Several months ago, I had the great pleasure of reading Matthew Kelly’s “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic,” a terrific book identifying the four unique characteristics of what Kelly referred to as “dynamic Catholics,” those parishioners who are the most faithful and involved in the life of the Church. After reading this wonderful book, I picked out a few of my favorite quotes and reflected on them. The finished blog post can be found here. Throughout “The Four Signs,” Kelly referred to another book of his, “Rediscover Catholicism” enough times to peak my interest in it. To be honest, I had heard of it before, but I had never been motivated to actually purchase a copy and read it. After finishing “The Four Signs,” I found the motivation I needed.
Frankly, I was just a little behind the curve. Matthew Kelly’s main audience for “Rediscover Catholicism” are those fallen-away Catholics who are just beginning to hear the Spirit whispering for them to come back, or else those who have just answered the call to return. I myself was once a fallen-away Catholic, but some time has passed since I began my journey back to the Lord. Despite that fact, I found this book to be very rewarding, and regardless of your particular place in this journey of faith, I sincerely believe you will too. If you don’t have the time or the motivation to read this book on your own however, I’ve compiled some of the most outstanding quotations and included my reflections on these quotes below.
“The Church (like so many other things in life) is not so much something we inherit from generations past or take over from our predecessors as it is something on loan to us from future generations” (7). This quotation really is true of so many things. The planet, for one. I’ve heard plenty of people make the claim that we need to view the world as something on loan to us that we need to preserve for the use of future generations. That’s certainly true, but this concept is equally true, if not more true, for the Church. There are plenty of other forces influencing this planet that we have little or no control over, but as far as the Church is concerned, if there’s anything wrong with it, the only people we can point fingers at are ourselves. Over and over throughout the book, Matthew Kelly makes the claim that we directly impact the existence of the Church. When we do the will of God, the Church becomes stronger. When we disobey, she becomes weaker. Just as St. Paul explains in his first letter to the Corinthians, we are all members of the Body of Christ, and when one part suffers, so does the entire Body. When one part rejoices, so does the entire Body. So next time you find yourself justifying your actions by claiming that the only person involved is yourself, remember that as a part of the Body, we are all connected. If it affects you, it affects us too.
“Love is the core of Jesus’ philosophy. But in order to love you must be free. For to love is to give your self freely and without reservation. Yet, to give your self- to another person, to an endeavor, or to God- you must first possess your self. It is a prerequisite for love, and is attained only through discipline” (35).
“The life of Jesus Christ is indelibly engraved upon history; neither the erosion of time nor the devastating and compounding effects of evil have been able to erase his influence. Some people thought he was crazy; others considered him a misfit, a troublemaker, a rebel. He was condemned as a criminal, yet his life and teachings reverberate throughout history. He saw things differently, and he had no respect for the status quo. You can praise him, disagree with him, or vilify him. About the only thing you cannot do is ignore him, and that is a lesson that every age learns in its own way” (36). I think most people have underestimated the power of Jesus Christ, as well as His Body here on earth, the Church. Generation after generation has tried to ignore the Christian, and there have been many attempts to separate Christ from this world, but it is impossible. Some things never change. In the early Church, when Christianity was rapidly spreading throughout the Roman Empire, many people, including the pagan emperors, attempted to create a Christian society without Christ. And they failed. They saw the great good that the Christians were doing- how they cared for the widow, the orphan, and the poor (regardless of the faith of these people)- and tried to convince the pagans to practice the same morality as the Christians did, but without Christ. Do you think that they were successful? Not in the least. Christians did a much better job of being Christ-like than their pagan brothers did. Does that mean that only Christians can live moral lives? Of course not, but being a follower of Christ certainly provides a type of motivation that most atheists lack. Our present society is the perfect example of the fact that you can’t have a truly moral society without Christ. Ever since our culture declared that God was dead, we have been slowly dying. Our culture has not gotten better since we tried to kill God; it has only gotten worse. When we tried to kill God, the only people we killed were ourselves.
