Amazing Possibilities!

  • Matthew Kelly

The Fr. Jonathan Meyer Interview with Matthew Kelly


Matthew Kelly:

I'm Matthew Kelly and welcome to Profoundly Human. Today my guest is Father Jonathan Meyer, Father Jonathan, how are you?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I'm great.


Matthew Kelly:

Good to be with you.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

It's good to be with you as well.


Matthew Kelly:

Thanks for coming, we really appreciate it.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Thank you.


Matthew Kelly:

So big questions first. Are you a coffee drinker?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Well, clearly-


Matthew Kelly:

Coffee drinker.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

This is coffee.


Matthew Kelly:

It is coffee. Excellent. And what are your... How much coffee do you drink?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

It depends on what season of life I'm in and where I'm at. There were years when I was two shots of espresso to start the day off and nothing for the rest of the day. There were days where I did the butter and coconut oil brain octane fuel thing for a while. Currently I am coffee, first thing I wake up in the morning and normally a coffee sometime around three o'clock in the afternoon.


Matthew Kelly:

All right. And what about favorite food?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Anything in the Italian realm. I love pasta. So an Italian restaurant makes me very happy. However, if that's not possible, a good steak is always delicious.


Matthew Kelly:

Favorite band or musician or music?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

This is where my favorites are really going to struggle. I'm just going to have to say anything from the nineties genre. I'm there with you. I graduated from high school in 1995, so anything that takes me back to that era is just great music. And I really am diversified in like in the different styles and types, but just good nineties music, just is where I'm at.


Matthew Kelly:

What about favorite movie?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

There is a very unknown film by many people. It's called St. Ralph, but it's not a Catholic film. It's a Canadian film about a young boy who tries to win the Boston Marathon and the film is deeply profound and has just so many great moments that... It's the film I've watched the most in my life and inspires me.


Matthew Kelly:

And what is one of the takeaways from the film for you?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I would probably say magnanimity. It is about a young boy who believes that anything is possible and he is a dreamer and he is willing to act on his dreams.


Matthew Kelly:

Fantastic. So tell us about your childhood. What was it like growing up? Where did you grow up?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So I've from the Midwest. I was born in Michigan, age of five, moved to Wisconsin, lived there for 11 years, and then we moved to Indiana the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. Graduated from high school in 1995 and went to two years of state school in Indiana prior to go heading off to seminary back in 1997. Those 11 years in Wisconsin were great. I would say they were very much defined by a lot of freedom and a lot of just life and creativity. When I think about my childhood, I think about building forts, I think about creating just so much fun with my friends in the neighborhood and my siblings, and it was just a powerful childhood. I'm so just so thankful for the freedom and the joy and the creativity that existed.


Matthew Kelly:

What about your parents? What are your parents like, or what memories do you have of your parents growing up?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Well, my mom and dad, it's really beautiful, but my father was Lutheran until I was in eighth grade. My mom was a strong devout Catholic. And so she raised myself and my three siblings in the Catholic faith. And my dad eventually when he converted the faith, just bringing more unity to the family, but my parents were so supportive. My parents were the ones who were always at events and always around encouraging us. And I'm very blessed right now. My parents are in my parish boundaries, which is very unique for a priest to have his parents be his parishioners. My dad goes around our parish and introduces himself as the original Father Meyer. And he's very proud that his son is a priest. My mom is very much so dedicated our life to catechesis and works a lot with young people, informing them the ways of the faith and they're my heroes.


Matthew Kelly:

Did you grow up playing sport?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I did. I learned in sixth grade that I was pretty good at running and just really dedicated myself to that. So cross country and track all through high school and then into college as well. And that served me, not just physically, but also just taught me so many lessons that I needed for success in my own life.


Matthew Kelly:

Do you like watching sport?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I like watching live sport.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I am not a TV sport watcher.


Matthew Kelly:

And what would be your favorite sport to watch live?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

My favorite sport to watch live would be basketball.


Matthew Kelly:

Yeah.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And as a priest, I have a lot of children and I love going into high school football games... I go to football games all... But high school basketball games, high school football games ,is just a great way to support those kids, support those young people, support those families, but also enjoy a great game.


