Friday, December 21, 2012

Rediscover Catholicism - Marginalia

Dear Theophilus,

I’ve recently finished reading Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly, and was completely floored by what I read between its covers. I bought the book from my parish who had ordered the book in bulk through the Dynamic Catholic Book Program. Essentially, Dynamic Catholic aims to get Catholic books into the hands of Catholics to help bolster their knowledge and understanding of the Catholic faith. If your parish isn’t already involved in the program, I strongly encourage you to approach your pastor about becoming involved in this program.

Usually, once I’ve read a book I’ve particularly enjoyed, I write about it here in the hopes of sharing what I’ve learned with you. What I’ve found with Rediscover Catholicism is that there is so much presented so well, I could never dream of doing it justice. Instead, I would like to share with you my marginalia of Matthew Kelly’s book.

I have the bad habit of marking up books as I read them; underlining what I find to be strikingly profound and jotting my own notes in the margins – marginalia. This is even easier when using my e-reader – though I find it also slows me down a bit. Although I didn’t have a pen handy every time I picked up Rediscover Catholicism (hence the big jump between quotes), below are a few of the ideas I highlighted or jotted down as I made my way through Kelly’s Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose:

Matthew Kelly’s words are in bold type.

My own thoughts are in italics.

There is a genius in Catholicism, if we will just take the time and make the effort to humbly explore it. (p. 18)

…we confuse pleasure with happiness. (p. 37)
            And what is true happiness but resting in God – returning to the idea of St. Augustine that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

           Discipline is the key to discipleship. (p. 40)

Freedom is the strength of character and the self-possession to do what is good, true, noble, and right. (p. 40)

One of the greatest tragedies of modern Catholicism is that as Catholics we are no longer considered a spiritual people. (p. 141)

“As a result many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” (John 6:66) (p. 188)
            I just found it interesting that turning away from Christ was accompanied by the number 666.
God rested on the seventh day because he foresaw our need for rest. (p. 222)

It (the Mass) isn’t designed to help him (God); it’s designed to help us. (p. 222)

(With regards to the Saints) Many are surprised, even scandalized, that God would use people with such monumental vices and shortcomings to reach out to humanity and give us hope for the future. (pp. 234-235)
If these people could do the will of God – then He can work through me as well – so long as I let Him.

The ultimate temptation is to read the Bible and see ourselves only in Jesus. (p. 235)

Uncertainty is a spiritual gift designed to help us grow. (p. 237)

God asks questions to educate. (p. 238)

The only diet most of us need is discipline. But we don’t want discipline. … We want someone to tell us, “You can be healthy and happy without discipline.” (p. 242)
In the extremes of the modern world, many see a call to discipline/discipleship as a call to asceticism – however, it is not so. As Michael Coren says – people would rather have a grandfatherly figure in God as opposed to God the Father.

The Church’s message stands so counter to that of the present culture because the Church is driven by this incredible vision for the human person. (p. 243)

Imagine a culture in which law-makers were less concerned with special interests and more concerned with creating a society that encourage and actively helped people to become the-best-version-of-themselves. (p. 243)

The notion of freedom proclaimed by the modern world is anti-discipline, But true freedom cannot be separated from discipline. (p. 245)

The demons of our modern age are in some cases subtler that the demons of Jesus’ time. (p. 249)

Our faith seeks to integrate the relationship between body and soul. (p. 253)

Fasting is radically countercultural, but so is Christianity. (p. 255)

Prayer doesn’t change God; prayer changes us. (p. 274)

One of the most incredible things about our Catholic faith is the vastness of our spiritual universe. (p. 276)

The primary concern of a Catholic leader must be a dedication to the spiritual life. (p. 307)

Jesus’ whole method of leadership focused on turning the hierarchy upside down. (p. 308)
Christ put the needs of the community before the rights of the individual. His was a leadership of servitude.

As I write these thoughts, dear Theophilus, I can’t help but see them as a bit disjointed out of context of the book’s whole. The alternative, however, would be to write out the entire book here, along with my thoughts. However, I hope this list of marginalia whets your appetite to read Rediscover Catholicism.

Similarly, I will often tweet as I read in the hopes that others will also meditate on these catch phrases as I do throughout the day. If you’re so inclined you can follow my thoughts as @fishermansshoes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being a Disciplined Disciple

Dear Theophilus,

Ask most elite athletes what got them to the pinnacle of their sport, many will tell you that it was hard work and perseverance. In short – discipline.

It takes a certain kind of discipline for young men and women to rise early or stay late to practice. I’m sure that even the most dedicated athlete doesn’t really enjoy a long and gruelling run in a cold winter rain, but a disciplined athlete runs just the same. You can see the fruits of such discipline in their results.

Ask any armchair athlete or weekend warrior why they never made it to the big time and their answers will be wide and varied – politics, wrong place – wrong time, injury, etc. Once you’ve filtered through all their excuses, I’m sure you’ll find that it came down to a lack of discipline in training for their chosen sport – that they gave up in the face of adversity.

Our spiritual lives are very much like our physical lives, and call for the same kind of discipline if we want to get the most out of them. When we find our spiritual lives slipping into the same rut as the athleticism of the armchair athlete or weekend warrior, it is tempting to trot out similar excuses – blaming God for turning away and distancing Himself from us. What we should be doing, on the other hand, is asking ourselves if we are approaching our relationship with God with the discipline that it deserves. Do we take the time to train our spiritual muscles to perform at their optimal peak? Are we as disciplined in our prayer life as we are in other areas of our lives?

