On Saturday, March 31, over 2,000 men came to the Cathedral of St. Paul to celebrate their Catholic faith through their participation in the Holy Eucharist and to listen to a short roster of speakers address them on the importance of witnessing their faith in their marriages, at home, in their work, in their parishes and where they recreate.
The sacrament of penance/reconciliation was available throughout the morning and some 30 priests were kept busy hearing confessions. It was a powerful event, coming as it did on the doorstep of Holy Week and Easter.
Building a better world
The keynote speaker was the Australian-born Catholic evangelist Matthew Kelly, known for his popular book, “Rediscovering Catholicism.”
He provided a message that was both compelling and challenging. He began with the story of a man who had an important speech to write on the morning of the very day that the speech would be delivered. As he sat down to compose the talk, his 7-year-old son came and knocked on his study door. The boy wanted Dad to play. The father took an hour or so for a game of catch, but then realized that he needed to get back to his speech.
Needing a way to keep his rambunctious boy occupied so that he could complete his own important project, the father came up with what he thought was an ingenious idea. Finding a map of the world he had seen in a magazine, he vigorously tore the image into tiny pieces. He tossed them on the living room floor and told the boy to put the world back together again.
Thinking this would take him several hours, the father went back to work. About 20 minutes later, the son knocked again on the study door. The father was amazed that the boy had already finished. When asked how he did it, the boy said he had discovered a large picture of a man on the underside of the image of the world. Once he put the man on pages 3 and 4 together, the world on pages 1 and 2 fell into place.
Kelly asked the assembly if they thought the world was going downhill today and then answered in the affirmative. But, he said, the only way to build a better world is by addressing the question of the individual person, beginning with myself.
And Catholics, he said, are in the best position to do that, that is, to change the world by changing themselves. There are 77 million Catholics in the United States, 26 million more than needed elect a president.
Throughout our nation’s history, Catholics have made a tremendous contribution to the building of a better society through our hospitals, our schools and our charitable organizations.
But, Kelly claimed, at the moment, many Catholics have joined the “Q and S” club — they have quit practicing their faith but stayed around anyhow. While 30 percent go to church on Sunday, only 17 percent go to church every Sunday. We have, in Kelly’s mind, become complacent. We need a “game-changer” because “the tide of Catholicism is running out” and “business as usual” won’t meet the challenge.
If we continue just doing what we have always done, we will end up like the church in Europe where in Italy the rate of any church attendance by Catholics is 17 percent, whereas in Germany it is 11 percent, in France it is 4 percent and in Ireland, once a bastion of Catholicism, it is even worse.
Making a difference
Kelly proposed three “game-changers” which, if each Catholic did just one of them for the next 12 months, would make a huge difference in the life of the church and consequently in the life of society at large.
The first game-changer is to read just five pages of a great book on Catholicism each day for the next 12 months. Last year, according to studies, Catholics read an average of one book about their faith in contrast to evangelicals who read six.
Partly to combat this trend, Kelly’s own printing house started sending copies of “Rediscovering Catholicism” to parishes some seven years ago to be given away to parishioners after Mass on Christmas Day. The idea took off, and this past Christmas he shipped 1.6 million copies to parishes all over the U.S. If Catholics read just five pages about their faith each day from this book, then hunger to learn will grow proportionately. We cannot love that which we do not know, and so we must know our faith.
The second “game-changer” is going to confession once a month for the next three months.
Kelly admitted that he has heard every reason why people will not comply. Yet, he claimed that part of the genius behind the sacrament is a) you go to a priest who knows you so he can help you grow spiritually, not unlike a coach or mentor; and b) it’s far too easy to make God in our-own image and likeness unless we confront ourselves or are confronted with God’s commandments by an outside voice. By regular confession, we are challenged to grow both morally and spiritually at least partly by being confronted by one who is not from within or self-created.
The third “game-changer” is the Holy Eucharist. Yet, children and even adults say the Mass is boring. They give a hundred reasons for “what’s wrong with the Mass.”
In the end, however, the only thing that is wrong with the Mass is within each of us. As Kelly says, if you ever find the “perfect” parish, don’t join it because it won’t be perfect any longer. In the Eucharist, we meet the true presence of Jesus Christ. And meeting him, truly meeting him in a personal way, challenges and changes us.
Partly to engage actively in the Mass, Kelly suggests each Catholic buy a Mass journal and write on the first page, “What’s the one thing I need to do today to make me a better person?”
Then take that journal with you to church and write down the one thing you hear from the Scriptures or the homily or the eucharistic prayers that answers your question. Kelly is bold to guarantee that the Holy Spirit will work in such a way as to open the minds and hearts of those who search for God’s will using this method. Over time, those journals also provide a kind of spiritual autobiography of our growth in Christian virtue.
Make a resolution
So those are the three “game-changers” that Matthew Kelly recommends. None of them are difficult, all of them are practical.
If we were just beginning the 40 days of Lent, I would recommend to this readership that each choose just one of these resolutions.
But since we are beginning 50 days of Eastertime, I also think one of the three is equally appropriate for this holy liturgical season.
Try one and see where it takes you!
God bless you!
State Capitol to the Cathedral of St. Paul