Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Review of Matthew Kelly's Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose

By Bill Hunt

Rediscover Catholicism comes with great promise. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the book have been distributed free of charge to Catholics throughout the United States. It forms the centerpiece of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ yearlong “Rediscover” program that invites Catholics to re-evaluate the meaning of their faith.

Matthew Kelly brings his skills as a business management consultant and motivational speaker to writing “a spiritual guide to living with passion and purpose.” He contends that the fundamental principle of Catholicism is that God wants us to be happy and holy by becoming “the best-version-of-ourselves” – a phrase he emphasizes throughout his book with mind-numbing repetition.

In the main section of his book Kelly recommends a number of “spiritual exercises” as aids in the quest for individual holiness. He calls these practices “the seven pillars of Catholic spirituality.” They include 1) monthly confession of one’s sins to a priest, 2) daily personal prayer, 3) weekly attentive participation in Sunday Mass, 4) daily Bible reading, 5) regular fasting, 6) daily spiritual reading, and 7) daily recitation of the Rosary. Just as regular physical exercise is necessary to develop a healthy body, so also regular spiritual exercises are necessary to develop “the-best-version-of-oneself.”

The last section of Rediscover Catholicism is a call to action. Faithful Catholics should focus on Catholic education and evangelization. “Teaching young people to recognize and celebrate the-best-version-of-themselves is also the best way to teach them to participate in society, to find work that is uniquely suited to them, and to engage their social responsibilities.” (p. 292) For evangelization, Kelly suggests “a simple four-point plan” based on cultivating friendship, prayer, personal sharing, and invitation.

Kelly is fond of sports metaphors, and Rediscover Catholicism is very much like an extended pep talk. It’s all very simple. The key is discipline. Catholics need to get back to basics, keep the goal of holiness in mind, take inspiration from their Church’s past achievements, study their heroes (the saints), and practice vigorously so that they may become what God wants them to be.

However, for all its promise Rediscover Catholicism is fundamentally flawed.

From the theological point of view, Kelly pays more attention to Michael Jordan than to Jesus; to self-development than to self-giving love. The reader searches in vain for something as insightful as the line from Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Kelly is somehow able to write an entire chapter on prayer without mentioning the Lord’s Prayer and to deal with virtue while almost completely ignoring the Sermon on the Mount. With regard to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he consistently refers to it as “Confession” and emphasizes its instrumental role in individual spiritual growth rather than its main purpose of reconciling the penitent with the Church and God. His take on fasting as the soul’s weapon in its constant war against the body has an eerily Manichaean tone.

Oddly, this book could have been written fifty years ago. Kelly rarely uses inclusive language and consistently refers to God as “he.” He reminds me of the Catholic Truth Society speakers that I listened to in London’s Hyde Park back in 1958. The CTS speakers defended the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church against the attacks of Protestants and atheists. They adopted an approach that exaggerated both the strengths of the Catholic Church and the weaknesses of the Protestants. For them the road to Christian unity was conversion to the Catholic faith.

Adopting a similar siege mentality, Kelly begins each chapter with a list of threats to Catholicism from secular society. With surprising hostility he accuses “Protestant-Evangelical churches” of kidnapping the word evangelization; of using argumentative and intimidating methods; of being “self-promoting and self-serving;” and of not even considering Catholics to be Christians. (p. 293)

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) adopted a much more open stance based on dialog and a search for common ground. Kelly gives lip service to the importance of the Council, but he hastens to add: “Vatican II was grossly misunderstood by Catholics at large and misrepresented by a great many theologians.” (pp. 75-76.) In the rest of his book he shows little, if any, interest in seriously engaging with the Council’s fundamental teachings.

Kelly seems to adopt the approach of many Catholic traditionalists who consider the Council to have been a mistake. Instead of taking issue with the Council directly, they simply ignore it.

The most positive thing I can say about Rediscover Catholicism is that it forces the reader to re-examine her or his own approach to Catholicism. However, as the rationale for a program to attract people to the Catholic Church it promotes a spirituality that owes more to the principles of the human potential movement than to Jesus’ command to love one another as he loved us.

