Amazing Possibilities!

Fr. Mike Schmitz - Interview with Matthew Kelly



Watch the full interview!


Matthew:

Why don't we start with a prayer, eh?


Father Mike:

Yeah, good idea.


Matthew:

Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit, amen. Father, we thank you for this day. We thank you for all your blessings, those that we're aware of and those that we're unaware of. Continue to open our awareness to all that you do in our lives and how you move in our lives. We thank you for Father Mike and his incredible ministry and for this time with him today. We ask you to bless him, fill him with your spirit, and we ask all this in Jesus' name, amen.


Father Mike:

Amen. Father and the Son, Holy Spirit, amen.


Matthew:

Amen. So Father Mike, it's great to be with you. Thank you so much for joining us. We're super grateful and excited to have this time with you. I have a very serious question to get started, and that is who is your favorite superhero and why.


Father Mike:

Yes. I think that's a great question, but it actually is not a softball. That's a challenging question. So I'm a DC guy. There's Marvel. Of course, there's DC. One has made really successful movies, and the other has made really incredible comics. So it comes to Superman and Batman, the big two. And if I had to, I don't know that I could actually ever choose. If I had to go Marvel, that's easy, Captain America all the way. That's just very, very clear, but one of the things Marvel does with their characters is they always want to give them some really clear flaws, which is not horrible.


Father Mike:

It's just not why I would want to read comic books. I'd want to read comic books to get into that world. I don't necessarily need the heroes. I like the heroes to have a purpose and be driven by that purpose more than anything else.


Matthew:

Fantastic. So we asked on social media this morning. We asked people to submit questions and also another very serious question from the audience is how much coffee do you drink.


Father Mike:

That's funny, because I, right next to me, have my coffee mug. I only had, I would say, half of a cup today so far and half the day's through. So I can go anywhere from a couple pots. So it's interesting, because if I'm at my parents' place or my family's house, and we're just hanging out and someone keeps making coffee, I will keep drinking coffee. If I'm at a conference and they keep having coffee there, I'll just keep sipping on it, not because I need it, just because it's one of those things like, "Oh, might as well sip on something warm," but I can go from one cup to maybe two pots in a given day. I have a spread.


Matthew:

Fantastic. What about favorite sport and is there a lesson you draw from that sport about life?


Father Mike:

Oh gosh, yeah. So I would say recently, in the last four years. I never watched sports, ever. I like the Olympics, love the Olympics, because the Olympics were the only place that I could get the sports that I participated in. I never understood the idea of watching someone else do something you like doing yourself. If you play basketball, it'd be like, "Well, just go play basketball. Don't watch people play basketball." But the Olympics, I could understand. I ran. I swam, triathlon, cross-country skiing. Those were my jam, which are not necessarily broadcast very often, except for every four years on TV, but within the last four years, I got into CrossFit and competing in CrossFit a little bit, not in anything big, just small stuff.


Father Mike:

And I find myself wanting to watch, all of the time, other people do this and I get what it is to be a fan now, to be able to watch and see how someone does something so excellently. It just blows my mind. So that's one thing, I think, a takeaway is from sports is this pursuit of excellence and this decision, "I can choose to be great." The other piece that I love about sports, that's one of the reasons that I think everyone should be in sports or in music or in theater, or anywhere you can fail, is that, hopefully, sports teach you how to fail and I think that's probably one of the best lessons that anyone could possibly learn is how to fail, and I think that's one of the best lessons that sports offer to young people.


Matthew:

That's a fantastic insight. As a parent, it's hard to let your children fail.


Father Mike:

Oh yeah.


Matthew:

And it's so important. We talk here a lot about the idea that a parent's role isn't to prepare the road for their child but to prepare their child for the road, and there is failure on the road. That's a fantastic insight. You've touched a lot of people, and so they're naturally curious about you. Tell us a little bit about growing up. What was Father Mike like growing up, and what was growing up like for Father Mike?


Father Mike:

Yeah. If you could sum it up in one word, I would say I was a punk but probably wasn't that much of a punk. So I would say this. I was raised in a Catholic, so I had my mom and dad, who both are Catholic and brought us all to church. I'm one of six kids, three boys and three girls. And yeah, so when it came to faith, there was the rule that we have to go to mass every single Sunday. My parents said the only way you could get out of going to Sunday mass was if you were too sick to do anything for the rest of the day, too sick to do anything else.


Father Mike:

And so, there were times when I did dislike going to mass so much that I would pretend to be sick, get out of one hour of mass, but then have to sit in my room the entire rest of the day. This is before devices, before phones, before computers, before TVs in rooms. Basically, being in your room by yourself meant sitting on your bed doing nothing. And for whatever reason, I thought that was good trade-off. I disliked going to mass so much that I thought, "That's not bad. I got one hour free. Now, I have the rest of the day in captivity, but at least I didn't have to go to church."


Father Mike:

And all of that changed and I remember I even had, it must have been, gosh, fifth, sixth grade, somewhere in there, where one of our teachers, who was our substitute teacher, she was playing Christian music at some point and I was at a Catholic school. I said, "Oh, is this one of those..." She played Christian music and I said, "Are you one of those Jesus freaks?" And I have no idea why. Where did I ever hear that phrase? My parents didn't talk like that. Where would I even say this? And she's like, "What are you talking about?" I was like, "This sounds like one of those Jesus freak songs."


Father Mike:

And she says, "Yes, I am, and you know what? One day, you are going to be, too." And I was like, "No way," and she says, "Wait a second, Jesus is going to get ahold of you. And when he does, you just better watch out." And I was like, "Whatever." And then, when I was about 15 or 16, I had this big moment of conversion where Jesus got ahold of me. It was pretty private, pretty personal, wasn't in a group. No one gave a talk. I didn't read a book. What happened was I just had this personal awareness, at one point, of my own sin.


Father Mike:

That was what it was. I had heard what all those things were for my whole life growing up and those were all, "Yep, I know what they are. They're on the list. They're on the tablets," but all of a sudden, there was this awareness that, "Oh my gosh, that's what I do. Sin is something that's in me now." And I remember thinking, "Oh my gosh, I can't just forgive myself. I can't just save myself. I need a savior." And it was one of those, bing, "Oh my goodness, that's what they've been telling me my entire life is that Jesus is the savior."


