Matthew Kelly's book is about an ancient faith in the modern world. It is about something profound, something deep, laid out in simple terms. It is a handbook about finding and living the faith. It is about change, change for the better. It is about becoming the best version of yourself. I hope this blog post will inspire you to read the book.
The Catholic Church, despite our faults and failings, is an incredible institution. But we have forgotten our story. Every single day the Catholic Church feeds, clothes and houses more people, takes care of more sick people, visits more prisoners and educates more people than any other institution on earth. Almost the entire western world is educated because of the church's pioneering role in universal education. Our history is not without blemish and our future will not be without blemish. But there is a genius in Catholicism, if we just take the time and make the effort to humbly explore it. Kelly states that there is nothing wrong with Catholicism that can't be fixed with what is right with Catholicism; if you and I are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem; and if 67 million Catholics in the US stepped it up a notch, something incredible would happen. Granted that the faith is old, but does that make it irrelevant? If you had an ancient treasure map, would you throw it away just because it is old? No. The age of the map doesn't matter. What matters is whether or not it leads to treasure.
The basic tenet of Catholicism is that we were created to love and be loved. But the modern philosophies of individualism (what's in it for me), hedonism (pleasure is the ultimate goal of life) and minimalism (minimum effort, maximum reward) have taken over. We confuse pleasure with happiness. Our physical needs and desires dominate our existence. We have forgotten the other three aspects of the human person – emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Kelly calls for discipline in our lives and writes that freedom without discipline is impossible. Discipline is a faithful friend who will introduce you to your true self. Discipline is the worthy protector who will defend you from your lesser self. And discipline is the extraordinary mentor who will challenge you to become the best version of yourself and all God created you to be.
Faith in the teachings of Christ is fundamental. If you allow the values and principles of the gospel to guide you, it will turn out for the best. It will not always turn as you wish, but you will be a better person for having lived the gospel in that situation, and because of that, your future will be richer. Faith is about walking humbly with God, allowing Him to take your hand and lead you. But too often, we want to race off ahead of our loving father, running frantically in all directions. We don't want to miss anything. We want to experience everything that this life has to offer, so we run here and there in search of happiness - but we are always left yearning for more. Faith is about God's will. Stop trying to put together a master plan for your life and for your happiness. Instead seek out the Master's plan for your life and for your happiness. Faith in the teaching of the church is important. Those willing to learn from others mistakes can live with the wisdom of the old from the earliest ages. It is not necessary to make all the mistakes yourself to learn about life, yourself and others.
On sin and repentance
Repent means turn back to God. It's not about condemnation. It is about apologizing. If we never apologize in our relationship with God, that relationship will suffer the fate that so many modern human relationships are suffering. Self introspection will get you to know yourself. The gifts of self knowledge include freedom from the world's image of who you are and an unquenchable compassion for others. The more you get to know yourself and your sinfulness, the more you are able to understand others and be tolerant of their faults, failings, flaws, addictions and brokenness. Understanding leads to peace. Learn to prize the peace in your soul above all else.
Kelly's prayers are very practical. First, he prays to make sense of things. He also prays because he wants to live life deeply and deliberately. Thirdly, he prays to build up the kind of inner density required to prevent the culture from swallowing him up. Our world has been filled with noise, and as a result, we can no longer hear the voice of God in our lives. We should make a daily commitment to enter into the classroom of silence and listen to God. And remember, prayer doesn't change God, prayer changes us.
The Mass is the highest form of prayer. The Mass is not about whom you sit next to. Its not about which priest says mass. Its not about what you wear or who is there. Mass is not about the music. Its not even about the preaching. It is about gathering as a community to give thanks to God for all the blessings he fills our lives with. It is about receiving the body and blood of Christ, not just physically, but spiritually. Perhaps you have been receiving the Eucharist physically every Sunday for your whole life. Next Sunday, prepare yourself, be conscious of the marvel, the wonder, the mystery, and receive spiritually. And the prayers of the Mass are profound and beautiful. Rediscover them.
The present and the future.
We have our problems. These problems can fill the heart with a great sadness, but they should not lead to despair. They should be seen as opportunities for us to change, grow, and become more effective at meeting people where they are and leading them to where God calls them to be. There are calls for change. The environment changes, the culture changes, people change, but the truth does not change; the supernatural realities of faith, hope and love do not change; and God does not change.
What do we need to do.
First and foremost, we need to inspire people. We have failed non believers. We have failed to communicate the value of living a life of virtue and faith. Remember, “Don't tell them, show them.” We have to communicate through the authenticity of our lives. Jesus didn't promise an easy way. He promised that we would be ridiculed, prosecuted and unappreciated as he himself was, but that we would nonetheless experience joy and fullness of life. We have to take the Church to the people. We have a duty to study and know the issues that turn Catholics away, so we can build the necessary bridges of truth and knowledge that will allow them to return to the fullness of our ancient and beautiful faith. If you want to grow in faith, identify the teachings of the Catholic church that you find most difficult to understand and accept, then read about it. Study that issue.
There will always be questions. Questions are an integral part of the spiritual journey. The temptation is to despise questions and the uncertainty they represent. But uncertainty is a spiritual gift designed to help us grow. From time to time, great questions arise in our hearts and our minds. When that happens to you, don't let your heart be troubled. Learn to enjoy uncertainty. Learn to love the questions. The questions are life.
The bottom line, the ultimate aim, the purpose of life is to love. What really counts is not money, or titles, or possessions, but the way we love others. Let us rediscover life through the Catholic Church.