Kelly: Rediscover Catholicism

March 19, 2017

Rediscover Catholicism
Matthew Kelly
(Beacon, 2011) [2nd ed.]
336 p.

Matthew Kelly is by reputation a lively and engaging Catholic speaker and author. When an opportunity arose to peer into one of his books, I took it. This particular book, I understand, has often been given away at parishes, and is one of his most popular.

Based on the title, one would expect the book is written to half-hearted or lapsed Catholics who have to some extent lost their faith and need to rediscover it. And there are sections that seem to be written to that audience. But the book also seems to be intended for dedicated Catholics looking for ways to improve their spiritual life and to bring others to the faith.

The best part of the book for me was the long central section on “the seven pillars of Catholic spirituality”, which Kelly enumerates as: Confession (and he even calls it “Confession”!), daily prayer, the Mass, the Bible, fasting, spiritual reading, and the rosary. I’m sure we all have room to improve our relationship with these touchstones of Catholic life, and his remarks about them were instructive and encouraging.

Kelly appeals throughout the book to a rather chipper formulation of the goal of Catholic life: “to become the best possible version of yourself”. I’m sympathetic to this way of framing the matter (viz. the Biblical idea that Christ came “that you may have life, and that more abundantly”, or the Thomistic notion that the implicit objective of all human action is happiness, or the counsel of St. Irenaeus that “the glory of God is man fully alive”). But somehow Kelly’s formulation also grates on me.  Naturally I do want to become the best possible version of myself, and yes, I do think that my Catholic faith helps me to do that, most importantly by teaching me what that means — but his way of putting it still has for me too much of the self-help / personal-actualization aura about it.

My other criticism is that the book is long-winded. Asked what I was reading, I might well have answered as did the young prince: “Words, words, words”, in plenty. Although you’d never guess it from my gregarious manner on this blog, as a reader I generally favour compression and concision, and in consequence I confess I skimmed through much of this book. But the parts that were good were really quite good, and I think I would recommend it with only slight reservations.

4 Responses to “Kelly: Rediscover Catholicism”

  1. Janet Says:

    “But somehow Kelly’s formulation also grates on me.”
    Yes, exactly. In general I think what he says is good, but in general he grates on me. They gave away “Rediscover Jesus” in my parish and I attended a discussion group between Masses based on the book. It really lead to some good discussion, but every once in a while his style made me cringe.


  2. cburrell Says:

    Rod Dreher talks about “moral therapeutic deism” as the characteristic American religion, and while I would not describe Kelly as an MTD-er, his “best possible version of yourself” would, it seems to me, fit rather comfortably into that way of thinking.

    Our Teams of Our Lady group has picked another of his books for discussion over the next few months, and I’ve discovered that the same phrase pops up there, repeatedly. Happily, it’s a much shorter book.

  3. Maria Marz Says:

    I see the point of “moral therapeutic deism” and how Kelly grates on some for this “becoming the best version of yourself” However, without wanting to defend him or play devil’s advocate, we are indeed called to be the best we can be. I do think that, on the other hand, the Joel Osteens of the world also tell you that it is ok to be mediocre because God loves you just as you are – and this is true. However, I want to say that the nuns in my Catholic grade school growing up often condemned mediocrity. So there’s that.

  4. cburrell Says:

    Thanks for this, Maria. What you say is sensible. My discomfort with the “best possible version of yourself” mantra might actually be little more than annoyance on something like aesthetic grounds. It’s just so damned chipper. But I do agree that complacent mediocrity is not compatible with a lively faith.

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