Father Mike:

And I realized, "Oh my gosh, now I get what that means." I had been given the answer before I had the question, and I had been given the lifeline before I knew that I needed it. And so, that moment, it was so clear. I knew I needed to pray. I knew I needed to go to confession. And so, the prayer route started at one point. We can talk about that if you ever want to, but remember, confession, I didn't know how. I didn't know you were supposed to wait until Saturday to go. So I knew where the priest lived, and so I got on my bike and I rode across town at 10:00 on a Tuesday morning, knocked on the priest's door.


Father Mike:

And I would say, of course, he was home, because priests only work one day a week and I said, "Father, can I go to confession?" "Sure, come on in." Sat down on the couch and went to confession, and I remember walking out of that rectory, stepping on the front porch, and three thoughts were so clear in my mind. One was just, "God, thank you so much," because I had felt the weight of sin. To a degree, I had felt that and I just, "God, thank you so much for you've completely forgiven me of all of my sins." My second thought was, "God, if you ever want me to be a priest, I will hear anyone's confession anytime they ask."


Father Mike:

And I had never thought about being a priest before, maybe when I was really, really little but never entertained it seriously, but that was the first time I ever had just, "God, if you want." So first two thoughts, one, "God, thank you so much," second, "If you ever want me to be a priest, I will hear anyone's confession whenever they ask." My third thought was, "Oh, she's really cute." So that started this battle of like, "Gosh, what do you want me to do, Lord?" but then, I did read some books and did encounter the truth of Jesus in the Eucharist in a way that just blew me away.


Father Mike:

I encountered the reality of the life of prayer that we're meant to be called into that just can transform my life, but it all started like Pope Benedict said in God Is Love where he says, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty ideal. It's the result of an encounter with a person that gives one's life a new horizon and sets it in a decisive direction." And I can trace so much back to stepping on that front porch and realizing, "Okay, Lord, from that moment, you gave my life a new horizon and you set me in a decisive direction," and that was pretty big. Of course, all the same things, still in sports and still loved high school. I was one of the weird people who liked high school, but that's a whole 'nother story.


Matthew:

That's fantastic. So would you say that moment on the porch, is that the moment where the faith became your faith, or is there another moment that you define in that way?


Father Mike:

Yeah, that was a big moment. It's all a part of that same process. It started with this awareness of sin. It continued and really, the encounter of Jesus in confession, just really knowing his love. So very similar, but it was all part of the, "Oh my gosh, I need him. Oh, he's been given to me." And then, there was two other pieces. One is learning how to pray and the other was learning about Jesus in the Eucharist. And all of those things was related, because learning how to pray wasn't just a one-time thing and that was, "Okay, how do I show up for prayer?" and, "This is real. I have to do this. If this is real, then I need to spend time with him."


Father Mike:

Even as a high schooler, it was very, very clear. And then, I remember reading in a book about the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and it's crazy. I went downstairs and told my siblings, "You guys, did you know that Jesus really is truly present in the Eucharist?" They're like, "Yeah." I'm like, "No, he's really present." They're looking at me like, "We've all went to Catholic school, too. We know this." I don't know if I was sick that day. I don't know if I didn't pay attention. I know I didn't pay attention, but that changed everything and just recognizing not only God's love for me personally in confession through his forgiveness of sins but also in mass, in the Eucharist.


Father Mike:

And so, everything changed. From then on, I never wanted to skip mass again. It was just a matter of, "Okay, I need to be there." But yeah, a way to say is that. That is the season where the faith became my faith, yeah.

Matthew:

Fantastic. So that's just over 30 years ago since you stepped on that porch. How does Jesus continue to amaze you today?


Father Mike:

Oh my gosh, that is such a great question, because that was the beginning in so many ways. The real beginning was baptism, but I can look back at that moment or that season with such great fondness, but recognizing that the Lord is here now. I can look back with gratitude and fondness, and also I can learn a lot. Jesus in the Book of Revelation talks about one of the words for the church, I think it's the church, Ephesus, is that you're doing all the right things and you believe all the right things, and you're doing okay, but this thing I have against you is you lost your first love.


Father Mike:

And so, I can look back at times at that season and say, "Okay, Lord, how am I doing? Am I really pursuing you with the same abandon as I did at first? Am I still loving you with the same love that I did at first?" And by same love, I mean with that same, "I want you to have my whole heart." I think, sometimes, we settle into just rhythms that are comfortable as opposed to rhythms that really stretch us and say, "Okay, yeah, following you, Lord, cost me something. It cost me my whole heart." And like, "Well, no, but I've got comfortable things around me. I've got this really nice chair behind me. I've got a comfortable room that I'm in right now," as opposed to saying, "Lord, it's all yours."


Father Mike:

And so, what I've experienced since then is that depth of God gets to claim everything else. He gets to claim everything. So initially, it was, "You get to claim my sins. Thank you, Lord. And you get to take those away from me," but he has to be able to have access to every part of my life, and that's one of the things that I keep coming back to every single day in prayer is that he has to have access to all of it.


Matthew:

It's powerful. The phrase wholehearted is so common in our society. I've be meditating just on that phrase over the last couple of weeks and meditating, "What have I done in my life in a wholehearted way? What am I doing in my life in a wholehearted way now?" And it's interesting how we can get to a place of wholeheartedness, and then regress from that wholeheartedness but still think that we're there, and that's why it's just so important, I think, to check back in from time to time.


Matthew:

You spend a lot of time working with young people, young adults, which is beautiful, and so needed and necessary. What would you say is young people's greatest need today? As you're working with these young people, what strikes you as, "This is their greatest need"? There's these great moments in the gospels where Jesus just surveyed the crowd and he recognized some yearning in them, some longing in them, some need in them. As you surveyed all the young people you're working with today, what is their greatest need?


