Whether it’s the crises we see in the world around us, or those we experience in our personal lives, many of us seek solutions and are hungry for answers. Matthew Kelly says it’s time to "stop looking for something and start looking to someone—Jesus of Nazareth."
“There is a lot of talk about how important a personal relationship/encounter with Jesus is.” Kelly says. “But we find that most Christians don’t know what it is or how to get it. …I think the promise of this book is to facilitate that encounter and kick-start that relationship with Jesus.”
Kelly, who founded The Matthew Kelly Foundation and The Dynamic Catholic Institute, is an internationally acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and best-selling author whose books have been published in 25 languages and have sold in excess of 15 million copies. His latest book, Rediscover Jesus, was just released in hardcover.
Kelly spoke to Zoe Romanowsky about why he wrote the book and the difference he hopes it will make in the lives of others.
Zoe Romanowsky: Why did you write Rediscover Jesus and who is it for?
Matthew Kelly: I wrote it as the result of a personal odyssey to have a renewed relationship with Jesus. I spent more than four years developing DECISION POINT©, the Dynamic Catholic Confirmation program, and as I was working on it, a recurring thought kept washing over me: “I don’t know Jesus anywhere near as well as I should.” So I set out to do something about that.
In the process of rediscovering Jesus myself, I came to the realization that we hear a lot of talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus. But it seems most people don’t have this, they are afraid or ashamed to say they don’t have it, and they don’t know how to get it. I wanted to fix that. So, the book is for anyone who wants to develop that kind of relationship with Jesus… or anyone who wants to see their relationship with Jesus taken to a whole new level.
ZR: You wrote Rediscover Catholicism in 2002; how does this new book relate to it?
MK: Rediscover Catholicism was focused on the genius of Catholicism, and Catholic spirituality in general. Rediscover Jesus is about taking a fresh look at the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, taking an inventory of our lives side by side with the Gospel, and embracing the challenge to grow. I think both these books meet people where they are and lead them to where God is calling them to be.
ZR: Rediscover Jesus is essentially 40 short chapters with points and questions to ponder and pray with at the end of each one. Why did you choose this format?
MK: When I was young I wanted to write books that people would want to read. Now I want to write books that people will live. When I write I’m constantly trying to find ways to personalize the reader’s experience, so that the ideas can come to life in a person’s life. The Church understands that our lives change when our habits change, and forty days is the perfect time to form new habits.
ZR: What are the greatest obstacles in the way of rediscovering the Lord and how do we overcome them?
MK: Honestly, I think people don’t know where to start. We haven’t done a good job of teaching people to develop a daily routine of prayer. People yearn for it. They know something is missing, but they need to be shown step by step how to develop or renew their relationship with Jesus.
Beyond that, the sheer busyness of life in the modern world is a real obstacle.
And finally, the smart phone. The gaps in our day are so important—as important as the rests in music. These gaps manifest as a few minutes in a doctor’s office before an appointment, waiting in line in the grocery store, waiting for someone to arrive for lunch or a meeting. In these gaps, our minds naturally used to turn to reflection and very often to prayer. But when most people, even those who’ve been well trained to develop a life of prayer, encounter one of these gaps in their day, they reflexively reach for their smart phone, which is a daily enemy of reflection and spontaneous prayer.
ZR: Once we know Jesus, don’t we always know him? How would you explain the process of growing in our relationship with him?
MK: Yes and no. We know him from our limited ability to know him at any point in time. When we reflect on the Gospels, they often seem fresh and new—the Scriptures have not changed, but we have.
It’s also significant to note that very often we may know quite a bit about a person by hearsay, but when we meet and personally encounter that person we conclude, “He’s nothing like I thought he was like.”
When I come back from a trip, however long or short, I get the joy of rediscovering my wife and children. It ‘s a beautiful thing to rediscover people and places. In the same way, it is a joy to rediscover the true Jesus and his true message.
Sometimes we have distorted views of Jesus that need to be healed, and sometimes we need to confront distorted views of ourselves. One of the essential problems of Christianity at this moment in history is that most people, even non-Christians, think they’re pretty good Christians. But compared to what? We find comparisons to comfort ourselves. But when we measure our lives against the Gospel, we are challenged to change.
ZR: How can we know that we really know Jesus? Is there something we should be experiencing, or qualities we should possess, that would indicate that we truly knows Jesus Christ?
MK: It might be a little dangerous to go down that path, as it could create expectations that are unhealthy. To know him more each day through prayer and the Gospels is a great place to start. But I also believe that increasing knowledge of ourselves is essential.
As to whether or not other people really know Jesus, or what the indicators would be… wow, so difficult to say. And yet, you know it when you experience someone who has a real closeness to God.
There are two questions I think we should ask ourselves regularly, considering we are called to make God present in the world: 1) What is it like to be in God’s presence? and 2) What is it like to be in your own presence?
ZR: Early in the book you talk about the "Jesus question." What is that question and why is it important that each of us answers it honestly? Is this something we need to revisit throughout our lives?
MK: Toward the end of his public life, Jesus asks his disciples two questions: “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” This second question I call the Jesus question. It is a deeply personal question that requires, and in fact demands, a deeply personal response. And yes, it’s a question that will re-emerge at various times in our lives as we grow spiritually.
It’s important that we answer it honestly because without honesty, we cannot get closer to God and grow spiritually. God loves honest prayers—they are human and beautiful. “God, I am too tired to pray tonight, I know I should have prayed earlier in the day but I was lazy.” “God, I am too angry to talk to you today, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” “God, I don’t know what to say to you today, I’m lost and confused and praying doesn’t seem to be helping.”
ZR: What role does the Holy Spirit play in helping us in all of this?
MK: The Holy Spirit guides and encourages us in our quest to have a unique encounter with Jesus. Allowing the Spirit to speak into our lives by pausing before we make decisions and asking for wisdom is one of the most practical ways that the Holy Spirit helps us live out the wisdom of Jesus’ teachings in our daily lives. But we also all need encouragement, and the Holy Spirit is the great encourager. The Spirit encourages us and yearns for us to encourage others.
ZR: Many Christians have moments when they think, "I need to get closer to Jesus," but then nothing happens. It’s certainly true for me. How do you make that happen? How do we rediscover Jesus in our daily, busy lives?
MK: The desire itself is a beautiful thing. The danger is to let it pass like a flash of lightning. When we experience the desire we need to nurture it. And again, to turn to Jesus transparently and say, “Jesus, I have this desire to know you better, but I don’t know what to do with it,” is a great place to start.
The Gospels also provide limitless opportunities for reflection and renewal, though I do think we need to experience them outside of the chaos that often surrounds us at Mass on Sunday.
But the fastest path is service. To get out of ourselves—to put another person first, to imitate Jesus by serving others—is a guaranteed way to liberate us from the self-centered comfort-seeking that seems to dominate the modern life.