Bill Hunt is a witness of the Second Vatican Council, having attended the sessions of the second period (1963) as a peritus (theological advisor). He holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic University of America and taught Catholic theology at the graduate level for fifteen years.


  1. Thanks, Bill. It is true that Kelly does not have a feel for the Catholic sacramental worldview. I was hoping that if people got together to talk about it, that would be a big step in the direction of deepening, as you say, their own awareness of what Catholicism means to them. Do any readers have experience of having had discussions on the book? It would be interesting to hear how other people reacted.

  2. I have not read this book, but other works of Kelly's I've experienced as similarly ego-driven and superficial.

    1. I agree. I have had the opportunity to hear Kelly speak on two occasions. It was lack luster and he came across as egotistic just as his books do.

  3. I just finished Thomas Cahill's books, "The Gifts of the Jews" and "Sailing the Wine Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter." At the end of the second one, he contrasts the Greco-Roman worldview with the Judeo-Christian one that "stressed not excellence of public achievement but the adventure of a personal journey with God, a lifetime journey in which a human being was invited to unite himself in God by imitating God's justice and mercy. It was far more individualized than anything the Greeks had ever come up with and stressed the experience of a call, a personal vocation, a unique destiny for each human being.... There was no eternal cosmos, circling round and round. Time is real, not cyclical; it does not repeat itself but proceeds forward inexorably, which makes each moment--and the decisions I make each moment--precious. ...I create a real future in the present by what I do now." Do you think Matthew Kelly is more influenced by the Greco-Roman worldview than by the Judeo-Christian?

  4. If you like your heresy seasoned with new age modernism, this is the book for you.

    1. I think Mathew ruffles feathers because of his innate spirituality which he chooses to dedicate to Catholicism. He is an evangelizer! He is dedicated to Vatican II teachings. He loves God, he wants to inspire disengaged Catholics. He is successful! As long as he doesn't redefine doctrine - but speaks in a language todays Catholics need in order to reignite Parishes - why is this a bad thing. Heresy? I think not. In fact read this list

      10 Things Pope Francis Wants You to Know about Evangelization (I have added comments following either on separate line or following hyphen).

      1. Anyone Can Evangelize! - Mathew Kelly is - are you?

      2. Want Authentic Personal Fulfillment? Evangelize!

      3. Evangelization Starts with Our Own Relationship with Jesus - Mathew's drive to develop his relationship with Jesus started when he was a very young man...he writes about it, he shares his story when speaking! He started here!

      4. Live By Faith-Filled Example
      Mathew Kelly is a beautiful example both in Faith, Family and Community!

      5. An Evangelizer is Joyful and Others Can Tell -
      If you haven't heard Mathew Kelly speak - you ought to - I guarantee you'll change your mind.

      6. Hello. My name is…Evangelizers Meet People!
      Mathew Kelly does, do you?

      7. Proclaim the Basics: Jesus Loves All!
      Are you a steward of your Faith? Mathew Kelly is!

      8. Get Out of Our Comfort Zone
      This speaks for itself - plus now Mathew is up against judgmental critics such as yourself and Mr. Hunt. Why is that?

      9. Mix and Mingle with All People
      Can you? Do you volunteer at your Parish? In your community? Do you get out of your comfort zone?

      10. Evangelization is for Everyone! - Everyone includes those who are doing it, doing it well and best of all he is re-engaging disengaged Catholics - if you can help me understand why this is a bad thing - why his success bothers a small percentage - and if there is something I am missing - please help me to see it.

    2. Amen!!!! Mr. Kelly is inspiring. I have a post-it note on my bathroom mirror which reads "10 minutes a day". He may not mention The Lord's prayer in the book but I say this prayer more than ever since I have read it.

  5. I found the book superficial and vapid. If one can't remember any impressive ideas contained in the book after putting it down, it's not likely to engender any life changes. It's not going to offend the Vatican II deniers in any way, as the Council is pretty much ignored.