Matthew Kelly:

Fantastic. Who is the most interesting person you've ever met?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I would say the most interesting person that I've ever met would be John Paul II. I had the opportunity to meet him when I was a student studying to be a priest and one of my heroes. And clearly when you look at his life and the impact that he's made, he's an interesting man, because he doesn't fit the mould in the box that so many people want to put either a priest or a Bishop or even the Pope, his diversity and his desire to really reach the whole world through preaching the gospel. A great inspiration.


Matthew Kelly:

Were you living in Rome studying as a seminary when you met him?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Yeah. I had the opportunity to study in Rome.


Matthew Kelly:

And is that when you developed the two shots of espresso morning routine?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

It's really interesting. I never drank coffee until I was 30 years old.


Matthew Kelly:

Okay.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I thought coffee was a sign of weakness because you needed caffeine to make it through the day, which means in my mind, you weren't taking care of yourself. You weren't sleeping, you weren't eating right. And so I lived, as sad as it is, I lived in Italy for four years and didn't have one shot of espresso.


Matthew Kelly:

Wow.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So-


Matthew Kelly:

Some people might think that is sacreligious.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I know.


Matthew Kelly:

How would you describe yourself to someone who had never met you?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I would say I am a priest of Jesus Christ and my life exists for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the world. That's who I am and that's what I'm about.


Matthew Kelly:

So my next question, that sort of answers my next question, which is what matters most to you at this time in your life? But go a little bit deeper into that. What is it that's most important to you at this time in your life?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

It really is the proclamation of the gospel. It's bringing people to life and joy and freedom, which is only found in that relationship with Him. And so I see my whole life being an outpouring of that, then that is what is most important. That's what I wake up for. That's what I go to bed thinking about. That's what I pray about, is how do I do that well to serve him and to bring that about in other people's lives?


Matthew Kelly:

So you grew up Catholic and you've spoken about your mom and her commitment to the faith, both raising you in the faith and even today as a catechist, when did the faith become yours? When did you sort of claim it as something other than, okay, I grew up Catholic. Was there a moment where you felt like, okay, it's mine now?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Yeah. So that question, it's going to lead us down a little bit of a path. I was born and raised Catholic and up until my sophomore year of college, if people would've said like, what do you believe? I would've said, well, I'm Catholic. I go to mass every single Sunday. And I say an Our Father and a Hail Mary and a Glory Be every night before I go to bed. But I was raised in the church during a period and a time and an era where catechesis wasn't very strong and what we were taught often didn't get transmitted really well. And I really didn't have a relationship with God, I would say. So my sophomore year in college, I met a whole group of non-denominational Christians who were on fire with the faith and they started asking me questions and I had no answers. And I eventually got invited to a revival on campus, which I honestly didn't know what that word even meant.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I thought that maybe they were going to bring somebody back from the dead. I really had no idea what a revival was. And it was a bunch of Christians, they had their Bibles and they sang songs. And the next thing I felt and experienced as I entered into that, is I felt an overwhelming presence of God, I felt tremendously loved. And it was at that moment that I actually heard God say to me, "John, be a priest." And my mind is just turning over and over and over, like be a priest. And God loves me. And I walked out of the room that night and a young girl came up to me and she said, "Jonathan, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior." I just looked at her and I said, I'm Catholic. I don't think we do that.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And then she said, "John, do you know who Jesus is?" And I said, I say an Our Father, a Hail Mary and Glory Be every night before I got to bed, I think I'm good. I'll never forget it, but she looked directly eye to eye and she just says, "Jonathan, you have no idea who God is." She turned around and she walked away. And I remember just standing there. I was on a basketball court. I remember just standing there being like, I have no idea what just happened in my life. But all I know is it was real.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So I went back to my dorm room and I lived with four other college athletes and I knew I couldn't say anything to them about this experience. I would've been laughed at or just too hard to explain. So I went to bed that night and I didn't sleep. I remember just tossing and turning but I woke up that next morning. I was like, I have to make a decision. So I said, okay, God, I know that you are real. And I need to learn who you are. I need to discover who you are. And this priesthood thing, no way, just suppressed it, get rid of it.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And so in the next few weeks, my life changed radically. Within two weeks, I had joined a men's prayer group and I was going to praise worship on Thursday nights and so powerful. I met genuine men that wanted to grow in fraternity and wanted to grow in virtue. I met a lot of young adults who just experienced life in a way that I had never seen before. All at the same time I struggled with but what does it mean to be Catholic? And I just kind of just kept pushing that away as well. Eventually at the end of that semester, there are many things, I'd been dating a young lady that I really thought I was going to marry. But I couldn't get rid of this idea of the priesthood and this newfound love that I had for Jesus and accepting him as my personal Lord and savior and praise and worship music.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And the only thing that I could figure out in my sophomore mind in college was the fact that God wanted me to become a priest so that I could convert Catholics to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior. So I actually said I'm going to be all in. So I met with my parish priest, who I had never talked to in my life. And with a three week turnaround, I had affiliated with the archdiocese of Minneapolis to become a seminarian and was enrolled into college seminary in Minnesota at St. John Vianney Seminary. And at the time I had never prayed a rosary. I had never heard the Jesus Christ Was Truly Present and Blessed Sacrament and I was pro-choice and I really didn't know what a priest was besides the fact that priests were supposed to help people love Jesus. I didn't love Jesus from my experience of being a Catholic.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So it just set me on fire with this desire to bring that conversion renewal to the church. And quickly I learned of course, after a seminary that I had a lot to learn. And from that I did a lot of study and that then led me to realizing the beauty of the Catholic faith. And I always like to say my sophomore year in college, I fell in love with Jesus. And when I entered into seminary, my junior year of college, I fell in love with this church and that love that I had to convert Catholics and that desire and that passion, this place in my heart, it's the same passion and the desire that I have today. So many of our Catholic brothers and sisters are asleep in their faith. And God, I believe is inviting every single one of them to have a reawakening, to have an opening, to surrender their lives and to realize the riches and the treasures that exist within the church, that many of them like myself, had just never really been introduced to, or they were, but it didn't take effect. And so my priesthood really has been a beautiful journey of trying to help people to realize that, yes, Jesus is real and yes, he loves you. And he has a church and that church is beautiful.


Matthew Kelly:

What did the girl say?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So, I caused a fight and broke up with her and it was very hard because I really did love her and cared for her very much so. And he was a lot of tears, but in the end, in the battle of God or the girl, I think God should always win. And he did. And I'm thankful for that.


Matthew Kelly:

Why were you pro-choice?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I was actually pro-choice because of my girlfriend, I remember having the conversation one night with her, somehow the topic came up from current events of what was happening in the news and the media. I remember turning to her one night and being like, well, what do you think about abortion? Which is, side note, how I think a lot of young people get formed on social issues is they just ask a friend. I can honestly say that, I never once remember hearing anything in any my CCD classes about abortion. I never once heard anything from the pulpit, from a pastor or for a priest. And I remember her just looking at me and she said, "There's no way that I would spend so much money on college and have all these dreams and allow a child to take that away from me."


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And so I remember just being like "That makes so much sense. Yeah. That makes so much sense." And that was my stance.


Matthew Kelly:

So you've been on this journey. How does God amaze you today?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

God amazes me today, personally in the fact that he hasn't given up on me. He keeps me alive. He keeps grace alive. He keeps my joy alive, but he amazes me today in that he keeps placing people in my life who I have the honor and the opportunity to see their lives change, whether it be a young person in our youth ministry program, or just a few days ago, a young adult brought her great aunt to the parish and her great aunt just got diagnosed with terminal cancer. She most likely has a month to live and her great aunt wants to be baptized before she dies. And you see just this beauty of the hunger that exists and it's beautiful.


