By Monica Walton
MADISON – Matthew Kelly definitely has passion, and his purpose is clear: to inspire and motivate Catholics to breathe new life into the Church and re-energize the Catholic community. He brought that passion to the Diocese of Jackson on Saturday, March 11, for a half-day workshop.
“Matthew’s message here today fits beautifully with the key element of our new vision for our diocese to inspire disciples,” said Bishop Kopacz, who kept a front-row seat for the full four-plus hours. “It’s like Matthew said, we want to develop life-long best practices of the faith. We want to keep that hunger and thirst for what God wants for us.”
With his distinct Australian accent, Kelly captivated the more than 800 people who traveled from across the state — Southaven to Brookhaven, the Gulf Coast, and a few from out-of-state — to spend their Saturday afternoon at Madison-Central High School. Though Kelly travels monthly to deliver his message of “living every day with passion and purpose,” nothing about the event felt rehearsed and stale. The program was split up with breaks to process the message and music by inspirational singer Eliot Morris.
Kelly skillfully held the attention of the audience with no written notes or props. While his message had very serious undertones, it was also sprinkled his light-hearted Catholic humor that resonated well with the people. He even inspired the few young people attending such as 12-year-old Maria Verucchi of St. Mary Basilica in Natchez who was there with her parents. Maria admitted, “It wasn’t boring like I thought it would be. I like that he told jokes, and they were funny!” She appreciated what Kelly said about “making a space in your daily life for silence.”
“He’s right,” Maria said. “It’s easier to think when there’s silence. But, I live in a house of five kids, so that will be a challenge!”
Maria’s mom, Karen Verucchi, said Maria didn’t know anything about Matthew Kelly prior to this, and she wasn’t real happy to give up her Saturday afternoon. “I didn’t expect her to take notes, but she wrote down many of his ideas!” Karen said. She, herself, has been inspired by Kelly’s books and videos to pray more and do more. She hoped her oldest daughter would feel inspired as well.
Owen Bertelsen, 9, also traveled from Natchez with his father. Owen was excited to see Matthew Kelly, as his class has been watching the Dynamic Catholic Lenten videos at school. He proudly showed off the full page of notes he had taken, complete with bullet points. “I plan to go to confession every month this year!” he exclaimed, referring to Kelly’s Game Changer Challenge.
“We need game changers to change our lives and allow God to change us,” said Kelly. Referring to dwindling Church attendance he posed the question, “If this continues, what will the Catholic Church in America be like?” Kelly pointed to the audience and said, “We answer that. It’s up to you and me. What are you willing to do?”
He challenged everyone present to commit to do one of the following three game changers for one full year: read the Gospels for 15 minutes a day; go to confession once a month; or write down one thing God is saying to you at every Mass. “This will change your life,” he proclaimed.
Debby and Grant Myers both have made a commitment to implement one of the game changers. The couple made a day-trip with a dozen people from Greemwood Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, and secured front row seats. “I was worried it would be one of those ‘touchy-feely’ kind of things,” said Grant.
His wife had reassured him saying, “I think you’ll be delighted.” And, they were both delighted! A non-Catholic friend had seen Kelly in New York and encouraged Debby to go to one of the events. “I had been watching his schedule to see when he might be close enough,” said Debby. “As soon as I saw he would be in Madison I ordered tickets online.”
Three close friends and members of the Young Adults Group at Flowood St. Paul Parish, Kim Walker, Lexie Gosselin and Mary Henry, were very excited to see Kelly live. They arrived an hour early to secure seats up close. “We have done two of his book studies and we watch his videos,” said Gosselin. “He is so down-to-earth and relatable.”
This event was four years in the making. Members of the Dynamic Catholic team have been communicating with people in the Jackson diocese to book a Passion and Purpose event since 2013. Samantha Milroy has worked with Dynamic Catholic for more than two years on pilgrimages and as an event team leader. She said Kelly came to Mississippi to get people excited about their Catholic faith. “Matthew’s mission is to re-energize the Church,” said Milroy. “He is about unifying people and taking our faith to the next level.”
Before the final segment, Morris led the audience in a sing-along encouraging the room of Catholic disciples to act. The crowd joined in the refrain, “Right here, nowhere else. Right now, never again.” Kelly closed with a powerful message. “There’s nothing more attractive and powerful than holiness,” he said. “Collaborate with God. Find that deep place in you. Make decisions and live in that deep place.” Kelly left the stage to a standing ovation.
(Monica Walton works at Flowood St. Paul Parish.)
By Monica Walton