By Celine Klosterman
SOLON — Growing up in Australia, Matthew Kelly fell for what he called “the modern lie:” that life is about material success.
“Modern culture is not about being what God wants us to be,” the internationally known Catholic speaker and author told about 570 people at St. Mary Church in Solon April 28. Instead, people chase money, cars and nice homes in search of happiness. “But eventually, you realize the only way to be happy is with God.”
Kelly shared lessons from his own spiritual journey toward joy in a humorous, nearly hour-long presentation, which was part of a five-stop speaking tour last week in the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids area. Two days earlier, he had spoken to students in grades seven to 12 at Regina Junior/Senior High School in Iowa City.
In Solon, his talk came about a month after 107 St. Mary parishioners completed a Lenten study based on
Kelly’s book “Rediscovering Catholicism,” said Julie Agne, St. Mary’s director of religious education.
When he was 16, Kelly told the Solon audience, a family friend in his 30s observed Kelly wasn’t happy. “I was restless. And I didn’t know why.”
Maybe something’s missing, the friend suggested. Why not spend some time beyond Sundays in church?
So one day before school, Kelly slipped into a chapel and planned out his day. “I felt more peaceful,” he said, but later acknowledged his mental scheduling wasn’t prayer. So he started “giving God instructions for the day.” Finally, one morning when he was facing a problem, he asked, “God, what do you think I should do?”
“That’s the ultimate question,” Kelly said. “It’s the only question that liberates men and women from living lives of quiet desperation.”
Our culture makes the wrong inquiries, he said. From the time people are young, they’re asked, “What do you want to do?” But pursuing what we want doesn’t guarantee happiness, Kelly said.
He then returned to discussing his teenage journey of faith. Kelly said he began playing basketball weekly with his family friend, who during one practice suggested Kelly start reading the Gospels. He did.
Scripture tells of a radical Jesus, he observed, who rejected the teaching of “an eye for an eye” in favor of loving one’s enemies. “Since Sept. 11, I haven’t heard any prayers in church for Osama bin Laden,” Kelly said. But such prayers would reflect Jesus’ call.
In addition to reading the Bible, Kelly later began attending weekday Mass at his friend’s encouragement. Doing so taught him much about the liturgical year and helped him begin the day with a sense of calm, he said.
His friend often checked up on Kelly’s religious progress, which the speaker said was key. People who make New Year’s resolutions to work out alone usually fail before January ends, he said. But those who work out with a friend keep their resolution until September.
Without the guidance of his friend, “I couldn’t have done what I did with my life,” Kelly said.
He later started visiting a nursing home with his friend and was encouraged to pray the rosary. “I think everyone would want to know Mary’s perspective” on Jesus’ life, he suggested, saying a mother has a unique bond with her child.
He and his wife had a son 11 weeks ago. “I will never see his life like my wife does,” Kelly said.
Meditative prayer such as the rosary can be a fruitful part of an inner spiritual life, he added. “That’s what will make us happy.”
Christian life can be like a bucket under a dripping tap, the speaker said. Eventually, the bucket overflows. In working to fill that spiritual bucket, track how often you pray, attend Mass and read the Bible, Kelly suggested. “If you don’t measure it, you won’t change it.”
Afterward, St. Mary parishioner Judy Gleason said Kelly’s talk “made me think. I’d like to go out and find what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“It was inspiring and entertaining,” said Brad Randall, also a member of St. Mary Parish. A boys’ basketball coach at Solon High School, he said young people sometimes wonder how to fit faith into their lives, and Kelly provides an answer. His talk motivates adults to try to inspire young people, Randall said.