Father Mike:

Great question, because there's so many needs. Obviously in the last year, we've experienced a need for others, a need for community, a need for real friendship, the need to be able to be together. Just there's so much isolation and you know that scripture? It says Jesus saw the crowd and felt pity on them, because they were frightened and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. I think there's an abandonment that grips a lot of young people these days, or even a fear of abandonment. They can have even in-tact families that they're coming from, the family's origin, and still have that fear of abandonment, because relationships are so transitory.


Father Mike:

Even in stable families, they see, "Well, my extended family, my aunt and uncle walked away from each other," or whatever, just all their friends. So there's that transitoriness. There's that isolation, but one of the things that I would say is I believe that we are in a crisis, one of the crises that they experienced most profoundly is meaningless. And not just, "Well, I found my own meaning," or, "I found my bliss. I found my purpose," but the greater substantial root kind of meaning that is objective that you can build a life on, that when all the storms of life attack or when there's isolation, all these other things, all the plans you had are falling through, to know that, "Okay, but this all means something. This isn't an accident."


Father Mike:

And I think that a lot of our culture, a lot of what they are presented with and what we're presented with because we're living in the culture too, is so temporary and is so based on, I'm going to say this, subjective experience. What happens when that subjective experience is all just pain? What happens when that subjective experience is so confusing they don't understand it? And there's got to be something more. So I would say that the greatest wound is a crisis of meaning, because that touches every single aspect of their lives.


Matthew:

And so, if someone came to you and just said, "Hey, I feel like I'm drowning in meaningless. I'm desperate for purpose," what would you say is the first step? What is the first step you would encourage them to take?


Father Mike:

Yeah. Well, the first thing, I want to spell it out and say that you're not an accident, that your life is not an accident, that you don't just happen to exist, because that is the presentation. The idea of a materialistic world view is that, no, you're just random cogs. You're stardust. The reason you're special is because you're dust of stars. That's not special. If everything's made of stardust, that doesn't mean anything. So to be able to say, "Okay, one of the things you need to realize is that you're not an accident, that you have been made on purpose, that your life is made for purpose, and then you get to live on purpose," but one of the things that happens is, if you believe your life is an accident, then we just walk through life off purpose.


Father Mike:

We walk through life on accident, but if you've been made for purpose, then you get to live on purpose and there's even something that's just to present a base level of even just that. You're not an accident. You're made on purpose. You actually have the ability to live on purpose. It's an invitation I've seen so many people respond to in a really positive and powerful way.


Matthew:

Fantastic. I think a lot of young people, well, people of all ages, suffer under the weight of shame, of self-loathing, of regret. Do you have a regret in your life, and how have you made peace with that regret?


Father Mike:

Yeah. I think that there are some people who say, "Never regret anything in life, because it brought you to where you are today. It made you the person you are today." I can understand the truth of that, but I don't know that it's completely true. In one sense, what if you're a worse person now because of that experience? And so, what if I'm a worse person because of that experience? So on one hand, there's a truth there. 100, there's a truth there, but at the same time, I think it makes sense to be able to have some things, that we've lived through things we've chosen that, if I had to do over again, I would've chosen differently.


Father Mike:

As Christians, we believe God can use it all. Absolutely, God can use every single mistake we've made, every single thing. He can write a great story, even in the midst of our brokenness. So I have absolute confidence and faith in that, but I also know that those things, those elements in my life that I wish I hadn't chosen, what I get to do now, this is what I'll do. And when I feel overwhelmed by that, so you mentioned shame. You mentioned maybe some embarrassment or guil, and that regret.


Father Mike:

I can't go back in time and change that. What I can do is I can take all of it and place it under his dominion, and I know that's a fancy way of saying this, but I surrender it to him and say, "Okay, God, I can't do anything about this. This is the situation. This is how it happened. These are the consequences that I'm living with right now, and I can't change any of them. So what I'm going to do is I submit them to you. I surrender them to you and I place them under your lordship. I place it under your dominion, and so you get to be lord of that, too. You get to be lord of my broken past. You get to be a lord of the consequences that I'm living through right now that I wish I didn't. I could change if I could, but you get to be lord of it. You get to have access to it."


Father Mike:

And what I found is I found so much freedom in that, because there's nothing that he can't do something with. There's nothing, no element of our life, that God can't do something with, including the sources of our shame and some of the sources of our guilt.


Matthew:

So as you're making your journey and you're coming alongside people ministering to them, do you see God using your broken past to minister to those people?


Father Mike:

Yeah, I even see God using my broken presence to minister to the people. There is an element where, when it's surrendered to him, he uses it all. So here's an example. I can talk about myself, but here's someone who's very close to me. He's an older man and for years, we've talked about this. He said, "I invite people to church all the time, but no one's ever said yes." He said, "What's up with this? I invite people all the time." He said, "I need to go out and evangelize. I need to go and welcome people to the church, and no one ever says yes." And I was like, "I don't know. Keep trying, I guess."


Father Mike:

This individual, at one point, had to go to the rehab for alcoholism and goes to meetings at least once a week, talks with his sponsor at least once a day, and is an active part of Alcoholics Anonymous. And I've seen in this person's life so much where, now when he invites people, they respond. Before, he had a place of, "I'm put together. I've figured it out. I've got it all under control." "Yeah, no, I'm not going to go with you." But now, where he comes out of a place of not excessive, "I have my badge that says I'm an alcoholic," but out of a place of humility and a place of, "I'm approaching others as one who is broken." People have responded so powerfully to his invitation to come close to the Lord that it's incredible, and I see that happen in his life all the time and I hope it happens in mine, too.


Matthew:

That's fantastic. We're dealing with epidemic levels of addiction in our culture of all types. What would you say to someone who is struggling with an addiction?


Father Mike:

I think that it all depends on where they're at, because we know that there's some people that point to an addiction as an excuse. I find that a lot when people will say, "Well, I have this addiction. Therefore, I can't stop stop this particular behavior." And for them, I would have a different word than those who are in denial at first, so someone who's like, "I have this addiction, so I don't." It's like any other disease. Think of another kind of mental illness, say depression or something like this. I can't not be depressed, and I go through depression.