    1. My thoughts exactly. I picked this book up in the back of church several months ago and finally attempted to read it; I made it half way through the 2nd chapter and dropped it in the recycle bin. I was hoping for something inspiring, but this book had the opposite effect.

  6. I have just published two books that might be more to your progressive taste.
    One is World Religions and Contemporary Issues (ecology, women's rights, and peace) . This is available at Twenty-Third Publications. The other is Religion Today; an Integral Approach (Lectio Publications) Dr. Brennan HIll, Xavier University, Cincinnati

  7. In his book, Mathew contends that this book is an attempt to raise morale among Catholics, to remind readers to the genius in Catholicism, to re-engage disengaged Catholics - and with self-help books selling in the Billions of dollars - I salute him, because he does inspire - and all in honor of our Catholic Faith.

    I am disappointed in this very negative review of Rediscover Catholicism. I am a layperson, not a theologian, I am a cradle catholic active in my parish. I happened to be exposed to this book in 2010. It was shared with me by my boss at the time who had left the Catholic Church long ago, and was an evangelical preacher. His mother had given him a copy. This book along with hearing Mathew, brought him back to Catholicism. I have taken a niece to hear Mathew- she had not practiced her faith in many years and she is re-engaging. I shared the book with a friend in Florida - before the archdiocese promoted his book, and she wrote a beautiful thank you letter expressing how it helped her to re-engage, set up a meeting with her local parish priest. Maybe for scholars its simplicity doesn't feed you - or if the lens is simply to read as a "critic" or maybe you were expecting Mathew to "teach" the faith - that simply isn't the message he is sending. He speaks great truth about the struggles of our Faith, as ugly as it is, and still inspires people to be or re-engage as part of the solution, that disengaging is part of the problem! I continue to struggle to understand the Vatican II council - so he simply spoke truth - but yet honors it ... As SBrinkmann responded on Women of Grace-"What might be making you uncomfortable is his current theme, which is all about creating “the best version of yourself” which sounds suspiciously New Age. However, Kelly’s approach to self-improvement isn’t through discovering our inner divinity – it’s solidly based on Vatican II’s call to holiness and encourages people to rediscover the glory of the Church through personal prayer, a deeper appreciation for the Sacramental life of the Church, and the Eucharist".

    Maybe try re-reading with a different lens.

    God Bless

    1. Well said, you expressed my thoughts far better than I could have done.

  8. Is Matthew Kelly a Republican Catholic? Serious question...that's the tone I get from the book.

    1. I think he's Australian. Also, so what?

  9. I think he has written some good points an each chapter

  10. "Kelly rarely uses inclusive language and consistently refers to God as “he.” "

    Uh, what? What church document or Bible passage commands "inclusive language"? If there is one, we need to rewrite or discard most of the Bible.

  11. Of course Kelly refers to God as 'He'. Jesus called Him Father!

    I enjoyed reading the book and agree with the more recent comments posted here. (I must have missed the 'heresy' in it!)

  12. Some people will complain about anything.

  13. Is Matthew Kelly a member of Opus Dei or Regnum Christi?

  14. I am a 63 year old cradle Catholic and I am inspired by Mr. kEllys book. I consider myself fairly progressive as far as the Church goes. However a call to holiness may be just what this broken world needs. Read it and learn.

  15. This book is inspiring and I suspect that those here who have criticized it should conduct some self-analysis because they are undoubtedly jealous that nothing they have done in their lives has inspired near as many. Thank you Matthew Kelly. This book has continued my deeper analysis of my love for my Catholic Church and our celebration of Christ.

  16. As a Roman Catholic since birth, I have never read a book as inspiring as Rediscover Catholicism. I was working in a Theology Dept. of a Catholic university in the Philippines surrounded by all kinds of books and the Holy Bible (although admittedly I didn't find the time to really read any), reading Rediscover Catholicism has me actually discovering Catholicism per se. I started reading the Bible 27 years ago, and with Matthew Kelly's book, the more I'm inspired to read the Bible daily. His insights are so inspiring.

