A Call to Joy (Paperback)


Joy is not simply a feeling of happiness. Joy is the all-intoxicating feeling of becoming. It is the greatest of emotional and spiritual sensations. We experience joy when we grow, and we grow when we live in the presence of God and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I have spent twenty-three years on this earth, and just four years ago I heard the call to joy.

As I was preparing for bed on the evening of April 7, 1993, I realized that I was at a crossroads in my life.

In some ways the day had been no different from any other. Early that morning, as my younger brothers rushed around preparing for school, I had gotten out of bed, wandered downstairs in my pajamas, taken a large glass from the cupboard, and filled it with orange juice. Then I’d sat down at our piano and had played and sung for some time. After my brothers had left for school and thus vacated the bathroom, I showered and went off to the university for the day.

Getting into bed that night, I reached for my Walkman from the bedside table so that I could listen to some music before I went to sleep. As I did, I sensed a strong external presence that was urging me not to pick up the Walkman. I ignored the sensation. When I put on the headphones, I had a similar feeling, only this time it was twice as powerful. Again I ignored it.

I turned my Walkman on, and after a few seconds of listening to the music, I felt the same urge for a third time. This time, however, it was almost overpowering. I knew it was something I had never experienced before. I took my Walkman off, got out of bed, and fell to my knees. As I knelt there in the darkness and silence, I asked myself why I was kneeling in the middle of my room at this hour. But before I could answer this question, I heard a voice speak to me—a voice as clear as any voice I have ever heard.

“Keep doing what you are doing. Believe in yourself and believe in Me,” the voice said.

I looked around. There was no one else in the room. My brother was asleep and snoring in the room next to mine. I looked around again, but somehow I knew I wouldn’t find anyone.

Thirteen words, yet because of them, my life would never be the same.

Three days later I heard the voice for a second time. It was then that this mysterious person identified Himself as God the Father. From that moment on, these encounters with the Divine became a regular part of my day, and although they are now welcomed and appreciated, they have never lost their initial quality of being intriguingly unexpected. As those first days went by, God visited me three, four, five times a day— sometimes when I least anticipated it; sometimes for long periods and other times ever so briefly. He spoke to me as a friend, encouraging, guiding, counseling, and advising. He told me simple things and little by little began to open my eyes and ears to the spiritual realm. He constantly encouraged me to better myself, to strive heroically for holiness. He tried to inspire me to live every day with courage and fortitude. I continually failed Him, but He never stopped picking me up and giving me a fresh start, a new zeal. He taught me to spend time every day doing things that inspired me, from reading the Scriptures to watching young children at play.

To live an inspiring life, you must be inspired.

Since that first night, which remains engraved on my memory, I have had close to fifteen hundred similar visitations. Who is this Person who can be heard but not seen? I believe that the voice I hear is the voice of God. Throughout the ages, many have claimed to hear the voice of the Divine. Others have stood in judgment of those who have made such claims. Some people will accept no proof, while others judge by the fruits.

In those early days I too searched for some proof, other than the actual experience, that God was speaking to me. I didn’t have to search far, for the fruit of the experience was a deep inner peace. As an initial proof, this was enough. Then as I began to apply what I heard to my daily life, this inner serenity grew stronger and deeper and my belief more and more firm. Recently in my travels, as I have witnessed people opening themselves to the message and applying it to their lives, I have seen that each of them has been touched in a different way. So it is finally in the hearts of these men and women from all walks of life and from many countries around the world that I have found the fruits of these messages—and thus the proof that they come from the Divine.

God speaks not only to me. He speaks to me so that I can hear, receive, understand, and share the message, but He also opens His mouth and whispers deep within the heart of every person who will humbly and sincerely listen.

If the message is true, then those who apply it to their lives will experience true freedom. The by-products of this freedom are peace, joy, and happiness. And these are the very things that we all desire.

In these pages I hope to unfold the message for you. I will try to reveal not only the person I am and the person I am not but also the person I wish to become. It is my hope that these pages will help you too to see the person you are, the person you are not, and the person you desire to be.

