What are these “4 signs”? According to Matthew Kelly, they are:
1) Prayer
2) Study
3) Generosity
4) Evangelization
What do these mean in our lives as Catholics? My reflections are not commentaries or critiques of Matthew Kelly—they are 100% my own, based on his identifications.
What is, after all, the purpose of the Church? To paraphrase the old Baltimore Catechism, it is to enable us to “know, love, and serve God in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next.” The crucial question is, how can we love God if we don’t know Him, and how can we know Him without entering into dialogue with Him and celebrating His presence in our hearts and souls? This is the reality and the purpose of prayer. It doesn’t consist of rote recitation of words; it is spiritual openness to intimacy with our Creator who loves us vastly more than we can imagine. The words can be a vehicle bringing us into this intimacy, but if they don’t, they remain just words. As Claudius put it in Hamlet (III, iii), “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below/Words without thoughts never to heaven go.” Substitute “love” for “thoughts” and you have the true essence of prayer.
Do you enjoy spending time with someone you love? Again, this is the essence of prayer. Sometimes words are not necessary: simple presence is sufficient. I’m reminded of the story of an old man who would come to his small church every day and just sit. St Jean Vianney (as I heard this version of the story) finally asked him what he was doing, and the man replied, “I look at God, and God looks at me.” Can you say “contemplative prayer”??
Prayer is, certainly, also sometimes “begging prayer”—beseeching God especially on behalf of others who matter deeply to us: either because we love them, or because we don’t (and are commanded by the Lord that we should). God doesn’t need us to tell Him what we want or what He should do; but He does encourage petitionary prayer because we need to express ourselves. I’ve discovered often in Reconciliation (either hearing others’ or making my own confession) that clarity occurs when issues of the heart are spoken aloud. I’ve been taught what my desires actually are, and where my faults need to be acknowledged. It’s all prayer, and it’s all good. For whom do we pray, and why?
I’ll be very honest with you: I cannot say (with the great saints and mystics of the Church) that I love God other than all things. But I hope and pray that I love God above all things, even when I deeply love other things/persons as well. I cannot say, “God alone,” but I do want to be able to pray, “God, first of all things, before all things.” After all, God created the universe (all things, all people) to reflect His glory—and if I love those things and people, surely I am giving God the glory through them, so long as I don’t replace Him by them—always a great temptation!
Again, I ask: whom do you love? For whom (and how) do you pray? Who is God in your
life? Answers to these questions suggest the extent to which we are dynamic Catholics, at least for
criterion #1.