“Catholicism is not merely a religion, or a sect, or a set of rules. When small minds and smaller spirits try to capture the essence of Catholicism, this is often what they tend to conclude. But Catholicism is more than a religion. It is more than just another movement. The essence of Catholicism is not sin, punishment, duty, or obligation, and it is more than a set of lifeless rules and regulations. Catholicism is more. It is more than most people think and more than most Catholics ever experience…The essence of Catholicism is dynamic transformation. You cannot become more like Jesus Christ and at the same time stay as you are. To be Catholic means to be striving to live the Gospel, to be striving to become more like Jesus Christ. It is a dynamic approach to transformation that animates the human person- physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually- and allows us to experience life ‘to the fullest’ (John 10:10)” (43). This is quite the statement. How do you think of Catholicism? Is it just a religion? A set of rules? How small is your mind? How small is your spirit? There was a time when my mind was incredibly small, and I’m sure that many people have a time in their lives that they must say the same thing of themselves. Ultimately, it is not about how small your mind is now, but how large it can become through the grace of Jesus Christ. Your spirit might be small and weak right now, but with the grace of God, it can become so much stronger than you ever imagined. Matthew Kelly is right- Catholicism is so much more than a religion or a set of rules. It’s a relationship between you and the God of the universe. It’s a love story between humanity and the God that loved her so much that He was willing to die for her. That being said, just because it is more than a religion or a set of rules does not mean that these are not aspects of Catholicism. This side of heaven, we need religion- we need a community of worshippers with whom we can grow closer to God. We need that set of rules- we need to know what will bring us closer to God, and what will lead us farther away. But Catholicism is so much more…
“G.K. Chesterton wrote, ‘Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried'” (44). Now that’s profound. So many people complain that Christianity is too hard, but if you really give yourself to it, if you discipline your will and continuously work to choose the will of God over your own, I promise that you will never be disappointed. Oftentimes, the hardest things are the most worthwhile in the end, and Christianity is no exception.
“There are a great many people who think the problem with the world today is that people don’t come to church. They think the challenge is to bring people to church, but the real challenge is to bring the Church to the people. Fundamentally, that is what we are failing to do. We are failing to do as Christ did- namely, to reach out and meet people where they are in their need, in their brokenness” (48). I recently read a blog post about how Christians are failing to be Christ-like because they are too judgmental. People don’t want to go to church because they feel that they will be judged there. These things might very well be true- there was a time where I felt that if I showed my face in church, people would spend the hour judging me for my presence rather than affirming it. Whether or not that was actually the case is another story, but I don’t think I’m the only person who ever felt that way. The important thing is that I didn’t let what people thought of me keep me from Christ. When you’re desperate enough, the opinions of others cease to matter. The people in church might not have judged me, but they also didn’t reach out to me. I felt like I was an outsider; I even felt unwanted at times. But I was persistent, and now I take special care to be welcoming, both inside of church and out. We need to reach out- we need to be the arms of Christ. People need to be guided; they need to be held. If Christ can’t do it, we, as the Body of Christ, must do it for Him. No, we should not judge. We should remember that we are all broken in some way. But the one who feels judged should also remember that we all judge at times, and even Christians are human.
“As Catholics, the one thing we do more than anything else is celebrate. Everything the Church does is centered around a celebration” (51). As a Catholic in the middle of Lent, I know that this is absolutely true. I know that I belong to the most amazing Church. When every other day is a feast day, and our most important form of prayer centers on bread and wine, you know you’re in the right place.