In this book I have tried to synthesize the wisdom that the voice of the Divine has shared with me over the past four years. It is practical wisdom for the journeying soul.

The journey of the soul is a difficult one. The same difficulties arise for all of us. For example, surely each of us in our own way has struggled with pride. Perhaps we have tried to stand up to this enemy and fight it on our own, but experience inevitably teaches us that pride will always win under such circumstances. Over time we come to see that victory over pride comes only with our humble surrender. The challenge is to develop ways of responding to such difficulties without surrendering our peace and joy.

The journey of the soul costs. It will cost you more than anything you have ever done in your life, but the rewards will prove everything else in your life to be insignificant in comparison. It is a journey for both the young and the old, the rich and the poor, for both men and women regardless of age, occupation, or vocation, and it is compatible with every honest human activity.

The journey is the struggle of the soul to seek, discover, and live truth.

As I began this journey, I found that the words of the Father inspired me, but so did many other things that I had not really noticed before. The daily struggles of people everywhere began to mean something to me. I was being pulled out of my self-centered world, and I was being shown a whole universe. The pieces of the puzzle of life slowly but noticeably began to fall into place.

The joy comes from the struggle.

My response was His request. My response was to struggle. I struggled to better myself in every area of my life. I struggled to remove the things from my life that I could now see were self-destructive and sinful. I saw that morality was not about right and wrong but about life and death, joy and misery. I struggled to live the wisdom that was being shared with me. I struggled then and I struggle now.

I have found that when I am struggling to better myself, to change, and to grow with courage and patience, my life becomes a dance. A dance for joy.

During the early days of my journey, my priorities began to change. I became less interested in parties and more interested in spending time one on one with my friends. Time spent alone became an indispensable part of my day, and I began to try to slow my life down.

Then one day, all of a sudden, it happened: the people around me, my family and friends, began to notice that I was changing. Some thought these changes were for the better, others were not so sure, but all of them wanted to know why.

In those early days I had found a confidant in a gentle, wise man, a priest who was about fifty years old. He seemed well versed in spiritual matters and had humility, charm, and the ability to apply the faith in practical ways to everyday life. I decided that I would share my experiences with few others, apart from him.

So when friends and family began to inquire about the changes that were taking place in my life, I tried to employ the gentleness of a dove and the subtlety of a serpent in my explanation. I told them that I was just beginning to appreciate truly all the wonderful people and things in my life because I now recognized that ultimately they were all gifts from God.

I was happy, but more important, I knew what was making me happy. The struggle brought me happiness.

Remember “the struggle” is the struggle to better yourself, to change, and to grow with courage and patience.

Many of my friends asked me, “Matthew, are you in love?” They looked disillusioned and disappointed when I told them that there was no new young lady in my life or in my heart. Activities I had previously spent endless amounts of time and energy pursuing became almost unimportant. I desired quiet time each day and I longed for people to understand and share the joy I was experiencing.

Then, after about three months of daily communication with the Divine, I began to share the story of my experiences with a dozen friends. These were all people who would try to understand and who would benefit from the message, I felt. If they thought I was crazy, they didn’t say so; instead, their ongoing friendship shows me that they recognized and respected the profundity of what I told them.

I shared my joy with these people and experienced a whole new level of growth. These friends had come into my life at various stages, from as early as kindergarten to as recently as only weeks before my first encounter with the Divine. My experiences were beyond both their comprehension and mine, but together we tried to draw as much as we could from the messages. We struggled to discover our true selves, to become better people, to grow in virtue, and we encouraged one another in this struggle. It was an adventure—an adventure that I was happy to share with them and one that they were excited to share with me. An adventure that I now hope you too will join me in.


Life is meant to be a dance for joy. But instead of participating in this dance, most of us are struggling just to survive the pressures of each day. We occupy ourselves with smaller passions, such as cooking, reading, exercising, or gardening; we throw ourselves into watching sports such as baseball or motorcycle racing or playing football or golf. We allow these smaller passions to become our focus, but by doing so, we deny ourselves the experience of much greater realities. Though we pay a good deal of attention to maintaining our physical health by eating and exercising, we humans are actually a delicate composition of both matter and spirit, body and soul. In fact, what sets human beings above other animals is the soul, which is carefully linked with the will and the intellect. Yet the soul of humanity starves. Perhaps the adventure on which I am inviting you is not the one that you have planned for your life.

