Considering the amount of interest in my first blog post on Matthew Kelly’s book “Rediscover Catholicism,” I’ve decided to dedicate one more blog post to reflecting on several quotes from the book. As I suggested in my first post, this is really a book worth reading, but if you don’t have the time or motivation, here are just a few of my favorite quotations and the meditations that they inspired:
“Without God alive within us and working through us, you and I would not be capable of love or justice. Walking humbly with God means allowing God your Father to take you by the hand and lead you. But too often we want to race off ahead of our loving Father, tearing our hand from his and 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 something more. If we walk humbly with our God, he will lead us by the hand to exactly who and what we need, to those people, things, and experiences he has designed and intended just for us, and this alone will be the cause of our deep fulfillment and happiness” (101). I have seen children doing just this so many times. They struggle to be free of their parent’s grip so that they can run and explore. When their mothers and fathers try to convince them to stay with them, the children cry that they want to leave. They fight, and eventually, the parent lets go, knowing what is bound to happen next. The children run free, jumping and enjoying their new-found freedom. They start running in every direction, first to sniff the flowers at the side of the path, then to throw a rock into the near-by pond, and then to race down the hill to the playground. And then the inevitable happens. Something to the left catches their eye, they quickly alter their direction, and suddenly they’re tumbling down the hill after having tripped over their own feet. After finally coming to a stop, they’ve lost all interest in whatever had momentarily caught their fancy and even in the playground at the bottom of the hill, and the only thing that matters to them is getting back to Mommy or Daddy. They run back into their parents’ arms, sobbing about whatever injury they have obtained, imaginary or otherwise. The world ceases to matter; the only thing that matters is being in their mother or father’s arms. After having fought endlessly to be free of those same arms, the prodigal child comes running home. We’re like those children- easily distracted by the glamors of the world, wanting nothing more than to be free of our Father’s arms, and then, after being granted what we’ve asked for and realizing it’s not as glorious as we had hoped, we run back into the merciful, loving arms of our heavenly Father.
“If you tell me what your habits are, I can tell you what sort of person you are…From a person’s habits, it is easy to deduce what his or her future will be like, because habits create character, and your character is your destiny” (103). When I was in high school, there was a banner that hung over our gym entrance that read, ‘Character is destiny.’ Then, when I began college, this motif followed me, becoming the focus of my freshmen orientation program. ‘Character is destiny.’ Our character, the traits that make us who we are, good and bad, define who we are, as well as who we will become. And of course, who we are is determined by what we do. A man’s actions will define the man. One of my professors used to claim that a mother who defends her son’s bad behavior by claiming that ‘he’s a good boy’ is kidding herself. It sounds harsh, but I think there’s a lot of truth to that statement. Now, I’m not saying that this poorly-behaved child is the spawn of Satan, but I am making the claim that he might just be a bad child. Sure, there are some kids whose bad behavior can be explained by hyperactivity (or just by their sheer existence as a child), but I’ve also encountered my fair share of children who have no other explanation for their behavior except for poor character. I often talk about the innocence of children, but that does not mean that all children are sinless- if they were, I wouldn’t be teaching them how to make a good confession. But anyway, poor choices lead to bad habits, and bad habits make for bad character. The opposite is also true- good choices lead to good habits, and good habits make for a good character. It’s fairly common knowledge that in order to make something a habit, you have to keep up the action for 21 days. Want to get your daughter into the habit of brushing her teeth every night before bed? Make her do it for 21 days. I can pretty much guarantee that on day #21, she’ll be walking to the bathroom before bed all by herself. The choices that we make will determine our habits, and our habits will define our character. But don’t forget that at the core of this is the action, and if you don’t like some of your habits, you can change them by choosing differently. Want to change your character? Change your habits. Want to change your habits? Change your actions. It’s that simple. And that difficult.
“You will learn more from your friends than you ever will from books. Choose your friends wisely” (105, as quoted from Matthew Kelly’s book A Call to Joy).
“First man creates a problem, and then God, in his infinite wisdom, provides a solution. If the problems today are greater than ever before, then God will raise up saints greater than ever before…You can be certain of one thing: As dark and as grim as things may seem for the Church at times, these circumstances will conspire to produce a group of modern saints. God will use these circumstances to call forth men and women who will shadow the saints of ages past” (109). This is absolutely true. If you think of the amazing lives of the saints, you will find that when the world was really living in darkness, there were more saints to combat that darkness. And brighter ones. We are living in a world that is welcoming a darkness unlike any that came before, and as a result, we can be confident that God will send us saints unlike any the world has ever encountered. And don’t think that they will be off in some of other country. Some of them will be, but I really do believe that God will raise up many incredible saints right here in America. They might even be right in your neighborhoods, your schools, and your families. And it might be you He has His eye on.
“The future belongs to the storytellers and it belongs to us. What will it be like? Well, that depends very much on the stories we tell, the stories we listen to, and the stories we live…Never underestimate the importance of stories. They play a crucial role in the life of a person and in the life of a society. They are as essential as the air we breathe and the water we drink. Stories captivate our imaginations, enchant our minds, and empower our spirits. They introduce us to who we are and who we are capable of being. Stories change our lives” (110). As an avid reader and writer, I absolutely love this idea. I have often come face to face with the power of a story. Stories can change the way we view history, our families, and even ourselves. Stories make long-gone figures present to us, and well-known members of our families can take on almost mythical proportions because of stories. I have never had an appreciation for biographies, but when an author works to tell a person’s story rather than simply recount facts about their lives, they can make the characters come alive for me. Reading about the lives of the saints has often led me to view these incredible men and women are my friends. And the stories of my great-grandmother, who I knew as a child, make her feel more real to me than my own memories of her do. Stories are life-giving. The stories that we read and the stories that we hear can change our lives; they can lead us to make choices that we otherwise might not have. We are incited to be brave, to be persistent, to be hopeful like the characters in the stories that we love. These stories make us who we are, and they also help us to write our own stories. Each of our stories is unique, and each needs to be written. Write yours.