“The great danger is that veneration can become more important than imitation. When this happens, our devotion to the saints becomes hollow and borders on superstition. There is also a temptation to simply respect the saints from a distance, instead of following their example, studying the wisdom of their lives, and applying their lessons to our own lives” (71). I know that a lot of Protestants object to our views of the saints, and while I can understand to a certain extent where they are coming from, the presence of the saints only makes me more grateful that I belong to such an incredible Church. We all ask our friends to pray for us, and we always look up to those who are following Christ more closely than we are. We admire them, but we also want to become more like them. The saints are amazing role models for us, and Mary is the most perfect of all. When we try to become more like them, when we follow their example and do as they did, we become more like Christ. The saints dedicated their entire lives (or the latter part of their lives, as is sometimes the case) to becoming more like Christ, and the Church, by recognizing these saintly men and women, gives us the most incredible role models. The saints have walked all sorts of paths- they are men and women, priests, religious, married, and single people, old and young. They are excellent role models, but they are also amazing friends. They are not dead and gone; as part of the Church, they are here and now. They are with us. We can do more than just follow their example- we can talk to them; we can ask them for prayers and assistance. The saints are not just figures that we can admire, but friends that we can turn to in times of need. They are not just characters in stories, or the focus of age-old biographies, but human beings living in heaven but also very much present to us. They are here for us- become their friends.
“Discipline is the 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” (71). Discipline is hard. We often shy away from it. Our society even tells us that if we have to work for it, it’s most likely not worth it. We are used to just being handed what we need, as well as what we want. We have largely forgotten what it means to discipline ourselves. But discipline is necessary for success. Geniuses do not gain knowledge by sitting on the couch all day and watching soap operas. Athletes do not become stronger by eating junk food all the time and never exercising. Geniuses devote hours to reading and learning; athletes spend their days eating healthy and exercising. The same goes for our faith. Want more faith? Pray more. Want to grow closer to God? Dedicate a part of your day to reading the Bible and other spiritual works. It requires discipline, but the only way to become stronger in your faith is to exercise your will and give your soul the nourishment that it needs to grow.
“Today’s culture rejects the saints for the same reason it rejects Jesus: because they remind us of the indispensable role discipline plays in the development of the human person” (73).
“When all is said and done, the saints challenge us to become holy. Our discomfort with the saints is proof of our discomfort with our calling to live authentic lives. We have banished the saints from our modern practice of Catholicism because when they are present it is impossible to forget that we are called to holiness” (74). Children seem to understand this in a way that adults cannot. Many adults shy away from the saints, because they can’t possibly live up to their example, because they’re afraid to fail at becoming more like the saints, or just because they believe the saints are irrelevant. But the saints aren’t irrelevant- we only want them to be because acknowledging the fruitfulness of their lives necessarily requires that we admit where our lives are less than exemplary. Children have no problems admitting their faults. In fact, just this past week, as my students were waiting for their turn to go to confession, I could barely stop them from telling me their every sin. They don’t mind sharing the stains that their little souls have accumulated. They know that they’re moments away from having their souls wiped clean. They know they’re weak, but they also know that they can become strong. God gives them strength. As a result, they don’t need to be afraid of the saints. Even if they aren’t yet saints themselves, children possess a hope for the future that we often fail to grasp. We can learn a lot from following their examples too. Both the saints and our children have a lot to teach us.
“The whole world will get out of the way for the man who knows where he is going. For the man who does not, the world becomes a playground filled with distractions and nothingness” (97). This doesn’t mean that the person who knows where they are going will never come across obstacles, but rather obstacles are there simply to be overcome. We face them and move on. For the person who doesn’t know where they are going, obstacles are distractions that allow us to waste our time and our lives. They cannot be overcome until we know where we are headed. Until then, life’s just a playground- and not the kind with swing sets and slides. They’re the kind where you’re hanging from the monkey bars, trying to avoid the “lava” beneath you, except you can’t decide whether you should go forward or backwards. Instead, you just hang there, not going anywhere, waiting for the moment when you can’t hold on any longer and you just have to let yourself fall. Don’t let the lava get you. You can make it to the other side.
“God doesn’t want to control you, or manipulate you, or stifle you, or force you to do things you don’t want to do. If that were God’s desire, then he would not have given you free will. God wants you to become all you can be, and in the process he wants you to experience the greatest mystery of all: love” (99). God isn’t a tyrant, or a dictator. He is a lover. Let Him love you.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!