Father Mike:

I can't just not be depressed, but I can continue to take my medication, and I can continue to talk to my therapist and I can continue showing up for those kind of meetings. So I can't just eliminate the problem. Just because I can't do everything doesn't mean I can't do anything, and so that's one thing if someone is at that place when it comes to addiction and they're saying, "I'm just going to blame my behavior on my addiction," okay. On the other hand, there is so much, again go back to the word shame, so much shame when it comes to the wounds that we all carry.


Father Mike:

And every one of us carries wounds, and some of the wounds that we are most ashamed about and have the most power over us are the secret wounds. And sometimes, addiction is that. It's a secret wound for so many people, and so we have to ask the question, "Would it have more power or less power in your life if you brought it out into the light? Would it be easier to carry if you allowed someone else to carry it with you, or would it crush you even more?" And I have found so often that people keep themselves back. They hold themselves back from real freedom, because they don't want to reach out for help.


Father Mike:

And I understand that, but at the same time, I don't understand it, because freedom is possible and sobriety is possible, and new life is possible. And I just think that, as long as there are those lies that keep attacking us from inside saying, "You can't let anyone know, that no one's there to help, that I tried once and I got shot down," all these kind of pieces to recognize that you're not over and your life's not over, and freedom can be in your future.


Matthew:

That's fantastic. We're talking about our aspiration to be all God created us to be. We're talking about our humanity. One thing I notice a lot of people struggle with, I see it a lot in moms and it's like, "Okay, you're a mom, but before you're a mom and before you're a wife and before you're a daughter and before you're a sibling, you're an individual human being and you have a mandate from God. You have a responsibility to yourself as an individual human being." Before you're a priest, before you're a speaker, before you're an author, before you're all of those other things, you're a human being. How do you honor that in the midst of all your other roles and responsibilities?


Father Mike:

Yeah. And I would say that my deepest identity would be a son of God, that I can't summarize or express any more deeply, any more central, any more core of who I am as other than an adopted son of God. And so, that has to come first. I know that it's so easy as we're mentioning, as you questionably mentioned, how it's so easy to say, "Well, I've got to get all this work done. This is a task that needs to be accomplished. The person needs to be taken care of." And yet, at the same time, there is a primary relationship, and the primary relationship that gives me my identity is between the Father and myself.


Father Mike:

And so, I would say if I'm not, if I haven't taken the time for prayer, I can say, "Okay, let's rephrase accurately." When I haven't taken time for prayer and when I say taken time for prayer is I know what is necessary. I know what kind of prayer is necessary. I know how long I need to be in prayer for it to be the kind of prayer that actually goes to the identity and actually helps the relationship, and I also know what kind of prayer it has to be. It can't be prayer where I'm also writing a homily. It can't be prayer where I'm also writing a talk.


Father Mike:

It has to be where it's just, "Okay, Lord, this is us together. Can we breathe?" but the agenda has to be love and without that, there's nothing else. And I think a person could continue to work, but they wouldn't work with... They could keep working, but it wouldn't keep working. I think that kind of fuel runs out pretty quickly.


Matthew:

Absolutely. You're working with young people. What advice do you have for young people about love?


Father Mike:

I can't remember who it was who said this. [Dom Canberra 00:33:08] maybe might've been the name of the man. He said something like, "Life teaches us how to love." I like, in the Christian context, what John Paul II said, which is that the family is the school of love. And so, in that case, life doesn't just teach us how to love. Life can also teach us how to become bitter. Life can teach us how to resent, but a life lived with Christ teaches us how to love. One of the aspects of love that life with Christ teaches us is that you are always free to choose to love.


Father Mike:

You're always free to choose to love, that the gift of the emotion of love is a gift. It is real and it's a real gift, but I'm not beholden to it, and you don't have to be a slave to that, that you can actually choose to love, regardless of your feelings. You actually get to lead your feelings when it comes to love and that it's actually possible to keep your promises, and that's an element. Again, I'm going back to John Paul II where he said, "A person who does not promise to love for a lifetime will never truly be able to truly love for even one day," because there's that sense that it can't just be transitory.


Father Mike:

It has to have an element that says, "I will..." When it comes down to this, I always highlight for our couples when I do marriage prep with them that, on your wedding day, you're going to make some vows, which is silly in some ways, meaning you're going to make a vow to be faithful to each other, to love each other, to honor each other on your wedding day, which is silly, because of course you are on that day. On your wedding day, of course you're going to love each other. You're going to be faithful to each other. You're going to honor each other.


Father Mike:

The reason you're making a vow on your wedding day is because you know that the day is going to come when you won't feel like loving each other, when you won't want to be faithful to each other, when you don't want to honor each other. And what you're saying is, "When that day comes, I promise you I still will love, and I will still choose you, and I will still be faithful to you, and I will still honor you." And that kind of thing is something I wish that more people knew, because that's possible. It's possible to love like that.


Matthew:

So as I listen to you speak, you speak about love. You're building your whole description of love and story of love and philosophy of love on the idea that love is a choice, but the culture is sending a message very, very powerfully in music, in books, in TV shows, in movies that love is a feeling. How do you draw people out of the love is a feeling philosophy and into the love is a choice philosophy?


Father Mike:

Yeah, I think life has to teach them that. I think what Dom Canberra was saying, that life teaches us how to love in the sense that there are some relationships, say even romantic relationships, but they also can be relationships of friendship that are only for a season and that's okay. So there is an element where just because we're dating doesn't mean that I'm going to love you forever and that's okay. Just because we're friends in geometry class doesn't mean that we're friends after school and that's okay, that there can be an element of different kinds of friendship.


Father Mike:

There's friendships for a season, and then friendships for life. There's love for a season. There's love for life. To be able to recognize, "Okay, that's possible," both things can be true at the same time, that there are such things as more transitional-type friendships and relationships, but there's also a great gift that comes along with a permanent or more permanent friendship and a vow to love. And I think that, oftentimes, the young people that I deal with, I get to interact with, one of the things that they're seeing is, "Wait a second, so I'm dating this person. This is forever." "Maybe, but hold your horses," or the opposite, which is, "There's no such thing as forever."


Father Mike:

And so, I think that, as they mature, I want to say edges get worn off. What I mean is I think things come into focus, where I can recognize there are such things as friendships and relationships for a season, and there are such things as friendships and relationships for life. And part of the wisdom of living is being able to discern which one is which.


