Speaker urges Catholics to live with passion, purpose

Matthew Kelly speaks at St. Patrick Church in Iowa City Feb. 19.

By Celine Klosterman

IOWA CITY — The Church is full of disengaged Catholics who aren’t living up to their spiritual potential, according to speaker and author Matthew Kelly. But a better life awaits those who follow some simple suggestions for spiritual growth, he told a sold-out crowd of about 950 people at St. Patrick Church on Feb. 19.

“Today is about rekindling our vision,” Kelly said at the beginning of his daylong presentation, “Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose.”  The event was sponsored by Joe Flanders of New Evangelization Ministries, a lay apostolate based in Muscatine.

Kelly said 70 percent of Catholics don’t attend Sunday Mass, and a survey of 55 U.S. parishes revealed that about 6 percent of parishioners contribute 80 percent of the financial donations and volunteer service parishes receive.

But he reminded Catholics of their potential and offered reasons to be proud of their Church. The United States is home to 67 million Catholics, more than enough voters to win presidential elections, he observed. And “every day, the Catholic Church feeds, houses, clothes and educates more people than any other institution on earth.”


To become more engaged in our faith, we need to listen to God’s voice in our lives, Kelly said. He listed three “ordinary voices” of God: the voice of legitimate need, the voice of talent and ability, and the voice of deepest desire.

God speaks to us daily through our physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual needs, Kelly said. Neglecting the latter three needs has long-term consequences, so pay attention to and satisfy those needs.

The Lord also communicates with us through his gift of both common abilities and unique talents, Kelly said. Though people wish for the “celebrity” that the latter type brings, the former type is more powerful — it includes the ability to make a difference in other people’s lives. 

Finally, God speaks to us through desires deeper than everyday wants, Kelly said. “God doesn’t want us in survival mode. He wants us to dream and have a vision for the future.”

Catholics need a process for listening to God’s voice, the speaker said. In seeking the Lord’s guidance on an issue, first, define and stick to a specific question. Second, spend 10-15 minutes daily in quiet prayer and meditation on that question. Then journal your interpretation of what God is telling you that day — and list any recent occurrences that could have influenced your interpretation.

Kelly also recommended using a journal to record spiritual insights gained at Mass. “Listen for the one thing you can work on that week. If you do that every Sunday, it’ll be a game changer.”

Some people feel Mass is boring, he acknowledged. But knowing Jesus is present in the Eucharist gives us the grace to look past a dull homily or bad music.

In addition to thoughtfully participating in Mass, read the Gospels repeatedly, Kelly said. “You’ll see Jesus is a radical — and he wants to turn your life upside down.” Christ shared revolutionary teachings such as “love your enemy” — but Catholics don’t always embrace that command. “Since Sept. 11, I haven’t heard any prayers in church for Osama bin Laden.”

Nobody can fully achieve their spiritual potential without coaching, Kelly said. “I get it in confession.” He compared the accumulation of sins to trash piling up in a car. The more pieces of junk — or sins — that build up, the less you notice each one. So just as it’s important to clean your vehicle regularly, it’s vital to cleanse your soul. “There should be a rule in the Catechism that you can only get your car washed on the way home from confession,” he joked.

Later, the speaker led attendees through an exercise designed to help them see how their prayers, dreams, fears and other elements of spiritual and emotional life had changed since childhood.

Afterward, he offered advice on praying. “The first thing we need to do when we come to prayer is slow the conscious mind.” Bringing your mind back from distractions is like a spiritual push-up, Kelly said. The more you do so, the easier it becomes. “If you sit still and quiet long enough, God will come to you — I assure you.”

He challenged attendees: “This Lent, work on the one thing that distracts you from your relationship with God.”

In a country with 67 million Catholics, “imagine what would happen if we all stepped it up a notch,” he said, wrapping up his talk to a standing ovation.

Lucie Bergthold, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, said she was inspired by Kelly’s observations on the potential influence of American Catholics. “He’s a very forceful, riveting speaker.”

She and fellow parishioner Dolores Angerer said they’d like to try using the Mass journals attendees received.

Kelly “gives you practical suggestions of little things you can do in your daily life to grow spiritually,” said attendee Julie Kilburg, a member of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Davenport. “Sometimes, you hear suggestions and think, ‘I could never do that.’ But he encourages you to start small and puts things on your level.”

The speaker’s presentation was enlightening and powerful, said Cheyanne Boddicker, 26, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. “Being able to join so many other Catholics and Christians with aspirations of enhancing our relationship with Christ and each other was very moving, and I really feel that Matthew Kelly was very passionate about helping us all reach out and begin that journey.

“He sent us off with the message that every one of us has unique gifts and talents that we can choose to use in a powerful way to give our lives passion and purpose.”

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