(Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Purpose and Passion. By Matthew Kelly, Beacon Publishing, 324 pages)
Where does our author begin? Let us set the scene. In a world that is becoming more secular and pluralistic, we sophisticates seldom appreciate the cry of some dogmatic visionary who calls for a return to absolute standards which have a divine origin. We prefer the softened tones of the relativist who tries to harmonize the claims of very different witnesses. And so, the readiness of the average Catholic to live a quiet life of compromise. We want to belong and not to offend. And, more: Catholics realize that Holy Mother Church has her own dirty linen to explain. In recent days, Catholicism has been pilloried in the secular press as hopelessly out of contact with the modern world. Today, then, "is a tough time to be Catholic." We experience both a failure of nerve and cultural fatigue. Sometimes, Catholics are close to apologetic.
Matthew Kelly has a very different vision. For the last 20 years, he has been on the offensive. His main claims: (1) There is a genius in Catholicism; (2) There is nothing wrong in the Church which cannot be fixed; (3) The world is desperately in need of Catholic wisdom and power; (4) If Catholics (62 million in America alone, 2.1 billion in the world) would stand together, something wonderful could happen.
A word about our author: he is a one-man army. Mr. Kelly was born in Sydney, Australia. He had a religious experience when very young and began speaking and writing in his teens. He is married and has a devoted wife. Since his early days, more than four million people have heard his lectures. He has written a dozen books that have appeared on major best-seller lists. He also authored books for children. The Matthew Kelly Foundation was established to help youngsters clarify their goals in life. In addition to all of this, he is a major partner in a consulting firm based in Chicago. In 1995, he founded the Dynamic Catholic Institute (DynamicCatholic.com), which handles the outreach and follow-through with pamphlets, books and tapes which come from the Kelly enterprises. His final goal remains clear: to restore passion and conviction to Catholic life. At present, he is on a lecture tour in the United States.
Now, what of his book? While Mr. Kelly has sent many books a-sailing, the flagship of the fleet is Rediscover Catholicism. His subtitle says it all: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Purpose and Passion. From the book’s outline, we have his directions for the renewal of the Catholic spirit. His program for the transformation of our vision will have four major steps.
In Part One, he deals with one’s basic philosophy of life. We begin with an appreciation of the emptiness of modern hedonism and materialism. We focus on the universal hunger of the human heart and we are to ask ourselves. "Is Jesus still relevant? Why not?" While the world may spin and turn, heaven and the human heart stand still. We must find our own identity and mission.
Part Two centers on authenticity. We do need guidance, and this we shall find in the Second Vatican Council, in the Scriptures and, in the concrete, in the lives of the saints. And here we have some examples from our saints. This is well-done.
In Part Three, we have the seven pillars of Catholic spirituality. These are sacramental confession, daily prayer, holy Mass, the reading of Sacred Scripture, fasting, spiritual reading and the recitation of the rosary. Our author’s recipe is quite traditional, for which he gives no apology. There is no need to apologize for a rich tradition.
Part Four arrives at the final challenge: Are we willing to change from hesitation to courage, apology to action? Now is our time! There is a need today for leadership, but a leadership that is humble. When Mr. Kelly celebrated his 18th birthday so long ago, he received a gift, a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem "If." He reads this poem every day and adds a prayer. The poem is filled with practical suggestions, which are incomplete but suggestive. What if you and I were to become "the very best versions of ourselves" and work together to change our world for Christ?
What shall we say of Mr. Kelly’s book, on balance? Some may find the advice a bit too optimistic. Our author never comes to grips with any specific problem which might diminish the credibility of the Catholic Church. Other readers may say he overlooks the strength of the "negatives." He never names any major critic of the Church.
Still others, however, will find a welcome relief from the bitter tones of the angry critics of our time. Mr. Kelly’s vision is entirely positive and constructive. We can all be thankful for a happy optimism of the happy believer who reminds us that, while the rising winds and the sea may pound the listing barque of St. Peter, there is Someone in the boat and he is sound asleep in the stern. But, when he speaks, the winds and the sea will obey him.
Passionist Father Ronan Callahan taught for more than two decades at Catholic universities in the Philippines and currently teaches at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell. He received his doctorate at Rome’s Angelicum (The University of St. Thomas).