If we are spiritual weekend warriors, going to Mass on Sunday but not working out spiritually in prayer through the rest of the week, then we can expect our relationship with God will seem lacking, even when we present ourselves before the Lord on Sunday.

We need to have good discipline to be good disciples.

With all of the distractions or world throws our way, it can be difficult to have a fruitful prayer life. That is precisely why our prayer life needs to be disciplined. Don’t fret, however, if by the end of the first week of your new spiritual efforts that you are not a candidate for sainthood. Remember that elite athletes call on hard work and perseverance to get results – prayer life is no different. When starting out on your spiritual journey, you need to be aware that there will be times when prayer comes easily to you, but there will also be times when prayer is difficult – it’s probably in the most difficult times that your prayer will bear the greatest fruit. Discipline will help your discipleship.

Like a marathon that can’t be run without proper training, a strong prayer life is built up little by little. There needs to be a solid foundation to support your spiritual edifice. Starting small with your prayer life (5-10 contemplative minutes a day, a decade of the Rosary, or simply remembering to say grace before meals) will allow you to build discipline in your prayer life without getting frustrated. As you become spiritually disciplined in small matters, you will feel confident in extending your prayer life – you will hunger for it.

In a world where we are told we can be who we want, can have what we want and can do what we want, it can be difficult to remain disciplined; period. If we remain disciplined in our prayer lives, however, we will be led to happiness beyond our worldly imagination.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Listening in Silence

Dear Theophilus,

The Advent season calls us to stop and take the time to reflect on the Saviour’s coming at Christmas. Finding a moment or two of silence in December to contemplate on this great mystery seems to be almost mission impossible. With the constant bombardment of holiday music (not always Christmas music) over store sound systems, the continual shill of television commercials telling us what we need to find under the tree on Christmas morning, along with the incessant chatter of children hyped up on Christmas treats and the promise of all their little dreams being fulfilled – it really is a wonder that we are able to keep our thoughts straight – let alone our sanity intact. On top of all the seasonal noise is the constant hum that the modern world gives us via our smart phones, iPods, the internet, cable TV, satellite radio … the list of distractions seems endless. But to truly appreciate the Advent season and our relationship with God, we need to seek out silence, because it is only in silence that we can truly listen to the word of God speaking in our hearts.

So often we say that we can’t hear God in our lives, but do we know where to listen for Him? Are we allowing God to speak to us in the way He wants to be heard? How do we know how God wants to speak to us? When we turn to the Bible, we can easily see that God speaks to us in the simplicity of silence.

When God spoke to Abram (and later as Abraham), calling him to leave his home for the Promised Land or to sacrifice his son, Abraham was usually alone or with only his son (cf.: Gen 12 and Gen 22). Whenever God wanted to speak with Moses, Moses would leave the Israelite camp to climb, alone and in silence, up Mount Sinai (cf.: Ex 19). When the Lord called to Samuel, he was lying quietly in the Temple (cf.:1 Sam 3).

The same kind of examples can also be found throughout the New Testament as well. When the angel of the Lord told Zechariah that Elizabeth was expecting a son, it was in the silence of the Holy of Holies, and when Zechariah wouldn’t believe the angel, he was struck mute until John the Baptist was born. (cf.: Lk 1:5-20). Whenever Jesus wanted to talk to his heavenly Father, he always sought him out in silence solitude, whether it was the 40 days in the desert to start his ministry (cf.: Mt 4); when the crowds followed him after his miracles, he would withdraw to deserted places to pray. (Lk 5:16); and on his final earthly evening, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus left his disciples to go a few paces further to pray in silence. (cf.: Mt. 26:36-46, Lk 22:39-46). Even the final book of the Bible, the Revelation to St. John, was revealed when the evangelist found himself secluded on the Island of Patmos. (Rev 1:9)

How can we find silence amongst all of the distractions that our busy world throws at us? Silence isn’t to be found in today’s world, rather we need to create it. It should come as no coincidence then, that discipline and disciple are derived from the same root word. We need to discipline ourselves to be able to create more silence in our lives.

In his book Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly challenges us to spend at least 10 minutes a day in silent conversation with God. Ideally, he tells us, we should try to do this in a church – preferably our own parish. As churches are designed for contemplative prayer and Eucharistic adoration, they will provide the optimal surroundings for a silent 10 minutes with the Lord. Personally, I started following Kelly’s advice this week, spending 10 silent minutes in the school chapel before the start of the day. Although I find it hard to settle my mind, I find it reassuring to put my troubles before God, asking his guidance in how to best make my way through the coming day.

Matthew Kelly realizes that spending 10 minutes in a silent church every day isn’t always possible. We need to carve this silence out at other times and in other places. Some suggestions might be to try waking up 10 minutes earlier to sit quietly in your favourite chair, leaving your mp3 at home when you go for your daily run or take 10 minutes of silent contemplation at your desk before heading to the staff room for lunch.

Like I said, I’ve been finding it hard to get my mind to settle these first few days, but I’m also finding that my focus is getting better. It’s funny, but it’s the concerns that my mind wanders to that I find I need to place before the Lord, and by the end of the 10 minutes, I find I’ve got a plan on how to deal with them that not only solves my trivial problems, but also allows me to live God’s will. When you find you mind wandering, offer these distractions to God, allowing Him to guide your actions to do His will.

If you stick with it, I think that, like me, you will be pleasantly surprised to find how 10 minutes a day of listening to God in the silence, what H whispers to you can bring hours of peace to your life.