Scrutinizing “Resisting Happiness”

Matthew Kelly sent me a copy of his new book Resisting Happiness, and I recently read it.

New Words, Old Meanings

This book is about the perennial human struggle to grow in faith, hope, and love while overcoming sin.

resistbookHence, we “resist happiness” because we have concupiscence–the tendency toward sin–and so we are tempted to be lazy, gluttonous, prideful, and selfish.

Kelly avoids these traditional words in order to make the book accessible to non-Catholics, secular people, and Catholics who don’t know their Faith well. This is Kelly’s target audience and his mission, and that must be kept in mind when reading the book as a Catholic strong in your faith.

Self-Help Catholicism?

Kelly tells many anecdotes in this book–one of his hallmarks–and even admits to recycling several stories from previous books into this one. Reading Kelly’s books the same themes emerge under slightly different window dressing: become the best version of yourself (e.g. holiness, becoming a saint in traditional lingo); discover that Catholicism is true, grow in virtue.

kelly1Many people criticize Kelly because he can come across as promoting “self-help” Catholicism or that his writing is too surface-level.

My response is that Kelly is targeting the huge masses of people who don’t go to church, who fell away from Catholicism, who are nominal in their Faith.

Recently in fact, a reader messaged me describing three people he is talking with–all secular to a large degree, with lots of problems, far from God in most ways–and he asked me what books I’d recommend.

I told him something by Fr. (Bishop) Barron or Matthew Kelly. Quite frankly they are the kinds of authors that reach people who are on the outside of the Church. I respect them for that and don’t expect to read an Imitation of Christ when I pick up one of their books.

Plus, even for a Catholic apologist like me, I need reminders of the basics: in reading Resisting Happiness many times it made me reflect on my own life and how I let laziness steer me off course in my spiritual life. So there is something for everyone in it.

Dan Lord on Choosing Joy

Dan Lord
Dan Lord

I was reluctant to begin reading Dan Lord’s book, Choosing Joy. Something about the title, I’m not sure what exactly, made me think that the book was going to be dreary. While “joy” is certainly a good thing, I couldn’t help but fear that the book would really be something more like “Choosing a Root Canal”–something I know I should do but don’t really want to.

Instead, I was treated to a personable, light-hearted, yet penetrating romp through joy, the solution to our common human ailment of sin and evil.

Dan and I are friends, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I first met him years ago and learned he was a fellow convert like me. But while I came into the Church from the relatively tame and lame weeds of vague agnosticism, Dan was the frontman of a rock band aptly named “Pain.” Dan told me this himself sometime after we met, and he likewise introduces his readers to his crazy life before conversion to Christ. He does seem an unlikely candidate to write a book on Christian joy, but in fact his experiences, and especially his suffering, have given him bluntly keen insight into humanity and what causes us to reject joy.

Dan weaves in personal stories of his own upbringing, lives of the saints, pop culture examples, and the wisdom of the Church’s two thousand years of teachings to survey what joy is, how we can receive it, what blocks us from doing so, and what effects it has on us and the world. If angels can fly because they take themselves lightly, this book likewise adopts a light touch that lifts our spirits so that we can appreciate and experience joy.

That said, I was uncomfortably surprised mid-way in to find one of my own spiritual malaises diagnosed. In chapter seven Dan answers some common objections to what he has written so far. The second one sounds like something I have been tempted to believe:

“I’m just realistic about what God is. He’s all-powerful, and he’s changeless. Prayer isn’t going to change his mind. He’s going to do exactly what he wants to do exactly when he wants to do it…”

I remember in particular thinking this after a tragedy where a father, trying to catch a baseball at a Texas Rangers game, fell to his death when he stretched too far, right in front of his young son.

I won’t give away Dan’s answer, but it is quite good. And he nailed on the head the lack of trust in my thinking. It caused me to pray and recommit myself to trusting in God’s love and providence, knowing that what He wills is truly best, even when I cannot see how that could be so.

He ends the book with a chapter on Heaven, quoting the most poignant passage from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (“a far green country…”). The epilogue describes the powerful story of how his father passed away, a living testament to joy.

Overall, I recommend the book highly to anyone. It is entertaining, enjoyable to read, and informative. It is actually so good that I think it could have been given a better title, something that would have captured the essence of the book more. But, like Heaven, it is hard to describe joy, let alone summarize it in a catchy phrase. So in the end I have no better suggestion. Well done, Dan!