  17. Amen and AMEN to those of you who are supportive of Matthew Kelly! He has touched the nearly-dead nerves of many Catholics with his writings and presentations and those of us who appreciate him and his work will do far more for the renovation of the Catholic Church in America than those, like Mr. Hunt, who sit in ivory towers and judge others because they're speaking a language not well understood by the academicians and so-called intelligentia within the membership of the Church. We need more Kellys and others who are willing to step out and 'tell-it-like-it-is' and offer solutions and not condemnations.

    1. I've read a couple of Kelly's books. I think the man is well meaning (but how much money does he make from this stuff?), but his work does come across as Catholic-flavored self help to me as well. I went to Catholic schools and value the emphasis on justice and economic justice that my teachers showed. What I really don't like about Kelly's approach to Catholicism is that he doesn't emphasize what makes the Catholic church unique--its emphasis on economic justice and human dignity. And while I don't mean to be touchy, who says "acamedicians" these days? Kelly isn't speaking a sophisticated language that can't be understood. Frankly, it's pretty dumbed down. It doesn't take a Ph.D. to understand Kelly's work. I think Kelly might bring back some middle-class Catholics, but I don't really think he's going to help the Church in the long run.

  18. As a Catholic, I was foolishly hoping for the answer to the great mysteries of life when I read this book but found a self serving pep talk for the Catholic Church. Where should I begin? The author starts off by dismissing the abuse of children by clergy as " a handful of troubled Priests" , yeah right, well Belgium has 800 of these perverts. Later he uses Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods as role models . Oh boy!

  19. I believe that Matthew Kelly is a sincere, well intentioned young man and author. He is a defender of the Catholic faith (the truth) and like all of us, he is on his own journey,can only speak from his own faith experiences to date. He has been very blessed from early days with good family, health,mentors and supporters who have bolstered his vocation and calling as writer and speaker. This is all good.
    I appreciate all the good that Matthew has offered us and the world in his young life.
    But Matthew still has a lot of life to live and on a certain level he is still not a "grown up' spiritually.
    I am an older (65) nurse, Cradle Catholic, in love with Christ Jesus and all that Jesus teaches.
    I think that Matthew Kelly has not really experienced "the Cross' yet in his life. He has heard many persons' stories and has a true sympathy and Christian caring that causes him to pray for people and continue speaking the truth about the Catholic Church.
    What Matthew has not experienced is a gut wrenching 'rug pulled out from under you","hit by a train", "Where is God?", "My God, My God, Why have you abandoned me?" crisis of faith caused by something life dumps on your table.
    A spouse gets ALS. A daughter develops mental illness that includes illegal drug use, multiple hospitalizations and family turmoil for 5 years. A premature infant dies in his mother's arms. A father dies from sudden cardiac arrest in front of his daughter's eyes. His wife dies a year later from septic shock and her family has to make the decision to discontinue life support (although the wife truly died of a broken heart from the loss of her beloved husband)
    True empathy is born out of "knock the wind out of you" personal tragedy. Then the faith filled person begins the real journey LOOKING, YEARNING , ACHING for Jesus who alone can cool the burn or breathe the next breath for you until you can get back up on your feet. And where will the person of Jesus be? He or she may not even be a Catholic, but a kind brother/sister who "gives drink to the thirsty" or "comforts the afflicted".
    In many ways I envy Matthew Kelly. He has had so many positive life (and Catholic) experiences and no real traumas.
    I could tell you stories from my nursing career alone that would stun someone's faith. I have already shared some of my personal life above.
    I believe that Matthew Kelly is a "lucky guy" in the world's eyes and he is earning his money for good.
    It will be interesting to see how life continues to unfold for him and his family.
    I trust he will remain in the Lord. I wonder if he will ever experience a fiery trial or an unexpected cross that brings him face down to the foot of the Cross (literally) where true mercy and compassion begin.

