If you have never read anything by Matthew Kelly, you have a homework assignment from me. He is the author of Rediscovering Catholicism and a slew of other books and CDs. One of his key ideas is becoming “the best version of yourself” (Kelly, 2002, pp. 67–69). I would like to make a couple of observations about Matthew Kelly’s idea. First, I would like to observe that this idea is quite a natural one; we all seem to have this notion inside of us. Hence, the popularity of making New Year’s Resolutions. And the second observation is related to this phenomenon of resolution-making. If we make resolutions to improve ourselves, this implies an acknowledgement that, whatever we are at the present moment, it is something less than our “best version.”
Kelly has identified a universal idea inherent in the human personality. We all possess this idea in ourselves, an idea that implies a belief in progress and the possibility of human growth and development. It is a universal belief : man possesses within himself an untapped and undeveloped potential. Thus we are all Transcendentalists: all of us believe that we possess within us the potential to become something greater than we are.
Some of us give lofty names to this transcendent state. Some of us describe it as Enlightenment; others call it Holiness; others, Nirvana. But for others transcendence is more down-to-earth. Sometimes the best version of ourselves just means losing a few pounds. But whatever our concept of human transcendence or perfection, there is at least one feature that all ideas of transcendence share, and it is this: transcendence is not an easy thing to achieve.
And the all-too familiar ritual of resolution-making confirms this reality of the human condition, for we all know from our own bitter experiences how easy it is to break our resolutions, to falter in our quest for self-improvement. All of us know from our own struggles how treacherous is the road to perfection, how many are the obstacles on the journey of self-improvement—hence the need to overcome and transcend those obstacles. Here we discover our second idea of transcendence: in addition to being synonymous with the achievement of an exalted, even perfected state of existence, transcendence is also the overcoming of obstacles that we inevitably encounter on the journey of self-improvement.
It is an opinion that I share with quite a lot of people, I imagine, that we Americans are in need of a Great Spiritual Awakening. And I am convinced that an exploration of our common transcendental ideas can help us achieve this important end. We need to look at ourselves honestly and ask this question: “Am I the best version of myself?” How must I live in order to make progress in the noble quest for self-improvement? What are the obstacles to transcendence, and how can I overcome those obstacles? And what happens to a county if too many of its citizens give up on the quest? What happens to America if, instead of getting better, too many of its citizens find themselves trapped in a downward spiral of degradation? These are the questions that I will tackle in my next post.