Matthew Kelly is the founder of The Dynamic Catholic Institute and the bestselling author of seventeen books. For twenty years he has been speaking and writing about the genius of Catholicism. Rediscover Catholicism is the bestselling Catholic book of our times, with sales of more than six million copies in English alone.
This interview took place on April 7th, 2013.
Dynamic Catholic (DC): Thank you for your time today. We are excited to discuss your book Rediscover Catholicism. Let me start by simply asking, why did you write the book?
Matthew Kelly (MK): I started working on the first edition of the book in 1998. At that time I was traveling all the time – 250 or more days a year – speaking in lots and lots of churches. I began speaking in 1993 and it had become abundantly clear to me that how I saw Catholicism was not how the average Catholic saw it. So, I decided to write this book to share my heart and experience, and perspective, around the Catholic faith.
Just a few months after the book was released, the Boston Globe broke the story about sexual abuse in the Church and the whole climate for Catholicism in America changed in a matter of weeks. With that changing climate, there were lots of people who gave up on the Church. But there were also a lot of people who said to themselves, “OK, I know that there is a lot more to Catholicism than the media is letting on, but I don’t really know what, or how to start discovering what Catholicism really is!”
The book provided the perfect starting point for that kind of person, and so, in a sense, it was just the right book at the right time.
DC: Why do you believe the book has been so successful?
MK: The truth is, I don’t know. But I am happy to speculate a little. It was the right book at the right time for a lot of people who had never really explored their faith. It is broad enough to have something for everyone. The nature of our faith is that it is so rich, and deep, and multifaceted, that we all do need to rediscover it constantly. It is theological but not theological. I think it resonates with where people are and shows them the journey ahead without discouraging or overwhelming them. And, I hope it is the kind of book that someone can read more than once and enjoy it just as much the second time.
But in all honesty, nobody could have foreseen its success.
When I first wrote it, I was not sure if I should publish it through my own publishing company or if I should publish with another publishing company with better distribution. So, I sent it around to a bunch of publishing companies to see who was interested. There were only two companies that wanted to publish it, and I still have rejection letters from the other publishers doubting the book’s success.
DC: It has now been more than a decade since you first published the book in 2002. How has the Catholic Church in America changed during that time?
MK: I guess I would preface my answer by saying that the Catholic Church in America is among the most dynamic in the world. The whole push for the New Evangelization has come about primarily because of the crisis in Western Europe, where people and whole cultures have set themselves against Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. A great indifference has descended upon Western Europe. It is impossible to engage indifference, and it is impossible to evangelize those who are indifferent to God, religion, Christianity, and Catholicism. Today in Europe, if you raise a question concerning faith, most people will not even engage in the conversation. This indifference is the enemy of evangelization, because evangelization requires first and foremost a conversation.
In my homeland, Australia, the environment is more like what I describe in Western Europe and certainly moving more and more in that direction every day.
America is different. People will argue with you. If you raise a faith perspective or question, people will argue with you. This is good and beautiful, because it is proof that people are still willing to engage. And this makes evangelization possible.
With that as context, yes, the Catholic Church in America has changed since I first wrote the book. Many people have left the Church, but the overwhelming majority of these already had one foot out the door. Most of them have no idea what they left behind.
But the real change I see is people stepping up. People are stepping up and getting more involved in a hundred ways. They are playing more passionate roles in their parishes and they are studying their faith on a different level. They sense that Catholicism is a treasure, and they want to discover that treasure… and be able to share the treasure with others.
DC: Are some books easier to write than others? How did Rediscover Catholicism rate from a difficulty point of view?
MK: Yes, some books are definitely easier to write than others. I wrote A Call to Joy in six weeks. It was easy to write books when you didn’t know if anyone was going to read them. The Rhythm of Life took about a year, and I remember thinking that was an eternity. The Dream Manager I wrote in three days with very little sleep. Rediscover Catholicism took three years for the original edition (2002) and another three years to rewrite it for the new edition (2010).
The first edition took a long time because it was really important to me and I found myself going back and re-working sections over and over again. The re-write for the new edition was an impossible task. The book had already sold more than a million copies in hardcover, so it is hard to tinker with something that has been that successful. But I knew it could be a much, much better book.
DC: How do you know when a book is finished?
MK: A book is never finished. It is only ever abandoned. Most first time authors never finish their books, because they wake up each day, read what they wrote the day before and think, “I can improve this!” and that will be true every day forever.
I have re-written two books, The Rhythm of Life and Rediscover Catholicism, and I could re-write both of them again. But at some point you have to abandon a book and surrender it to the reader and to time. And the reader is usually friendlier than time.
DC: You have written business books, self-help books, a children’s book, and Catholic books. Why?
MK: At the core of all my work you will find the phrase the-best-version-of-yourself®. I believe this is God’s dream for us and it applies to every aspect of life. But more than that, there are seven billion people on this planet today and they are all in different stages of their spiritual journey. Some would never pick up a Catholic book, but they read one of my business books, it inspires them, they wonder what else I have written, go to Amazon.com, see Rediscover Catholicism, and think, “Huh! This guy is Catholic. I grew up Catholic. I wonder what he has to say about Catholicism?” That is a story I have heard a thousand times.
The bottom line is, I write the books God places in my heart.
DC: You have written seventeen books in twenty years, do you have a favorite?
MK: Not really. I always thought that Perfectly Yourself was the best written book, but it is probably my least read book. Books have a life of their own. You can’t rush them, they come when they are ready. And once they are born, they have a story that unfolds around them… and I just like watching that story unfold. Each reader adds to the story… how the book changes them, where they put the book when they are finished, the notes they write in the margin and the phrases they underline, who they buy a copy for and who they recommend it to… all come together into a story that is unique to that book. And that is just fun to watch.
DC: If you could get everyone who has ever read your books together in one place, what would you say to them?
MK: Thank you. Every day I get emails from people who want to become authors, and they would do anything to make it happen. But it is really, really hard to break through. And these interactions always make me so grateful for my readers.
I’d just want to say thank you. Thanks for taking the time to read my books. Thanks for spending your hard earned money on them. Thank you for recommending my books to other people, and giving them as gifts. You have given me a chance to follow my call, refine my craft, and it has been an incredible journey. Thank you for making that possible.