Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Rediscover Catholicism: Following Christ more Closely

Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism is a worthwhile read for any Catholic, no matter how tepid or passionate of faith.  Kelly presents the issues and hurdles that many Catholics face in life and gives welcome advice that can lead us to life's purpose and mission -- to know, love, and serve God.  Kelly identifies the problems of relativism, hedonism, and individualism in our everyday lives and how these problems can permeate our thoughts.  These three prevailing philosophical stances disease our minds and deaden our faith.  Kelly's book, therefore, deconstructs each and presents a way in which the reader can grow in his or her faith by steeping themselves in the lives of the saints, the seven pillars of Catholic spirituality (confession, prayer, Mass, Scripture, fasting, spiritual reading, and the Rosary), and taking action to be the change we want to see in the Church. His plan and the book’s discussion are thorough, practical, and brilliant.
Kelly's arguments fall short in two areas, though.  Although Kelly is spot-on with his analysis of the problems posed by a numbingly progressive secular society, he too often repeats the sales-pitch-like phrase "the-best-version-of-yourself." This is probably my personal irritation, but its repetition can cheapen the honest insight and heartfelt transformation Kelly inspires throughout the book. Another quibble is Kelly's teaching on friendship. In an earlier section of the book, Kelly rightly suggests that we surround ourselves with people of like mind and spiritual goals. Kelly's advice on choosing friends, however, jumps out at me. He states that when choosing friends we should ask if spending time with that person will make us better. Although we should seek out like-minded people of faith in order to share and grow in our faith, Christ befriended the poor, sick, sinful, and dishonest. We should not forget that our witness is for the good of the sinful and suffering. The joy our Lord gives us is not for ourselves but for the benefit of others. After all, Jesus is the model of self-giving and service to others. Kelly makes excellent points on self-growth and friendship, but emphasis should be on a self-giving spirit. But these are minor personal gripes I have with Kelly's superbly written, inspiring work on how to grow closer to Jesus through our faith.
The stated nitpicks aside, Rediscovering Catholicism is a true gem, however. Kelly shines in his use of the saints, Scripture, Catholic Tradition, prayer, and action needed to change the church. With every point he makes, he supports it with clear analogies (I love the sports analogies), Scriptural evidence, and personal witness.
In presenting how to grow in faith he writes a stimulating section on the witness of the saints, namely Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, John Vianney, Thomas Moore, and John Paul II. Each of their stories, yet simplified for the sake of the book, presents holiness in the everyday humanity of their lives. When we read Kelly's take on the saints, we want to be more like them and live lives of obedient devotion to God and neighbor. This section of the book shines.
Sacred Scripture is paramount to our growing closer to Christ, and Kelly suggests pouring over the gospels daily. Reading about the life of Christ, his love, teaching, miracles, life example, self giving, sacrifice, death, and resurrection is the key to imitating him, and Kelly presents this with justice throughout the book.  
Kelly weaves in the importance of Tradition and prayer as part of our spiritual growth and states that they are necessary practices that bring us closer to God. He provides a well written section on prayer, and I especially enjoy his personal story about 10 minutes of daily prayer in the presence of our Lord in the Tabernacle.
The book concludes with a section on change. Kelly lays out the needs of Church and individual change necessary to bring education, evangelization, leadership, and vocations necessary to propel the Church (The Body of Christ, not the buildings and infrastructure) toward the example God invites us to become. Kelly suggests that we nurture friendships, pray for people, tell our stories, and provide exciting, viable outreach to our neighbors.  
Our Catholic faith is multifaceted and rich in the beauty of history and Tradition.  Kelly's book is full of more wisdom and keen observation than I can mention in the small review. My copy was given to me by the Knights of Columbus as part of their parish outreach and evangelization, and it is full of notes and highlights and has proven to be a personally transforming experience. Read the Rediscover Catholicism and you, too, will be transformed.