Matthew Kelly has been writing and speaking to audiences since he was a teenager attending business school in Sydney, Australia. His message is consistent to Catholic and business audiences alike — become a better version of yourself.
In his latest book, The One Thing: Passing Faith Onto Children (Beacon Publishing, 2011), Kelly, 38, writes about the joys and challenges of passing the Catholic faith on to children.
How was the Catholic faith passed on to you growing up in Australia by your family?
My parents had a wonderful way of saying informal things like “God has been good to our family,” and this had a real and lasting impact on me as a child. They also believed that education was supremely important and made enormous sacrifices so that my seven brothers and I could attend Catholic schools.
What inspired you as a teenager in 1993 to start witnessing about being Catholic through your writings and talks?
I was very fortunate to discover the genius of Catholicism as a teenager, and this began an incredible spiritual odyssey that continues today. I began speaking and writing because I saw the people around me struggling to make sense of life, looking for happiness in all the wrong places, and I wanted others to experience the joy I was experiencing.
You dedicate your new book, The One Thing, to Walter Patrick Kelly, your son. Tell us about him.
Ah, Walter — what can I say? He is a very sweet boy. He has a beautiful temperament that I am seeing in a new way now as he relates with his little sister, Isabel. What will his life be like? I don’t know. What will he be called to? I don’t know. But I am just enjoying watching him grow and develop.
As a new parent, in what ways did the arrival of Walter change your life and your relationship with God?
It has made me a less selfish person. It has caused me to slow down in a really healthy way. It has challenged what I thought was important and given some new perspective to my priorities. Of course, all of this impacts my spirituality and relationship with God, but one of the overwhelming realizations has been this: If I can love Walter the way I do in all my brokenness and limitations, and I love him so much it is overwhelming sometimes, how much more God must love us.
The One Thing is not so much a “how-to” about passing on faith to children but a “why should I.” Why is passing on your Catholic faith to your children important to you?
I believe that religion is the primary humanizing force in history, and I believe this is particularly true of Catholicism. Catholicism makes me a better version of myself. It makes me more of who and what God created me to be. And every time I become a better version of myself, everyone in my life benefits from that.
You recently wrote your first children’s book, Why Am I Here? (Beacon Publishing, 2010). What is its message to children? What has been the reaction to it?
The message is that the purpose of life is to become the best version of ourselves. I believe that is God’s dream for us. He doesn’t want us to be a second-rate version of ourselves, or a second-rate version of someone else, but, rather, God wants us to explore the potential he has gifted us with. The reaction has been quite remarkable. I have written many books, but there seems to be a unique excitement around sharing the message with children.
You write, “In all my life I don’t think I have held such a lofty ambition as that of passing the faith on to my children.” Given today’s culture and religious landscape, what makes that ambition challenging?
Everything. We live in an increasingly secular society that downplays the role of religion and is constantly diminishing the human person. The culture does not help me become a better version of myself. Additionally, the culture is increasingly and deliberately noisy. This noise prevents us from hearing the voice of God in our lives, and without that we are lost.
What is the one thing that keeps you anchored in the Catholic Church — the one thing above all things that you will teach your children about their faith?
Jesus in the Eucharist. I cannot imagine life without it. It is an incredible reality if you really take time to think about it and study it.
What advice might you offer to Catholic parents about passing on their faith?
Start very young fostering closeness with Jesus, especially by acknowledging and teaching about the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Kerry Crawford writes from Pittsburgh.
She and her sister Trish write about children’s books for the Register.