Perhaps this is a “different path” from the one you have had in mind. Perhaps what you read here will challenge the beliefs you currently hold.

I know the feeling. The voice challenged many beliefs I held. Up until the day when I began to hear the voice of God, I had been walking in a dark alley, though I was not aware of it. I didn’t know that anything better than this dark alley existed. I didn’t know that I could want more than that out of life. But in the moment when I began to hear God’s voice, I was given an opportunity, an invitation, to take a “different path.” A path that would take me on the only journey worth taking: the inner journey.

In man, Heaven and earth meet. Although the incredible advances of modern technology and medicine have led us to great discoveries in the material world, the spiritual realm remains enchanting uncharted territory. In every age a few brave souls have dared to venture into this realm. Their rewards invite us to take a closer look. It is this spiritual realm that is calling us forth today.

These supernatural realities came crashing into my world four short years ago when I was nineteen. In a quiet, unsuspecting moment, the barriers that separated Heaven from earth were torn down, and my eyes and ears were opened to the things of the spirit. Over the months and years, starting with that night, I have come to realize that the possibilities that exist for you and me are beyond our wildest imaginings. By placing our feet firmly on the ground and allowing our consciousness to be raised to Heaven, we can allow the wonders of the sacred to fill every moment of each day.


When we look forward in our lives we see uncertainty. When we look back, the events of our lives fall together like the colored pieces in a kaleidoscope, forming a pattern with meaning. We are then able to see how certain circumstances and events of the past have been part of an unfolding plan. By recognizing that a plan or pattern of providence has been at work in our past, we are able to move forward with trust despite the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Up until I heard the voice of God, my relationship with God was rather casual. I went to Mass on Sundays with my family, but I didn’t understand. I prayed sometimes—when I wanted something. God was God and He was in Heaven, and I was Matthew and I was on earth.

A young boy of thirteen stands in the middle of a soccer field with his head hung, a tired and frustrated look on his face. His gold jersey with black trim carries the number nine and on his shoulders he carries the weight of the world—or at least the heavy responsibility of driving the little white ball into the back of the net. One goal would make all the difference.

At the other end of the field, the action of the game is found amid a group of young boys who look no different from the first to the eye of the stranger. The only noise to be heard is the shouting of coaches and the cheering of parents and peers from the sidelines. But there is someone screaming, crying out to be heard. It is a silent scream. In the middle of the field stands number nine, and in his heart he is calling out. He pleads, he begs, he prays, “Please God, if you let me score just one goal, I will . . . ”

His prayer goes unheard by those on the sidelines, but it no doubt brings a smile to the face of God.

Looking back I can recall standing on the soccer field on numerous Saturday afternoons offering such a prayer of petition to God. I knew very little about God, but I believed that He could do anything. My prayers enjoyed varying degrees of success, and as a boy I couldn’t figure out what exactly made a prayer successful.

Prayer is successful when you pray for what is good, true, honest, and just. Prayer is successful when you pray not to change God or another person but to change yourself. Prayer is successful when you pray for what God wants. Thy will be done . . .

There was another experience in my early years that seemed supernatural. Up until my last year of high school I played center forward on my school soccer team, and I considered my sole task to be scoring goals. I seemed to know as soon as I woke up on a Saturday morning whether our team would win or lose. I was seldom wrong, yet I was never able to explain this extra sense.

I recall one day getting into the car with my father to go to a game, and as he pulled out of the driveway he said to me, “Ready for a big win today?”

I paused, then replied, “Not today, Dad, not today.” He warned me against the dangers of pessimism and gently encouraged me to adopt a more optimistic outlook. I assured him that I personally was intending to play my best game of the season but that I had a feeling the team wouldn’t win that day.