“I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it and then it’s gone. But to surrender what you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying- even more terrible than dying young” (112, quoting St. Joan of Arc).
“Remember you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one glory, which is eternal. If you do this, there will be a great many things about which you care nothing” (114, quoting St. Teresa of Avila).
“First do what is necessary. Then do what is possible. And before you know it, you will be doing the impossible” (115, quoting St. Francis of Assisi).
“Jesus didn’t come for the healthy; he came for the sick, and he established the Church to continue his work. I am imperfect, but I am capable of change and growth. We are all imperfect but perfectible. The Church holds me in my weakness, comforts me in my limitations, endeavors to heal me of my sickness, and nurtures me back to full health, making me whole again. And throughout this process, the Church manages to harness all my efforts and struggles, not only for my own good, but for the good of the entire Church and indeed humanity. This is just a tiny part of the incredible mystery of the Church” (125). I just love that idea- we are all imperfect but perfectible. There is just so much hope in that thought. We are all called to work towards perfection, but it’s also okay if we haven’t quite reached it yet. If we keep working at it, we will get there eventually- because each and every one of us is perfectible. If we give ourselves to Jesus Christ and give Him free reign to work His wonders with us, we are all capable of perfection. Jesus Christ wants to see us all perfected. He wants us all to be perfect, just like His heavenly Father is perfect. And God wouldn’t call us to the impossible if He didn’t intend to make it possible for us. He is constantly pouring out the graces that we need to attain this perfection, and it can always be found streaming through the Church. We are not alone in our quest. God has given us the gift of the Church to help us on our journey towards perfection.
“The more I get to know myself and my sinfulness, the more I am able to understand others and be tolerant of their faults, failings, flaws, addictions, and brokenness. Self-knowledge breeds the ultimate form of compassion…Self-knowledge also deflates all the false pride and egoism in our lives. Genuine self-knowledge is humbling, and two humble people will always have a better relationship than two prideful people” (134). I find this to be extremely ironic, especially considering the emphasis that today’s culture places on tolerance and compassion. Tolerance is the primary virtue to be developed within each one of us- it is predominant even over faith, hope, and love. If you are not tolerant, your other virtues mean nothing. But modern society seems to be filled with intolerance and hypocrisy; it is filled with people who preach tolerance, but then condemn anyone who does not believe what they believe. I once heard a quote that warned against complete tolerance, because those who are open-minded must live in constant fear that their brains will fall out. We cannot be completely open-minded to everything. If we say something is all black, it cannot be all white. If we say that an unborn child is a human, it cannot be a bird and we cannot kill it. We are all called to be tolerant of other people’s faults, but we are also called to invite the sinner to a better life. This is not an either/or situation- it is a both/and. We must be both tolerant of and challenging towards sinners. But this begins with ourselves- before we can be tolerant of, or forgive, or challenge other people, we must first be tolerant of, and forgive, and challenge ourselves. We must recognize our own sinfulness, forgive ourselves for it (as we ask God for forgiveness), and challenge ourselves to overcome our sins. And I think this is why the Christian world does a much better job of tolerance than the secular world. The Christian can identify herself as a sinner in need of forgiveness, and thus can be tolerant of the brokenness of others. The secular world professes that there is no such thing as sin, and thus no need for forgiveness, and therefore, it cannot be tolerant of the flaws of others. Flaws are things to be covered up, and not overcome. Brokenness is something to be hidden, and not repaired. Of course, whether or not we want to admit it, we are all broken and in need of repair, but if we can’t admit that we’re broken, we’ll never be healed. Society is intolerant of the one force that can fix us: God.
“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (142, quoting St. Therese of Lisieux). I think that this is the most beautiful definition of prayer that I have ever heard. At its core, prayer is not root memorization, or a necessary component of the checklist of every good Catholic. Sure, there is a place for memorized prayers, and prayer is certainly a necessary component in the life of any person who wants to grow closer to God, but these definitions do not tell us what prayer at its core is. Yes, there are prayers that we memorize, but why do we memorize them? Why do we talk to God at all? We talk to God because we need to know that we are heard. And not just heard by anyone- heard by Someone who knows us better than we ever know ourselves. We need to know that Someone hears our pleas, hears our joyful exclamations, hears our declarations of thanks. We want to be heard. We need to bear our souls to Someone. We need to trust Someone. Other people will not satisfy these needs; only God will. And sometimes when we speak to God, we cannot find the words. Sometimes there are too many emotions flooding our souls, and we can’t make sense of the thoughts coursing through our minds. Sometimes we have so much to say, and no way of saying it. And that’s why we’ve been given prayers that we can memorize. When we can’t produce words, God gives them to us. He helps us to speak when we’ve forgotten how to form coherent sentences, and through it all, He knows what our hearts are struggling to communicate. Conversation, and deepening relationships, and love- that’s what prayer is at its core.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!