Matthew:

So we're talking about love and there's a youthfulness to love, and I think love keeps us young. What advice would you have for married couples who've been married for 20, 30, 40 years?


Father Mike:

Well, if they haven't figured it out yet, I always think of two things. Well, be careful with each other. I think that that is one thing that I see happening a lot when it comes to even newly married couples is they get to a place where we're so comfortable with each other that we stopped being careful with each other. And I don't mean in a fragile way and I don't mean walking on eggshells, but I do mean, if I notice them treating strangers more politely than I'm treating my spouse, something's wrong. If I notice them treating people at work with more care than I'm treating my spouse, then something's off.


Father Mike:

This should be the relationship that I'm being most careful with, because this is the one that matters the most, and it's the one that's going to last the longest. So one is even just simple. Just be careful with each other. Second one is if someone has revealed themselves to you, stop waiting for them to change. Maybe you'll say a different way. I have found that newly married couples are more patient with the foibles and inconsistencies and wounds of their spouse than couples that have been married for a long time, which I think should be the opposite.


Father Mike:

On one hand, you might think, "Well, of course. By this point, they're just tired of it and they're just like, 'I don't have any patience for you,'" but I look at that and think, "Wait, if you've been reminding him to put down the toilet seat for the last 25 years, or if he's been waiting and it's just like, 'I'm so frustrated. She's always late. She's always running late when we have to go somewhere,' why would you give that permission to stress you out in any way, shape, or form? It's been 25 years. If you haven't learned yet he doesn't put down the toilet seat, she is always late, if you haven't learned that by now, the problem is not with them. The problem is with you at this point."


Father Mike:

And so, I would say that, "You have been married for a long time. Realize, 'This is the person I married,' and be able to not just accept but also maybe even delight in those little idiosyncrasies," those little things that's like, "Of course, yeah, we're going to be late, and I'm not going to let it bother me," or, "Yeah, the seat's this way and I'm not going to let it bother me, because if this toilet seat up meant he doesn't actually love me, he would've left me a long time ago. And if her being late means she doesn't respect me, then this is the least of my problems," but probably it's just that he is forgetful.


Father Mike:

It probably is just that she has a lot on her mind, and it happens in taking care of everyone else before she takes care of herself and that's where we're at, and I think there's an element of acceptance of the other person that would bring a lot of peace to couples that have been married for a long time.


Matthew:

Excellent insight. So we're talking about relationships and a big part of relationships is communication, and I've heard you talk about conversations before. What is the most important part of any conversation?


Father Mike:

That's a great question. I would think that, on some level, it'd be understanding, meaning I didn't just say what I wanted to say. You understand what I was trying to communicate, but I think that there are so many times in the course of any given day or any given situation where there's not enough time necessarily to clarify, "Okay, you said you wanted the blue mittens, not the red ones. They're blue mittens with red stripes." "Okay, yes, that's what I said, blue mittens, red stripes, both left and right hand," or whatever the thing is.


Father Mike:

Sometimes, there's not enough time to communicate these things in a way that I know you understand me, and you know that I understand you. So the most important part of communication would be, I think, what might be the most important part of any relationship, and that is more foundational, I think, than love is respect, and more foundational than respect is built in respect or built off of trust. And so, that sense of being able to say, "Oh, sorry, I bought the blue mittens with the red stripe, not the red mittens with the blue stripe," or whatever the thing is, "but that person knows they can trust me and that person knows they can trust that I respect them and I love them.


Father Mike:

And if I had remembered, I would've gotten the mittens they wanted, then we're going to be okay, because I know at the end of the day, the most important part of communication is the relationship itself." And if that relationship itself is built off of a mutual love and respect undergirded by trust, then I think that words are going to be words, but this is the relationship.


Matthew:

In your book, How to Make Great Decisions, you talk about learning to listen to God, and one of the things I love is how you make connections between our faith life and the practical realities of our everyday. And so, as I'm listening to you speak about this knowing, this understanding, this trusting, and I'm putting that together with the piece in the book about learning to listen to God, how does learning to listen to God make us a better listener in relationships?


Father Mike:

Wow, yeah. And with myself when it comes to prayer, one of the things that I wanted is I wanted God to speak to me the way it seemed like he spoke to others. Here is Samuel, who's living in the temple, and hears God calling his voice, "Samuel, Samuel." And he goes to Eli and says, "You called me." "No, I didn't call you." And then, later on, it's revealed that this is the Lord, God, calling Samuel and I'm like, "Yeah, talk to me like that, Lord. I don't mind. I'd like to hear the audible voice telling me what to do," and then realizing that, "God, you get to talk to me however you want. You actually get to communicate with me how you want, not necessarily how I prefer."


Father Mike:

And there's something about that, that is, A, humbling and also it translates really, really well into our relationships with others, meaning if I'm going to expect someone else to think the way I think, I'm going to expect them to do something they can't do. If I'm going to expect someone to always speak the way I speak, then I'm going to be expecting them to do something that they don't have the capacity to do. And so, when it comes to the Lord, I want to say, "Okay, God, I want to learn how you speak to me." And when it comes to other people, it's the same thing is, "Okay, I want to learn how you speak to me, my spouse, my friend, my child."


Father Mike:

Even that's another thing is, for parents and children, that recognition that one's kids are not just carbon copies. They might look similar, but they have their own minds, their own way of understanding things, their own way of getting from A to B, their own way of communicating those things. And so, there's a massive level of, "I get to accept that you have a different mind than I do. You have a different way of speaking than I do, and it's my job to learn how you speak." And that's, I think, what we've done, that we strive to do, when it comes to the Lord. And then, when we do that well, we can realize we do that with everybody.


Matthew:

So we're talking about relationships, and every relationship is an opportunity to become a better version of ourselves. If you could put together a dinner party and invite a handful of people from history, anyone in history, who would you invite to dinner?


Father Mike:

That's a great question. Well, here's one submission, one potential guest list. The group that comes to me is one might be the apostles. The other might be a group called the Inklings, right? So C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and Matthew Barfield, I think, is another one of them, some other folks, and the reason why is because it's a group of friends who had this virtuous friendship and one of the things that they did together is they... Here's the apostles. They are completely different but united in their love and experience of Jesus, and united in their being commissioned by Christ himself.