Sometimes you know things. You do not know how you have come to know them, but deep within you there is an urge to listen to yourself, to trust yourself.

One of my greatest fascinations with soccer is the way in which a game can accelerate so quickly. But when I was playing, once I had the ball or was involved in the play, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I felt I had as much time as I needed. The greatest feeling was to nail a ball into the back of the net with my head from a corner kick. I can still see the ball floating in slow motion across the mouth of the goal. I would move in on it from the edge of the penalty box, leap into the air, and move my head onto the ball. Goal!

My peers and my parents, my father in particular, would always express their awe at how quickly it all happened, but to me I had all day, as much time as I needed. It all happened in slow motion.

Before God began speaking to me, these experiences were the closest I came to the supernatural. And for me, at that point in my life, they were everything. On Saturday afternoons, playing soccer and scoring goals were my single focus; they became my greatest realities. I didn’t know that anything greater existed. As I grew up, I allowed many different things to become my greatest realities: material possessions, money, pleasure, pain, problems, worries, successes, failures, joys, cricket, soccer, golf, girlfriends, schoolwork. I didn’t yet know that these realities take on their true meaning, their true perspective, only when they are placed before the backdrop of eternity. For material possessions do not exist in eternity, nor does money, problems, worries, success, or failure.

Only two things exist in eternity: joy and misery. We have long labeled them Heaven and hell. When you are with God, you dance for joy. This we know as Heaven. When you are separated from God, you are paralyzed by misery. This we know as hell.

It is only in these last few years that I have learned how important it is to focus on supernatural realities and to relate all the activities of my day to the supernatural realm. Slowly I have been taught to see the activities of my day in their true perspective before the backdrop of eternity. I have been shown that what I become is more important than what I do.

Another aspect of my past that forms part of a meaningful pattern concerns the support and encouragement I received from my parents. My mother and father possess a certain practical wisdom; in my life they have told me few things but have shown me many. As I look back at my developing understanding of God, I see that in subtle ways my parents always gave me an underlying awareness of God, His goodness, and His importance in my life.

The only practice of prayer in which I ever participated at home was grace before meals. We sang it every night before dinner. My father would elect one of us to lead.

The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need, the sun, and the rain, and the apple seed; the Lord is good to me. Amen.

My seven brothers were gifted to varying degrees with vocal ability—but I’m sure it always sounded wonderful to God.

God was rarely spoken of in my home, but when He was, my parents made it clear that His presence in our lives was indispensable. I can recall times when my father would speak of a particular blessing. On each occasion he would finish by saying, “God has been good to this family.”

He made his point. It was simple and it was clear. The oldest and the youngest of my brothers knew what Dad was saying, and it influenced me more than I realized.

In my childhood I only recall my parents telling me, or asking me, to pray once. When my youngest brother Hamish Phillip was born, I was eight years old. Hamish was born eleven weeks premature and with a clot on his brain. I don’t remember the details of that day, but I do remember my father coming home that night. As we went to bed, he told us to ask God to take care of our new brother and our mother. It is the only time in my childhood that I can recall either of my parents asking me to pray. It was clear that God, and God alone, had the power to keep my newborn brother alive. The lesson was learned, not from a catechism but from life experience.

There was of course one other time when God was commonly spoken of in the house, and that was on Sunday morning. My brothers and I were never short of complaints.

“Dad, do we have to go to Mass?”

Once one of us had broken the ice, we would all voice our dissatisfaction. Needless to say, to young boys with no shortage of energy, Mass was at the most boring and at the least an unwelcome restraint. My father, however, displayed with unerring consistency his belief that the hour from ten to eleven every Sunday morning belonged to God.

As my teenage years came upon me, I, like all young people, was confronted by that all-encompassing, “What is right and what is wrong?” I seemed to have been gifted with a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong in different situations. Once again, through their treatment of my brothers and me, my parents had taught us the importance of fairness and justice.

Life is not fair, but we must endeavor to make it so.

