On My Bookshelf: Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic

dynamic catholicMatthew Kelly is popular among many of our people at the student center. We have a handful of his books in the library. For about a decade, I’ve heard of his speaking appearances.

When Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic showed up at the parish earlier this year, I read the first half of it in one sitting. I finished it up the other day.

Mr Kelly’s four signs are simple enough: pray, study, be generous, and evangelize. Do these, and the Catholic is undoubtedly on the right track.

Mr Kelly tells good stories, gives good examples, and if a Catholic is inclined to follow his suggestions, I suspect that person’s life will become richer, holier, and naturally more dynamic.

This book falls just short of the game-changer that I found Rebuilt. I know what, but I’m guessing as to why. Matthew Kelly is a speaker and consultant. From his biography, I don’t see him with pastoral experience in parishes. So he primarily gets two groups of people coming to his lectures and reading his books: the already-converted and the seekers.

Those of us in parishes have to deal with a tougher house: the skeptics. And I mean both skeptics within Catholicism, as well as people who come to us giving us one last chance (or whatever) and something important seems like it’s on the line.

Another problem in Mr Kelly’s book is that he occasionally falls back on the cliché. “… the last remaining socially acceptable prejudice in America is to be anti-Catholic.” Please. I read news stories from around the world, and while individual Catholics and Catholic policies may be criticized, it’s nothing compared to what happens in other places, especially it seems, Muslim countries.

I also thought his jumping on the relativism bandwagon was a bit much. What is needed is a deeper look not at relativism but at evasion, which I think is the root problem he and Pope Benedict were aiming at. People decide on behaviors, be they sexual activity or “saving” the Church from scandal, and they go off looking for an excuse to justify it. They evade the truth, and they have innumberable ways to dodge. Relativism is but one sin, and not even one exclusive to the Left.

Like the Rebuilt guys, Matthew Kelly is not afraid to look outside of Catholicism for answers to the hemorrhaging of baptized Catholics into non-denominational Christianity or unbelief or inactivity. I think he might rely too much on programs instead of a more basic approach of sharing faith, of the big 3 of liturgy (music, preaching, and welcome), and of small groups. But on evangelization, I think his thoughts are spot on.

I did like his suggestion in his final chapter of finding one big, bold project that all Catholics could get on board with. Ending child poverty, for example, would be an effort no sane person could criticize and would refocus both the critics who always have something negative to say, as well as apathetic believers in our midst.

It is disturbingly clear that our present efforts are focused more on surviving than on thriving, on containment than on expansion, on the institution rather than the people the institution exists to serve. And a little tweak here and there is not going to turn the tide. In fact, our current approach is failing even to stem the tide. Are we brave enough to rethink our direction?

Bravery: now that’s a quality I hadn’t considered as essentially Catholic. But it something we need. Whether or not you read this book, think about whether you have the signs of dynamism.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in evangelization, Ministry, On My Bookshelf, Parish Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to On My Bookshelf: Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic

  1. LIam says:

    I would suggest at least one alternative to the list of verbs, which is so American in the way it valorizes kinetics over ontology:

    Infectious joy.

    I know of no greater dimension of evangelization than infectious joy.

    Joy is not happiness; happiness is an emotional photograph. Joy is a spiritual state of being. People who suffer from chronic depression (I did for many years, with lovely bouts of double depression) are rarely happy, but they can, oddly enough, manifest joy. (This seems to confound people, but I remember a former fellow parishioner of mine (a nun) who zeroed in on my chronic depression once as she was getting to know me, and I wondered how she knew, and she said joy is often a marker of chronic depressives – in so many words, because they readily know how much WORSE things COULD be and seek out reasons to be grateful the way thirsty people seek water!)

    • John McGrath says:

      The old saying: “Enjoy today, because no matter how bad it is. it will be worse tomorrow.” And, of course, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” I don’t know about joy but I do know that making a problem out of a problem makes people miserable, to themselves and others.

  2. John McGrath says:

    Pope Paul VI was eager to condemn contraceptives because he believed it was something every Catholic everywhere would fully support, even though the investor of contraceptives was a Catholic doctor eager to end abortions.

  3. Ray MacDonald says:

    Piety, study, apostolic action. Those were the legs of the tripod we learned about 30 years ago in the Cursillo movement. Isn’t it more a matter of “just do it” than theorizing about it?

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