Father Mike:

The Inklings, same kind of thing, united in their love of literature but also in their pursuit of the Lord. I'm an introvert. If we have to go to a dinner party, I would like to be at a dinner party where they're all friends, and I get to listen in on their conversation. So that's maybe where I would go, but that's just right off the top of my head.


Matthew:

Love it, love it. So let's shift a little bit, and let's talk a little bit about the life of Jesus and the scriptures. If you could go into one moment of the life of Jesus, if you could've been there for one moment, which moment would you choose?


Father Mike:

Wow. In my mind, I'm going all the way from the big moments. I'll get back to that in a second, but also the small moments where it's the day to day with the Lord. So there's the scenes from the gospels that would be incredible. I think it would be incredible, on one hand, to be able to be with the Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane and to know what that moment means and to be there for Jesus in a unique way, to be able to say, to whatever degree I can, "I get it," to be able to give him that. On the other hand, it'd be incredible to be able to be there at the moment of the resurrection and just to bear witness to that incredible reality.


Father Mike:

And so, those are some of the big moments. So I love going to the Holy Land. I love going to Israel, and one of the things I love about Israel is I love returning to those normal places and just think, "Hey, the Lord walked here," or, "He saw that hill," or, "This is what the air smelled like when he was walking down Mount Arbel towards the Sea of Galilee." And those elements of just be able to walk with him, to be able to be on the hike with him, would be remarkable. I think I've been there maybe a dozen times or so now.


Father Mike:

These days, some of my favorite parts of the pilgrimage is when we're just hanging out at the hotel afterwards, and it's just this chance to be eating some food, having a beer, and just enjoying each other's presence. And so, I think some of those moments are the moments I really would love to be able to have with the Lord. The big moments, awesome, but maybe even some of those small moments of just having dinner, going for a walk.


Matthew:

So I love the Holy Land, as well. Now, I love watching other people discover for the first time and experience where Jesus walked for the first time and walk where Jesus walked. You talked earlier about this idea of virtuous friendship and a group of friends who are challenging and encouraging each other to become the best version of themselves. When you imagine Jesus just walking down the dusty roads with the disciples, what do you imagine that was like?


Father Mike:

Right. So I have had the chance, opportunity, to hike a bunch in my life or camp a bunch in my life, and one of the things that happens when you're on those journeys is you either pair up, or you triple up and then drop back. And people are joining and rejoining groups, and one of the things that just strikes me is the naturalness of you just drop back a little bit, because you want some quiet time. Or you join up with this other group, because what are they talking about up there? Or you get to just even, again, walk next to the Lord and have that opportunity to just maybe not even say anything but be able to be walking with him, walking with him and just being in his presence, going the same direction, knowing you're headed the same direction.


Father Mike:

Yeah, that's what I keep imagining is those pair-ups, those dropping back, those walking with the Lord. I imagine it'd be where there'd be laughter. I imagine that there'd be sometimes when Jesus set his face like flint to Jerusalem and decided, "I'm going to go there, and I'm going to announce to you all what's going to happen when I get there." It's maybe less laughter in those situations, but that would be incredible too, to see how does he do this walk. How does he do this walk, where he knows what's at the end of the road? Yeah. I think it'd be pretty remarkable.


Matthew:

Awesome, awesome. You've helped so many people discover the Bible and rediscover the Bible. And if there's someone listening and watching who has never read the Bible but feels called, feels drawn, what one piece of practical advice would you give to someone approaching the Bible for the first time?


Father Mike:

Yeah, maybe practical advice would be let... Gosh, if it's a way to say this. Let the Bible be what it is and not what you want it to be. I think that could really help a lot of people, yeah.


Matthew:

What about parents? You're ministering to young people. They all have parents. As I've traveled around the world the past decades, I see a lot of anguish in Catholic parents whose children have fallen away from the church. What advice would you have for those parents?


Father Mike:

Yeah, I think that it's easy to feel powerless, because the only person you can control is yourself, and you can't even control that person very well a lot of times. So it's really easy to feel powerless, and yet parents aren't powerless. Parents not only have the ability to continue to give witness and that's the thing. To be able to continue to give witness, even if your children are grown and out of the house, is profound. What I mean by that is say someone has walked away, to always leave a way back. Someone has left, okay, but there's always, "I'm leaving this door open."


Father Mike:

There's always a way back, to make that clear, and that is modeling the love of the Father. It's modeling the prodigal father in the parable. Another thing is the power of a parent's blessing, the power of parent's prayer, and the power of a parent's penance. Jesus, when there was a demon that the apostles could not drive out, he said, "This one can only be driven out by prayer and fasting." And I think that there is an evil one, and the evil one wants the souls. He wants our souls. He wants the souls of our children, our family, people we love.


Father Mike:

And to be able to say, "You have these powerful tools." You have the ability to give witness to the Lord. You have the ability to keep that door open. You have the ability to pray. You have the ability to continue to fast. You have the ability to do penance for your kids. Those are not little things. Those are not small things. They are powerful things.


Matthew:

As we're talking, almost every topic, what strikes me is the celebration of choice, that we do have choice, that we are free to choose. We're making thousands of decisions in our lives. One of the things I love about your book, How to Make Great Decisions, is that we're just making so many decisions, and most people have never thought, "Okay, what is my process for making a decision? How do I make great decisions? How do I give wisdom a place in my decision-making process?" Walk us through a little bit. What is your decision-making process? How do you counsel and coach other people to make decisions?


Father Mike:

Yeah, well, Christian Smith, who is a sociologist, he used to be based out of North Carolina, I think Chapel Hill, but now he works at Notre Dame. He had done this nationwide survey on the moral lives of American young adults and one of the things he found, he and his team found, was that, after researching thousands and thousands of young adults in America, 18 to 29 I think it was, the conclusion they came to was that the vast majority, over 66% of American young adults had neither the ability nor the category to make moral decisions.