Since I was ten, I can recall situations that were impossible for me to endure with silence and inaction. I can still feel one boy’s fist in my stomach after I had tried to persuade him that he was committing an injustice by beating up a younger boy. As I grew older and my understanding of right and wrong developed, I was even more appalled at the injustices that were committed by teachers against students. Some teachers would punish one student for something but let others get away with the same offense. Other teachers would insult students in front of their peers. I felt the pain of those being victimized, and I saw life’s bitter experiences destroying young men’s ideals. They would comment, “There is no justice in the world.” If they were right, it was only because there were no just people in their world.

In the few years that have passed since my childhood, these circumstances have not changed dramatically. In retrospect I can see that while our educators felt that they were just “putting us in touch with reality,” they were in fact putting us in touch with their own bitter reality. Their behavior reflected their own broken dreams, and their example of compromise destroyed so many of my young friends’ ideals. In school most of my friends learned to struggle just to survive and to grab what they could along the way. Such examples and leadership formed in my peers, and in most people of my generation, the mentality that you should get what you can when you can.

When you give to another, you fill yourself, and when you take selfishly, you empty yourself. Taking is not the same as receiving. When you graciously receive, you also fill yourself. Give and receive, but do not take.

Fortunately some of my peers have discovered greater truths since high school. Some will discover as time goes by that there is more to life than this all-encompassing self-preservation and pampering. Sadly others will not.

By some grace and in accordance with a plan God held from the beginning, I never lost my deep conviction that to dream is the first step toward achieving anything. Growing up, I had heard it said that “if you shoot for the stars and fall short, you will still be on top of the world.” I had a conviction that ideals were important for me and for society.

My first ideal was proposed by my father’s actions, and these were pointed out to me and defined by my mother. When my mother chastised me for inappropriate behavior, she would always say, “Look at your father—there is a gentleman.” To be a gentleman was the ideal. My father would say, “If you are a gentleman, you will go a long way in this world.”

As time went by, this ideal was joined by those of peace, justice, love, and success. Only recently have my ideals been raised to an even higher level; now I realize that God asks only one thing of us, that He gives us just one ideal: sanctity, or holiness of life.

Holiness is about grasping the moments of each day and using them to grow and become a better person and about assisting others in achieving the same. It is this that gives glory to God.

Looking back I marvel at the people through whom God has spoken to me and the ways in which He has used them as His instruments in my development as a person and a son of God. In my childhood I didn’t hear a voice, but I heard truth, and my heart was attracted to that truth. God is truth, and I am now able to recognize that whenever I have heard truth in my life, I have heard the voice of God. God speaks to us all. The voice of God is truth.

When you hear truth, you hear God.


Virtue is beautiful, profound, and immensely useful in ordinary everyday life. Virtue is practical.

In my early encounters with the Father, He began to instruct me about the inner life, the life of the spirit. I saw Him challenging me to be a better person. The words He spoke struck me deeply. Their simplicity yet profundity was utterly disarming. It was a testament to the fact that it is not only what is said but the love with which it is said that touches hearts. His gentleness tore down my personal biases while His warmth and firmness slowly began to erode my imperfections. The barriers I had built to block out His way were slowly dismantled, and I found myself submitting my whole being to the message.

There were of course some things that He said that had a greater effect on me than others. There is one short excerpt that lives with me every day. This line echoes in my head like music.

“Smile, say less and listen more, pray, and trust in Me, your Heavenly Father.”

This is one of the many things the Father has spoken that has had an ever-recurring and increasing effect on my life. It has been a constant struggle each day just to live this one sentence. This line alone expresses the most about how I wanted my life to change and how I continue to struggle to let it be so.


Oh, to smile! It is amazing the difference a smile can make. A smile can make your day, make your heart skip a beat, fill you with energy, bring you a little hope.

A smile is an invitation—an invitation to someone else to dance for joy.

But a fake smile is worse than no smile at all. I began to wonder how to smile more without forcing it to happen, without being fake. It was only a little while before I was led to see that it is like anything else—you cannot give what you do not have. I began to wonder what exactly a smile is. I came up with two things. A smile is an overflow and a connection. An overflow of joy and excitement for life that abides in a person’s heart. And a connection with another person who shares our struggle. I was discovering that only one thing gave me that joy and excitement for life. Thanksgiving. By seeing the gifts in my life and taking time to ponder and appreciate them, I began to feel joy. I began to smile more. I smiled so much that as I said earlier, some of my friends thought I was in love, others thought I knew something they didn’t—and both were right.

