Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Rediscover Catholicism Revisited

Dear Theophilus,

Just before Christmas I posted a list of my marginalia from Matthew Kelly’s book, Rediscover Catholicism. A number of people let me know that they enjoyed this peek into the wonderful insights Kelly has to offer, but that it left them wanting a more indepth treatment of Kelly’s ideas. I’ve been meditating on this for a while, and I hope these few thoughts will help. At the end of the day, however, what ever I have to say is no replacement for reading Rediscover Catholicism yourself to glean your own profound faith enrichment.

Rediscover Catholicism opens with a short story that really hits home with regards to the importance of the Mass. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, as it would ruin the impact that it has on how one approaches the Mass. Only the hardest of hearts wouldn’t be touched by Matthew Kelly’s storytelling expertise, and it will leave you with a deeper appreciation and reverence for the sacrifice of the Mass, as well as an increased conviction to not only make your dominical obligation, but also to get to Mass more often.

Matthew Kelly then goes on to aptly describe what ills society today and then expound on how Catholicism offers the only valid response to this with its very counter-cultural way of life.

Kelly sees society’s problem as being three-fold: individualism, hedonism and minimalism; with the three being interrelated. As these ideas are developed in Rediscover Catholicism it’s amazing at how evident these exist subtly in society without our really even noticing. Quite correctly, Kelly remarks that we have become a society of individuals instead of a community. From the time we are born in the western world, we are told that we can become whatever we want to be; that we are entitled to success. This individualistic tendency in society then slips quite neatly into Kelly’s second ill of society – hedonism. In today’s secular driven society, everything we do seems to be geared towards our own personal pleasure. If it doesn’t bring us pleasure, especially physical, then it isn’t worth our time. It’s this question of what is worth our time that brings us to Kelly’s third and final societal ill of western secularism: minimalism. With technology racing to make our lives easier, we look to put in the least amount of effort to get the greatest amount of pleasure. It’s funny how all three – individualism, hedonism and minimalism – fit so well together in the society we have created for ourselves.

So, the question then is, how does Matthew Kelly propose that our Catholic faith can help us counter this secular movement of individualism, hedonism and minimalism? In parts 2 and 3 of Rediscover Catholicism he invites, even challenges, us to lean an Authentic Life as the Best-Version of ourselves, supported by the Seven Pillars of Catholic Spirituality.

According to Kelly, the Authentic Life that we are called by God to lead is our very own. In a world where we are bombarded with messages that we are less than the ideal; in a consumerist society where success is equated with certain styles and behaviours; in a world where personal joy is dictated to us by the mass-media; taking joy from simply being yourself is a revolutionary notion. Although many of us aspire to be like the images we see on our screens (phone, computer, television and film), Kelly points out, however, that it’s the people most comfortable in their own skin, most authentic to themselves, being the best-version of themselves that they can possibly be, that are changing the world for the better. And it ain’t easy. Throughout Rediscover Catholicism Kelly singles out examples from a variety of walks of life of people making a difference through perseverance and determination.

Are we up to the challenge?

Before we build ourselves up; before we can start becoming an authentic, best-version of ourselves; we need to strip away our secular tendencies of individualism, hedonism and minimalism. This seems a daunting task, running against society’s accepted current of thought, so this is exactly when we need to lean most upon the Seven Pillars of our Catholic faith for support.

Matthew Kelly lists these Seven Pillars of Catholic spirituality as: Confession, Daily Prayer, The Mass, The Bible, Fasting, Spiritual Reading and the Rosary. From my own experience I c an attest that they provide a valid path to meet the secular world head on, but that they also need to be incorporated into our spiritual life gradually, otherwise we risk overwhelming ourselves and being tempted to once again fall into the world’s minimalist trap.

Reworking the ideas Kelly puts forward would involve more time and space than this blog permits. However, to give you, dear Theophilus, some idea of how our Catholic spirituality can help us be counter-cultural in today’s world, I’ll relate some of my own experiences in searching to be an authentic best-version of myself since reading Rediscover Catholicism (just remember that I’m taking this journey gradually, that I may be at a different stage of the journey than you, and that what works for me, may not be what’s right for you to become the best-version of yourself).


