Andrew and Sarah Swafford
'Gift and Grit' makes case for counter-cultural detachment and 'Srodowisko'
Ascension Publishing 2023, 234 pages
Andrew Swafford is an associate professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. His wife, Sarah, is author of the book “Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships.” For over 15 years they have worked as a team in youth ministries, and now they have collaborated on a book together. “Gift and Grit: How Heroic Virtue Can Change Your Life and Relationships” effectively combines male and female perspectives on issues important to all Catholics, but especially young Catholic adults.
Much of the content in “Gift and Grit” is taken from a St. Benedictine College student retreat in Florence, Italy, and led by the authors. While there, participants experienced “Srodowisko”, a Polish term for “environment” or “milieu” that also refers to friendship anchored by a common pursuit of transcendent good. “It means friendship enhanced and illuminated by the light of faith, walking together with mission and purpose, and supporting one another along the way,” the authors explain.
Srodowisko was a practice eagerly taken up by the young Karol Wojtyla (later Pope St. John Paul II) who, with a group of like-minded young people during the Nazi occupation of Poland, would retreat to the hinterland to discuss faith and spirituality.
The "gift" and "grit" referred to in the book's title correspond to the authors’ teaching that our lives and very existence are gifts from the Creator, and that grit (or even “supernatural grit”) encompasses qualities of courage, patience and determination that – when well honed – can keep us focused on our faith objectives. The book addresses the epidemic sense of meaninglessness and lack of purpose often voiced by young people, especially in an era of depersonalization and alienation brought on by pervasive social media.
"Gift and Grit" is refreshingly counter-cultural in its strong suggestion that Catholic Christians seeking meaning in their lives will find it by being open to the sanctifying power of redemptive suffering – the gift all of us are given at one point or another. “The secret to living a fully meaningful life is to recognize ‘gift’ at the heart of it all,” the authors say.
The Swaffords suggest that in forging our sense that Christ suffers in us and with us helps us glimpse meaning in our human suffering. “Only then can we begin to realize that God has not forgotten us.”
There is an adamant message that being “nice” and socially adept while trying to keep the commandments are not quite enough to lead a Christ-centered life. The authors base their perspective on Matthew 19:16-22, wherein a wealthy young man asks Christ what one must do to gain the Kingdom of Heaven, and learns from Jesus that all of his many virtues are insufficient as long as he maintains his material attachments.
From this lesson the Swaffords recommend that young Catholic adults seek Srodowisko and go “all in” for living a Christ-centered life, which means “you lose the rat race of chasing happiness in things that do not really matter. You get to surrender trying to live up to people’s expectations who often don’t really have your best interests at heart.”
In addition to warnings that the call to conversion won’t be easy, and that it involves certain risks, the book offers stark but compelling advice to younger readers about the importance of chastity and “authentic love” in their search for a husband or wife.
Though targeted at younger readers, “Gift and Grit” makes a compelling argument to believers of all ages to reconsider how the cultural contradictions of the Catholic faith can reanimate lives, recognize the mysterious benefits of human suffering, and above all add meaning and purpose to our time on earth.
Mike Mastromatteo is a writer, editor and book reviewer from Toronto.