Well, I’ve taken several Fridays in a row off, so no time like the blogging challenge time to bring back Faith Fridays.
Several years ago my mother purchased Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscovering Catholicism. It’s sat on my shelf because I either didn’t have time or interest to read it. But after reading Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home (which I still need to post on) I felt it was a good time to read it. Parts of it, honestly did not speak to me and nearly made me put the book down, but I persevered to the very end and was glad I did.
I’ll start by talking about what I liked. I really enjoyed his 3rd and 4th sections. I felt like he gave all Catholics an excellent background as to why we need the sacraments as well as their history in the section on the Pillars of Catholicism. I also gleaned much useful and motivating inspiration from his sections on discipline, fasting and the Mass. His call to action in the fourth section “Now is Our Time” was extremely convicting. Kelly’s book was written in 2002 when the Catholic online presence was much different than it is today and he identifies many areas the Church (all of us) need to attack. Much of it is still very applicable today. He also speaks eloquently to the urgent need for Catholics to get their Bible’s out and start reading. To start studying. He even quotes my patron for 2014 St Jerome in this section, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Which should light a fire under quite a few rear-ends. And he speaks to community building both within the Church and in welcoming new-comers. He identifies easy ways to help bring others in gradually without a full-frontal attack. Much of that seems very prescient now thinking it was written over 10 years ago and sounds eerily familiar to people who follow Pope Francis’ speaking on love for one’s neighbor.
The first half of the book was difficult for me. In talking about it with my mom, we identified some of the reasons why certain aspects were difficult. One thing I disliked that happened throughout the book were the dated cultural references. Kelly frequently uses Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan as examples. Of course he was several years removed from the scandal of a life Woods created for himself that he would never consider using him as a reference today but even so, I kept feeling that if I read this book today as a person ten years younger than myself, I would have trouble identifying Michael Jordan’s contributions to basketball and to an extent Woods’ contributions to golf and considering neither has been considered the best in his game in quite sometime, the comparisons don’t hold as much weight. And this may sound minor, but there is a factual error in his description of Michael Jordan’s talent/persistence. I live in the town where Michael Jordan grew up and played high school basketball. In addition, my husband grew up the same time as Jordan and played against him in high school so I have some personal knowledge of this. He did not make the varsity team as a freshman not because he was not a hard worker or not talented enough. The coach had a policy that freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity team. Period. Michael Jordan didn’t make the team because of policy and no other reason. So, hearing that myth recited yet again, well, it bugged me and that’s probably just me but it’s all part of the mythology and idolization and I just felt like, especially since we know it’s not true any longer, should have been edited out of the book.
I think Kelly did much better with his stories of Blessed (then Pope) John Paul II, Mother Teresa, St John Mary Vianney, and St Francis of Assisi. I think it would have been better if Kelly had stuck with saints in the first two sections of the book as their lives have been lived in this world and their good works longer established. There is a more timeless quality when using the saints vs personalities currently on top in pop culture. There are very few Beatles these days where the cultural impact is still felt. But there are plenty of saints to choose from who are continually celebrated in the Church.
Another thing that initially turned me off is Kelly’s writing style. His language is plain and down to earth which is fine but I did feel like he sometimes abruptly jumped from one topic within his chosen section to another without enough transition so that I felt jarred. For me it was a flow issue. I also disliked his frequent repetition of the exact same phrases. I felt that could have been cut down a little. I have to confess, this is a purely personal aesthetic and so I understand if people feel like I’m being too critical, but in light of all I’ve been reading about people saying ,”I just can’t read Ann Voskamp’s book. It’s too lyrical. It’s too flowery. It’s too…whatever” I stand by my statement. Like Voskamp’s style is not for everyone, neither is Kelly’s. For those of us who tend to read more scholarly or more lyrical, it can be difficult to get into this book.
I also felt as though the first two sections would have better served as their own book separate from the second two. It felt to me like they were written for different audiences. I felt as though the first two sections were better suited to new converts or people who were very new in their adult faith walk (despite age, we’re all different with that). The idea of “being the best version of yourself” as the route to sainthood I know has spoken to many converts and I think that when it’s followed by slightly headier defenses of the church and calls to action it can sometimes get jumbled. By separating this one book into two, it not only meets 2 different audiences more immediately, it also would allow some absorption time for those who will truly benefit from the first 2 sections before diving into to the deeper topics of the second section.
The book was also written before the death of Blessed John Paul II and of course before the entire papacy of Benedict XVI and Francis. So, I think that some preparation may be helpful for those who came into the church after that time. Just to get in the headspace of where the author was when writing. It can be helpful especially in light of knowledge we have now of events occurring since that time to understand what was going on during the time this book was written both in the Church and in the world.
I think Kelly’s messages overall were very good and that many could benefit from Rediscovering Catholicism. I felt that for where I am right now in my faith-life, it may have been more simple than I was really needing, but I would not hesitate it to recommend to someone who is where I was about 5-10 years ago. Particularly anyone who is luke-warm about the faith.