Father Mike:

And what he meant by that was not the ability, because he's like, "Well, not the categories." Didn't have the words for it, didn't have the words to be able to communicate, "This is what good is. This is what bad is." In fact, sometimes, the words they would use, instead of saying something was bad, they would say, "Oh, this is merely stupid. You're being stupid," that kind of a thing. So they didn't have the categories of either right or wrong. They also didn't have the categories of the act itself, the intention, the circumstances, those kind of things, but then the ability to make moral decisions.


Father Mike:

And he could say that, because he said that, so often, a person would appeal to how they felt. They just appeal to their gut and said, "I don't know. I don't know how I chose it. It felt right. I kind of, sort of wanted to do it, and so I just based that decision off of feeling." Now, there's such a thing as intuition, obviously, but how do you develop intuition? And so, when it comes to making decisions, whether they be moral decisions or otherwise, I think that there is a number of things we can do and one is we can gather data.


Father Mike:

And I think that gathering data is one of the most basic things any one of us can do, but it's also something we often can overlook. So for example, just look at the example of discerning a college to go to and saying, "Okay, I don't know. Should I go to this college or this college, college X or college Y? I don't even know." "Well, okay, what are some points of data that you might want to even just discover?" "Well, college X costs this much. College Y costs this much. Well, I don't know. Are there any scholarships?" "Well, gather data." "What is campus life like?" "Okay, gather data."


Father Mike:

You're not solving the problem, but I think of it in terms of variables. You're trying to solve for X, but you also have all these unknowns. You have Y and Z and W, and all these things. Well, if you can fill in some of those letters with actual numbers, with data, then you have a better idea, at least, of how to solve for X, so data-gathering and the second is, I think, counsel. So counsel is very similar to data-gathering, but it's not. It can be. You can seek counsel from somebody and get more data that way, but also counsel can often help process the data, because there's a lot that I don't know.


Father Mike:

I don't know how to process whether college X that costs this much and college Y that costs this much, how that can be offset by scholarships or by whatever, but someone else might. So seek counsel from every wise man, the scripture says. So first, gathering data, second, seeking counsel. A third one is I just think, at some point, you need to move. You need to decide, so that frightens a lot of people. We need to have the courage in order to do that. Why it frightens a lot of people is because, if I've decided, that means it's done. That means the decision's over and it doesn't.


Father Mike:

What it means is I've tentatively taken a step. I've taken a step down this road that looks promising. I don't know where it's going to lead. I don't even know if this is the right step, but if I don't ever take the step, I will never know if that's the right step. So the image I always have is the image of sighting in a rifle. So in Minnesota and other places in the country where someone goes out to go deer hunting, a couple weeks before you actually go deer hunting, if you have a scope on your rifle, you go to the firing range, and you line up the target in the scope or in the sights, and then you have to actually pull the trigger.


Father Mike:

So you line it up, and you don't just walk away and say, "Oh yeah, looks like it's good." You have to line it up, and then you have to fire, and then you see, "Okay, is it off in any way? Is it down and to the left? Is it up and to the right?" And if it is, you adjust, and then you line it up again and fire again, and that is actually how you sight in a rifle. That's actually also how we're supposed to make decisions. We get data. We get counsel, and then we take a step and say, "Is this the right step?" And if it's not, then we calibrate and take another step, calibrate and take another step.


Father Mike:

That's not failure. That's the process and that's how it's supposed to go. It's not, "I made this decision, and now I just don't have to think about it anymore." It's, "I made the decision to take one step, not to run the whole marathon."


Matthew:

So when you're making a decision, sometimes it's hard enough to make a decision, even if you have a rich inner life, even if you feel like you're in a great place in your spiritual life, it seems for a lot of people, however, even people who are committed to the spiritual journey, that making a difficult decision also coincides with a difficult time of prayer, a time when they're struggling to pray, when they're having trouble praying. When you're having trouble praying, how do you recalibrate? How do you allow God to draw you back into it? How do you deal with that?


Father Mike:

Yeah, that's a good question. I think one big piece is consistency. It's faithfulness. I would say that, hands down, consistency beats intensity every time, that recognition of I'm going to show up again. And whether prayer is full of consolation or whether it's full of difficulty, dryness, distractions, that's okay. It doesn't matter, because I'm here. Secondly, I'll be back tomorrow. That sense of, when it comes down to it, everything's not riding on this one prayer time. And also, gosh, if I'm only seeking an answer when I go to prayer, I will often leave disappointed, but if I seek the Lord when I enter into prayer, then I'll never be disappointed.


Father Mike:

And so, I think that, also speaking of recalibration, it recalibrates our focus, because sometimes I will. I'll go into prayer like, "Okay, no, Lord, here we go. We got to figure this out." And he reminds me, "I figured it out already. What this time is for is for you to get to know my heart," because he already knows my heart, but that time of prayer is for me to get to know his heart and to abide in him, to rest in him, and to find him there, yeah.


Matthew:

So you keep showing up and when you keep showing up, that takes the urgency out of it. You're not showing up and saying, "All right, God, do your thing."


Father Mike:

Go, go.


Matthew:

How have you grown into that patience over the last 30 years?


Father Mike:

Oh man, because ever since that first moment of conversion and up until ordination, every day, the prayer was, "God, just tell me. Just tell me what it is you want me to do. Do you want me to be a priest? Do you want me to marry this girl?" whatever, and I remember thinking. I would even say in my prayer, "Just tell me. I don't care what it is. I do care what it is, but if you tell me, I'll do it." And God is so good, because he will never be too late with revealing his invitation to us, but he will also never be too early with his revealing his invitation to us.


Father Mike:

And I know this looking back now. There are so many graces that I missed that God was giving me, because every retreat I went to, every camp I went to, every time of prayer, every mass, I wanted my one answer. That's all I wanted and here's God who's trying to give all these other graces, but I'm like, "No, no, I don't want those other graces. I want the answer." And I think of how ungrateful that I must've been during that whole time, because he was moving. He was acting. He was doing something in my life, but I was only paying attention to what I hadn't been given yet, and I wasn't paying attention to what he was giving me.


