Musician Eliot Morris, a singer-songwriter who tours with Matthew Kelly, performs before the crowd of 850 people at Immaculate Conception. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Musician Eliot Morris, a singer-songwriter who tours with Matthew Kelly, performs before the crowd of 850 people at Immaculate Conception. (Catholic Herald photo by Anita Draper)

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Creating world-class education programs for Catholics. Reinvigorating the faith lives of the disengaged. Keeping the next generation of Catholics in the church.

Matthew Kelly has lofty goals, but the Australian-born author of “Rediscover Catholicism” is not intimidated. His mission is nothing short of a renewal of the Catholic Church in America.

“We’ve got an engagement problem,” Kelly told 850 people Saturday, June 6, at Immaculate Conception Church, New Richmond. “That’s the fundamental issue we face as a church. How do we drive engagement?”

A husband, father of four and consultant to Fortune 500 companies, Kelly immediately recognizes a world-class culture when he walks into a business office. How? By the number of employees with a pen and paper.

You never know when ideas are going to strike you, he explained. He asked his audience to take out the pen and journal included with their event materials, “because God’s gonna say something to you today.”

“Living Every Day with Passion & Purpose” was the theme of the retreat, and people who live that way are hungry for best practices and committed to continuous learning, Kelly observed.

“I think it’s important to point out that these two qualities are disturbingly absent in the Catholic Church of today,” he said.
For example, if we are hungry for best practices in our faith, we’d know more about the saints.

“Let’s face it, the road to heaven is well-trodden,” he said. “We know what works. After 2,000 years, we know what works. The saints, they nailed it.”

Instead of seeking best practices, we do things our own way, he added. Rather than collaborating to create the best programs for teaching confirmation preparation, marriage preparation, etc., each of the country’s 15,000 parishes teach it their own way.
Kelly wants to change that.

‘The classroom of silence’

Personal clarity is another attribute of those who live with passion and purpose, but it only comes when you tune out the world’s noise.

“Clarity emerges from silence,” Kelly said. Once we create a habit of silence, “We begin to hear the voice of God in our lives.”

Kelly believes God has always spoken to people through their legitimate needs – food, air, sleep, water, etc. – but they haven’t always listened.

“We live in a culture that’s not interested in needs,” he added. “We focus in very much on getting what we want.”

Satisfying shallow desires is not fulfilling, Kelly said. “You simply never can get enough of what you don’t need.”

Our culture also doesn’t believe in objective truth, he observed, and without it, there is no wisdom, which he defines as “truth experienced.” Without truth or wisdom, “there is no such thing as a great decision.”

“Adolph Hitler’s decisions are not equal to Mother Teresa’s decisions,” he said.

Being a good decision-maker is an important skill, Kelly added, and the discernment process for vocations is one of the last places in our culture where people are encouraged to explore their deepest desires.

A man discerning the priesthood must explore his desire for marriage and family, he explained. He finds it’s a good desire, but not his deepest desire.

“God’s placed them in your heart for a reason,” he said. “What’s your deepest desire?”

Catholic spirituality

“It’s been a tough time to be Catholic in the last 10 years or so,” Kelly said. “As Catholics in America, we’ve essentially lost our story.”

“Our story,” according to Kelly, is every day, the church feeds, clothes, houses, educates and cares for more people “than any other entity in the world could ever hope to.”

A first step toward engagement is feeling good about being Catholic, he said. We must also face the “sobering truth” that the American Catholic Church is in decline, and only 29 percent now attend Mass.

“We need game-changers,” added Kelly.

Kelly has been speaking to Catholic groups for 23 years. Until three years ago, no one needed a ticket to attend.

Charging for retreats is part of the plan Kelly and his colleagues at have designed to revitalize the church and re-engage American Catholics.

Giving away 50,000 copies of “Rediscover Catholicism” was the pilot program for the nonprofit organization. When it was successful, they expanded the giveaway to include millions of books in thousands of parishes.

One of his colleagues suggested developing the best confirmation program in the world and giving it to all parishes for free, which sparked a larger effort to create 10 programs in 10 years to give to all parishes – at no charge.

The cost of developing a program was pegged at $3 million, a figure Kelly balked at until he learned a single video game costs more than $200 million to develop.

“Whoever wants the next generation of Catholics the most will get them, period,” he was told.

Sending Kelly on the road to raise money was the plan for funding program development.

“All the money is being spent to develop the programs to give to every parish in America for free,” he said.

“The reason I share these things is because the Catholic Church in America needs game-changers; every parish needs game-changers,” and we, by extension, need game-changers, added Kelly.

“There’s genius in Catholicism, if you scratch the surface.”

The three game-changers he suggested for individuals included:

* reading the Gospels over and over for 15 minutes each day for a year; or

* going to confession monthly for a year; or  

* taking a Mass journal to church to “listen to one thing God is saying this week” and record it.

God wants to change lives, Kelly added, but the unspoken, uncomfortable truth is, “We don’t want our lives transformed.”

“We pray for tweaking,” he said, but God does not answer our prayers, because “God is not in the business of tweaking.”

“Most of us have never prayed a prayer of transformation,” he added. “That’s the prayer God always answers.”

“The truth about Jesus is this: he wants to turn your life upside down,” he continued. “If you let him, you’ll have more joy than you ever thought possible.”

Holy moments

Catholics don’t differentiate themselves from anyone else in American society, Kelly said. They don’t live differently, work differently, love differently. They suffer the same happiness confusion as the rest of American society.

“There’s nothing more attractive than holiness,” he added, but Catholics don’t believe they are capable of holiness.

“Holiness is not possible,” is the biggest lie in the history of Christianity, he said. “We tell ourselves that in 1,000 different ways.”

When he was a child, Kelly saw St. John Paul II during his visit to Australia. He recalls a moment when the pope was praying, because it was the first time he saw someone pray deeply.

Holy moments are possible and replicable, he said. Saints’ lives were nothing more than a lifetime of holy moments.

He challenged everyone to create one holy moment each day.

His second piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid of the deep waters.”

There are already plenty of people living “the shallow, superficial life,” he added. “Find that place in you and start to live your life in that deep place.”

“There are some moments in our lives when God asks us to do something counter-intuitive,” he continued. “We have excuses for everything.”

But this is a foundational, fundamental truth, according to Kelly: “Human beings are capable of incredible things.

“Don’t say, ‘I’m too old,’ or don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’” he said. “Now is our time.”