    1. His father died of cancer 10 years ago or so. And one of his brothers, a young father, was killed in a car wreck at about the same time. Shame on you for judging someone you obviously know NOTHING about

    2. Having to experience tragedy in life and bring them to their knees has nothing to do with keeping people in the Catholic Church? Your point doesn’t make sense? I’m sure he hasn’t had a rose colored life, nobody has. But if he did have a tragedy he will be thankful he has his catholic faith to get him through it. He isn’t going to crumble and curse God and say to hell with what I have said and done in the past. God is so mean and terrible?

      That is most of his message about being catholic to have a relationship with God so you don’t crumble when life brings you to your knees.

  20. The Lord’s Prayer is important, yes, but so is the heartfelt conversation with God. Matthew always talks about the need for a relationship with God through prayer. Perhaps we should be focusing on his quest to engage disengaged Catholics and applauding what God has called him to do. This is what happens when people put a wedge between believers. And I don't care if I have to hear ”become the best version of yourself” 1000 times as long as I am constantly working toward becoming the better version of myself every day.

  21. I think Matthew Kelly should be commended for what he has accomplished and what he is still trying to accomplish. He is one person doing the best he can to help save Catholics and the Church. He is not going to make everyone happy and he is not going to say all the right things to everyone. But to the critics, open your ears, eyes and mind. The world of 2018 is so different from the days of Vatican II. Most complain the catholic mass is boring, and robotic and uninspiring. People want to be fed and know why. Most Catholics don’t know the saints, why we don’t read the King James Version of the Bible, attend mass on holy days of obligation....and on and on. Catholic schools don’t teach kids how to be a good catholic and give them the knowledge and tools for life. Matthew Kelly is trying to capture those people and keep them in the church and get others to join the church. If you feel you have a better way to do it then i suggest you do so and let us all Know how it needs to be done, because people want to know!

    It’s easy to critique someone for not saying what you think needs to be said, but at least acknowledge he is trying and he truly cares about his mission to help save the Catholic Church. I can’t say I have ever done 1% as he has but I want to try more than even after reading his book and listening to him speak. Relax and hear what he is saying not how he is saying it.

  22. It is refreshing that M. Kelly insists that Catholics must hold to the fact that Jesus is Divine in His personage, and that the only human element is in the human nature that Jesus took on at the Incarnation. The person of the Savior is divine, and not human. This helps immensely in worship of the Triune God.

  23. This review is a poor for the following reasons.

    1) The reviewer makes objective claims about the book based on their own subjective opinions of its content.

    2) reviewer consistently engages in the expanded goal posts fallacy by listing the hat Fr. Jelly lists, which are 100% parts of catholic spirituality and practice across 20 centuries, and picks each one apart not for what is there, but what it didn’t say...according to the reviewer. So, what it b comes is a review based on the what Fr. Kelly didn’t say, rather than what he did.

    Ex: A)in an entire chapter about prayer in general, rather than comment what he wrote on, he is criticized for not writing about the Lord’s Prayer. Except that most Catholics don’t reduce prayer to the Lord’s Prayer.

    ExB) “the book doesn’t talk about virtue” ....because it’s a chapter on prayer... regardless of the fact that talking about virtue is throughout the entire book. It’s one of the book’s main themes.

    ExC) Fr. Kelly addresses th sacrament of reconciliation as “confession.”...yeah because that’s the common parlance of about 90% or better of what adverage Catholics in the pew refer to it as. So this is a baseless criticism, and other example of fault finding by way of expanding the goal posts.

    ExD) the last criticism I’ll adress is referring to Fr. Kelly’s treatment of fasting, addressing it in the same way as more Catholic saints is ham I can recall have addressed it, which is a tool or weapon against the effects of original sin, and concupiscence. This is straight up Orthodox, Catholic treatment.

    What does the review do, suggests manicheanism.

    This has got to be one of the most biased reviews of a popular Catholic book I have ever read.

  24. So much unnecessary unkindness toward Mr. Kelly. This is very bewildering to me, especially at a time when there is SO MUCH to work against at this time in history. Matthew Kelly should not be on the short list of those to criticize. i can only say that, after working in Catholic publishing, I have learned that there is no intellectual snob quite like a Catholic intellectual snob.