our actual sins, is the need for mortification, and this goes hand in hand with contrition. But the practice of mortification is difficult, demanding as it does prayer and grace-aided willpower. And we have to be careful that any acts of mortification we do are not based on self-will. The aim should be to have a sense of detachment from earthly things, so that we are not enslaved by physical pleasures and desires of any sort.
We also need to have a definite aim in life, and Fr. Maturin says that the key to this is to focus “on the will of God and strive to realize His purpose in our creation and then to fulfill it.” If we do that “we must succeed; and that success will crown the character with such a beauty, an attractiveness, a harmony, and an inward peace, that [it] will leave the soul without a doubt that the end is right.”
In short, the aim of our life should be the developing and perfecting of our character. And to do this we should keep in mind a number of points and principles. These include trying to see the will of God in small things, and also keeping the will free when anything which is naturally pleasing to the senses presents itself.
The author also deals with the principles of sacrifice and self-oblation. Those sacrifices we do make help to cleanse our wills of their obstinacy and selfishness. When we have to endure strong temptations, or bitter disappointments, or failures, or sorrows, or pain, we need to make acts of oblation and acceptance, offering everything up to God, while also looking beyond our sufferings and problems to the prospect of eternal life.
As Fr. Maturin says, “The perfect life consists in the perfect correspondence to the will of God.” But to live such a life demands great self-discipline and constant sacrifice. So we not only need to pray so that we know God’s will for us, but also for the grace to accept it: We need both light and grace. And we do this by getting close to God through prayer, so that we have a “loving and reverent friendship with Him.”
And a prayerful life is much more a question of principle and faithfulness to times of prayer than focusing on emotionalism and impulse. Indeed, sometimes, we just have to hold on to the thought of God in periods of spiritual darkness. As the author says, “We must not gauge our devotion by what we feel, but rather by what we are ready to endure.”
Prayer demands a disciplined mind, but also common sense — we must not overburden ourselves with a multitude of prayers, but rather say them at the right time, and not when we are too tired to concentrate on them properly.
Our aim should be to try and live in the presence of God, and that in itself will help to develop our personality, and lift us out of ourselves. This goal, though, will take time to accomplish, and so we should be patient and not expect quick results.
We should also cultivate the sense of living a hidden life, just as Christ lived a hidden life. But this shouldn’t be a life of self-analysis, but rather of self-forgetfulness. The source of this hidden life is the presence of Christ within us. In fact the ultimate aim of our lives should be to continually abide in Christ, to enter into a deep relationship with Him.

Hope And Patience

Abiding in Christ requires that we give up whatever hinders union with Christ — this will vary from person to person and we need to pray and discern as to what God requires of us. Then, gradually, God will reveal to us the obstacles to serving Him more faithfully, and give us the grace to give them up. That is, we will become able to surrender good things for something even better and thus come closer to God.
We should also let our minds be filled with the thought of Christ, so that His influence gradually penetrates our whole soul and shapes and forms our character. So the first question in coming to any decision should be, “What would God wish?” Then we should be able to bear fruit through our union with Christ.
Finally, we need to remember that, “Charity is the soil in which alone Christian virtues can grow.” But for this to happen, we also need perseverance, a perseverance which is full of inspiration and enthusiasm, and aided by hope and patience.
The book, then, focuses on the basic Christian principles of developing a good character, penitence, contrition, mortification, self-sacrifice, and self-discipline — but not as ends in themselves. Rather the aim is to clear the way so we can live in the presence of God, our minds filled with the thought of Christ, allowing us to abide in Him. So the ultimate aim is positive.
Spiritual Guidelines for Souls Seeking God is a demanding book, but one which overall has a very positive message, which is ultimately the message we find in the Gospels. It will surely be excellent for spiritual reading for anyone looking to promote his own personal spiritual renewal.

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(Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian apparitions, and maintains a related website at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written two time-travel/adventure books for young people, and the third in the series is due to be published later this year — details can be seen at: http://glaston-chronicles.co.uk.)

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