Father Mike:

And so, that was a deep conviction that took me a while to understand and to really not just understand but also recognize for what it is, how deep that goes. Here's God constantly blessing, but no, until you give me the thing I'm asking for, I don't want any of those other blessings. That's one thing. That's one big thing it taught me. The other is I remember that, when the Lord finally made it very clear that he was inviting me to even just go to seminary, it was painful, because I had been dating this girl for about three years.


Father Mike:

And I knew what had to happen in that relationship. So it was very difficult, but he had prepared my heart sufficiently so that, by that moment, I was able to say yes in freedom. I often look back and I've wondered if the Lord had even revealed that two weeks earlier, if my heart would've been in the right place, if it would've been in the same place. I might've still done what he had asked, but it might have been more like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. So that recognition of, in the meantime, God is giving so many blessings. Secondly is that he's on time. He's never going to be too late, but he also will not be too early.


Matthew:

So you went to seminary. How is priesthood different to how you thought it would be as a seminarian?


Father Mike:

I think I emphasized in my mind in anticipation. I emphasized all the potential negative things that possibly could be full... Honestly, I pictured the life of a priest in Northern Minnesota to me, myself, in my own, by myself, drafty rectory with the winter winds rattling the windows and me sitting in a rocking chair with an afghan on my lap, stroking my cat while I looked out over the desolate, barren wasteland of the winter Minnesota. I thought that would be a lot of that. I was afraid of being lonely.


Father Mike:

I don't think I'm afraid of being alone, but I'm afraid of being lonely, and I would say that both of those fears were inaccurate. They were misplaced fears. I haven't been lonely more than 15 minutes, I think, in the last 18 years of being ordained. Yeah, it's been such a gift. My life has been so full of joy and so full of the Lord, so full of incredible people. The problem is that I don't have enough life to fit all the people in. I don't have enough capacity for all of the gifts that God has been giving, and so again the fear was loneliness. The fear was isolation and sadness, and the reality has been the opposite, even though I know that, at some point, the Lord, he has to purify my heart somehow.


Father Mike:

So he does it in a number of ways, and one of those ways could be in the future of leading me to a place of loneliness, which by that point, I pray, that I'll be able to see it as a gift from his hand, that sense of, "No, maybe there's loneliness. Maybe there's pain, but this is because he's good, and he wants me to be his fully."


Matthew:

That's beautiful. So you talk about these different seasons in your life, different seasons in our lives. What advice would you have for someone who hasn't been to confession for a while?


Father Mike:

Wow. My advice is always go. Without hesitation, go. There was a person who contacted me and said, "I haven't been to confession in 50+ years. Can I go to confession?" And it was the most incredible thing when she left. She was walking out of the confessional and she said, "You're going to need to call me tomorrow to make sure I'm not dead." And I remember thinking, "What does that mean?" And so, I contacted her the next day and said, "Hey, I hope you're still alive." I don't know if this is a joke or this is a whatever, if this is a threat. Is she safe in a place of safety?


Father Mike:

And she wrote to me in an email and she said, "I'm afraid that you thought that I was going to hurt myself. I would never hurt myself. I meant call me tomorrow to make sure that I haven't died of joy." She said, "I can't believe it was 50 years. I just let these small things hold me back. I'm allowing the Lord to forgive me. I'm allowing me to enter into joy, allowing me to enter into the love and the life that God has for me, because I thought, 'Well, I'm disqualified. I can't say this. I can't reveal this to anybody,'" whatever the thing is.


Father Mike:

And I realized that, for so much of her life, she has refused to enter into joy. Yeah, so, "Make sure I'm not dead tomorrow because of joy." And yeah, she's written many times since then, just saying, "Every day's a gift." And that could be you. So if someone has been away from confession for a long time, why? Why not enter into joy? Why not put down what is weighing you down and allow the Lord to love you as you are?


Matthew:

Powerful. I think, very often, we make the assumption that people know Jesus. To imagine we're in a place and a time where people have never heard of Jesus, and in some ways, that's not unlike this place in time for many people. How would you describe Jesus to someone who has never heard of him?


Father Mike:

Yeah. One thing I would want to do is want to find out what they do now or what they do imagine. Do you have an awareness that there's more to this life than just this life? Do you have an awareness that there's more, that you're not an accident but you're made on purpose? Is there any awareness of that? Do you have a hope or even a glimmer of a hope that your life is intentional, that it means something, that your choices mean something, that there is someone behind it all or something behind it all? So I want to find out if that's the case.


Father Mike:

And if it is the case, there's that sense of being able to say, "Okay, let's talk about your heart and let's talk about your experience of life, because my guess is your experience of life and your heart has been this, that you have longing in your heart, that you wonder if it's real. You wonder if the longing in your heart can ever be really satisfied or if it's just wishful thinking, because you thought it was, 'When I get that degree, then I'll be happy.' And you got the degree and you weren't happy."


Father Mike:

You thought it was, "Well, yeah, but a person. I just want someone who loves me." When you have that relationship with that person, then I'll be happy. And you got it and you weren't completely happy. "Well, maybe I have to have kids. Maybe if I have this job, maybe if I live in this place, maybe if I collect a bunch of experiences." And to be able to say, "Okay, there's all these pieces that you thought were going to make you happy, and so now maybe there's some bitterness. Maybe there is some disappointment. Maybe even there's some anger at being sold this lie that, if you did these things, accomplished these things, got these things, then you would be happy.


Father Mike:

I just want to let you know that all of that was a lie. Now, I'm not saying that people who told you that were liars. Maybe they didn't know any better, but at least you know this one thing. It wasn't true, but there is one thing, the one behind everything, the one who made this universe, the one who made it good, the one who made that heart in you, that you say, 'But I think something in my heart is made for love. I think this thing in my chest is made for more.' That one who made that heart actually made you for more, and that more is him."


Father Mike:

And that sense of being able to say that he revealed his heart, and his heart is one that says this. I don't know if you know this, but there are a lot of religions around the world. In every one of them, you have to fight to get the god or the goddess' attention. You have to work to get them to notice you, and you have to bleed in order for them to pay attention to you or to care about you, but in this broken world, the one God who made everything, he made it good and he made your heart. He didn't break your heart, but he made your heart and then this world, and sin broke your heart.