I was in love with life and its Author, and I had been given the rare jewel of knowing how to sustain that love. Smiling was only one of the streams that flowed from the spring of reflection and prayer.

The significance of smiling was reinforced during my first visit to America. My host was a kind, warmhearted gentleman who was a U.S. diplomat—a man of humor, intellect, and generosity. He had been affectionately named “Mr. Rob” by the first-grade class at the local school. As he drove me through the colorful autumn leaves of Connecticut, he recalled this story for me.

One day a priest found himself walking through the Bowery in New York City, a place where many homeless people can be found. The priest was with three friends, and all were on their way to take a ferry ride. As they walked along, they came upon a man dressed in rags and sitting on the pavement. He was very dirty and looked depressed. When he met the priest’s eyes, he beckoned to him to come over. Touched, the priest moved toward him. But his friends quickly spoke up: “Come on, you don’t want to go near that bum.”

The priest ignored their warning and moved still closer while his friends watched in amazement. The priest said a few words to the man. Then he smiled and moved on to catch the ferry.

As they were waiting to board, the same man came running up to the priest, sobbing like a child; he pulled out a gun and said, “Father, just before you walked along this morning I was about to go down an alley and blow my brains out. When you came along I waved to you and you responded to my call, my cry, my plea. Then you spoke to me as you would speak to someone you loved, but it wasn’t any of this that stopped me from doing what I had planned. As you started to leave, you looked deep into my eyes and smiled. It was the first sign of human affection that I have been shown in seven years, and I just wanted you to know that today your smile has given me life.”

The two spoke for a while, and the priest discovered that this man had once been a doctor practicing at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Then the priest gave him his blessing and went on his way.

Later, the priest went to the hospital to find out what he could about this man. He brought the man’s name up to various doctors and nurses and was told that he had in fact been a doctor there, but he was having some troubles so he left. No one knew where the priest could find him now.

Three years later the phone rang and the priest was greeted by a well-spoken voice saying, “Hello, I’m Dr. Lawson. Remember me? From the Bowery? I’m back at the hospital now. I just wanted you to know a smile can make a difference—sometimes all the difference.”

If you do nothing else today, smile at someone who needs to see you smile.

A Call to Joy (Paperback)

Be inspired by Matthew Kelly's personal story and his insights on faith, love, and the trials and triumphs of the spiritual life.

A Call to Joy (Paperback)

Be inspired by Matthew Kelly's personal story and his insights on faith, love, and the trials and triumphs of the spiritual life.

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About A Call to Joy (Paperback)

In the last five years more than one million people in forty-six countries have attended Matthew Kelly's talks, retreats, and seminars. Millions more have been touched by his writings and appearances on major radio and television programs worldwide. Young, charismatic, and extraordinarily engaging, Matthew Kelly comes to the aid of a generation desperately searching for some meaning in life deeper than the pursuit of material things. Exploring the challenges of our modern world, he brilliantly puts into context the unchanging truths and teachings of Jesus Christ. In A Call to Joy, he shares both his remarkable personal story and his uniquely inspiring insights on faith, love, and the trials and triumphs of the spiritual life.

Product Information

Alternative Headline Living in the Presence of God


Product Type Media Books

ISBN 978-1929266005

Number of Pages 204

Book Format Paperback

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By Sue Sue Buscemi on Thursday, June 14, 2018

Hat's off to Matthew Kelly! I have become a huge fan due to this book. The insight, common sense, inspiration, and personal goals this book presents is phenomenal. I am reading, rereading and then reading again, daily. Each chapter makes you think. Think hard about how you are thinking, living, praying, and transforming your life into the life God wants for you. Matthew, wish it were possible to talk to you personally. I want to thank you for taking the time to share with the public. This information is truly transformational! Best regards.

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