Admittedly, participating in the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) is one of the hardest things to do. That said, once you get into the practice of making a good and regular confession, there is nothing more liberating. The trick is getting yourself back in the confessional (yes, you have to go, it’s not something that can be done personally on your sofa – more on that as the subject of another blog post). Once you find the spiritual rejuvenation of making confession, the next challenge is making a good confession. To do this I’m continually looking for and redeveloping my examination of conscience – those questions I ask myself before going to confession, making an honest evaluation of how I’m doing as a sinner. I find 5 minutes isn’t enough for this, and spend most of the day reflecting on what I need to confess before entering the confessional. What I’ve found happening over the months that I’ve been doing this is that I automatically make a small examination of conscience before making a decision on how to act in many different circumstances – and there are times I find I catch the sin long before it happens, helping me to be a much better version of myself and a better witness to Christ in the world.

Daily Prayer

I’ve written before about how I’ve started spending 10 minutes of silence every morning in front of the Blessed Sacrament as a way to start my day, laying all of my fears and challenges at the feet of Christ. I’m lucky that I have this opportunity. In the 2 months that I’ve been doing this, I find I can meet the problems of the day with a certain serenity, knowing that God, through the Holy Spirit, will guide my heart and mind. What I’ve been finding recently is that my daily conversation with God is lasting longer than the prescribed 10 minutes without me realizing that the time is passing.

The Mass

Matthew Kelly ponders rhetorically on the fanatical devotion that orthodox Muslims would show if they believed that they could touch and receive Allah in the Eucharist. When you think about it that way, you begin to wonder why Catholics seem take the Mass for granted. Heightening your knowledge and understanding of the Eucharist is one way to deepen your love for the Mass, but there is so much more to the Mass that simply receiving the Eucharist (otherwise the Mass would resemble more of a drive-thru as the faithful line up to receive their weekly offering). The liturgy of the word is just as deep as the liturgy of the Eucharist, and calls for a similar kind of approach and reverence. Preparing my mind for the readings ahead of time (reading the scripture selections before Mass) and searching for a personal meaning in scripture also helps me to ‘Go forth and proclaim the Good News’ once the Mass is over. Between preparing for and going forth from the Mass, the Mass has become a week-long event instead of just a Sunday’s hour-long obligation.

Spiritual Reading

I have a confession to make. Outside of the readings at Mass, I’m not in the habit of reading scripture on a regular basis. This said, I do come into contact with scripture through my other readings. To deepen our knowledge and understanding of our Catholic faith we need to feed it with books on the faith. This isn’t a call to dig deep into theological tomes, again, you will want to start gradually (Rediscover Catholicism would be a great place to start). There are many books on diverse themes in a variety of styles that there is something for everyone (I would suggest perusing what’s on offer at Catholic Chapter House). If reading isn’t your style, ask your cable television provider about subscribing to Salt & Light or EWTN, or the surf the web to sites like CatholicMinistryTV.

The Rosary

When I needed help getting my prayer life started, I found the Rosary to be a great tool. It’s portable, so you can pray it anywhere (for me, it’s while I’m walking the dog), but it also gives you a strong catechism based framework from which to meditate on the beauty of God’s love. I find the repetitive nature of the Rosary allows me to focus on the mysteries presented each day, as well as to focus on any petitions I might have for friends, family or the world. Keeping these petitions in mind, along with my knowledge of God’s love, I find I interact with the world in a much more loving way than I did before.

The insights Kelly shares in Rediscover Catholicism are profound. His perception as to how Catholicism in its sheer simplicity can play a vital role in righting society shakes our current secular belief system to its core. By identifying how Catholicism can help us become an authentic best-version of ourselves, not only can we rejuvenate our faith in Catholic spirituality, we will also strengthen our resolve to help society become the best-version of itself.

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