Matthew Kelly:

Powerful. Your a life as a priest, obviously very busy, very demanding. I know that you coach track, cross country and not just a little bit here for an hour or something that it's a serious commitment and a significant part of your life and ministry. Tell us a little bit about that.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So God never wants to bury a gift. He always wants to magnify it and exalt it and use it for His Kingdom. When I went to college directly out of high school, the only thing I wanted to be was a cross country coach. And so I went into education because in the nineties, my only experience with all of my coaches was that they were teachers in schools. That's changed very much in today's culture. So I went to college to become a high school teacher so that I could coach. When God called me to be a priest, I had to be like, oh God, I'll sacrifice this to you. If I'm going to become a priest, there's no way that I could ever coach, but I'll sacrifice this desire. I'll sacrifice this dream.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

But once ordained, I realize that God wants to take those desires into those dreams and He wants to bless them and He wants to use them for His Kingdom and for His glory. And I would've coached if I had taken my other path, I would've been a coach and I would've probably been a decent coach, I guess, of some sorts, but it would've been more about me. And once ordained, I quickly realized that schools are looking for anybody who's willing to be a positive influence in the life of young people. And I was very blessed with one of my first parish assignments that a whole bunch of my high school alter servers just happened to be on the cross country team. And I was trying to recruit these high school boys to get them into the sanctuary. And I quickly realized that if you build a relationship with them, by spending time on their side, that they're going to come to your side.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And so I got to know their parents, I got to know them. And after that first year, they asked if I'd be willing to help them with the summer training program, that then led to me building a relationship with a coach that then ultimately led to shaking a lot of hands and smiling, ultimately meeting the athletic director who when the current coach had to leave on maternity leave, he reached out to me and said, "Would you be willing to be the head coach of our cross country program?" And I said, yes. And so I'm in my 12th year of coaching now at public high schools. I'm in my second public high school. And it's a beautiful commitment every day from three o'clock until 17:30, to be in the lives of young people, to see them on their turf and their terms, but to call them to something more, which is often very subtle.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I'm not in that school to walk around and boldfully say, "Jesus is Lord" but my actions and my words and the way that I treat them in the way that I coach them, preaches the gospel. And so from that, it's been powerful, we've had families that have come back to the faith. We've had baptisms. We've had people that... But more importantly, not that... That is really important, but the ability to encourage young people and build them up, knowing that God willing, one day that's going to be a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, and that those relationships changed lives. Yeah. I love coaching.


Matthew Kelly:

So spending all this time with young people, what would you say is the greatest need of young people or one of the greatest needs of young people today?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

They need a mother and a father and they need someone to pay attention to them. They need someone to pay attention to them that's a real living human being. And if that can be a mom and a dad, that's the best, they long for human interaction. And that's what they need. That's what they're screaming for, behind every desire that they have on every social Instagram, Facebook, or whatever, Snapchat, they are longing to be affirmed and to be noticed and to be loved. And it's a great need.


Matthew Kelly:

When that is not fulfilled or filled in a healthy way, what is the fallout you see? And how has that changed say over the last decade or two decades?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Yeah. So the fallout can be as terrible as suicide, as cutting, which is prevalent in our schools, the numbing effects of alcohol, of drugs, of food, but also just the darkness that they go deeper and deeper and deeper into a technology, hoping that technology is going to somehow eventually reach out and touch them. And so whether it be gaming or whether it be social media, but you just see an ever-growing desire to remove myself from reality for a sake of somehow being affirmed, loved, or finding pleasure.


Matthew Kelly:

So obviously one of the things facing young people is big decisions. You've had to make big decisions in your life. And if someone comes to you, they have a big decision before them, whether they're young or old, how do you counsel them to approach the big decisions of life?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

That's a good question. First is prayer, silence. I truly believe that silence is key to be able to allow God to speak to your heart and for you to hear God speaking in your heart. So I am always encouraging people to spend time in silence, to take those situations or difficulties or questions or proposals or opportunities, dreams to silence. And I'm also a big believer that writing things is so important. So for me, it's post-it notes, by the way, for some people it's journaling for some people it's writing letters to yourself or to God, but our minds race so much that we need to get things down so we can see it and it's concrete and it's real. And so I encourage people always just to go to silence, to find the Lord, to hear Him speak into your heart, to write about it, for clarity. But the third step is the one that people don't do. They don't act. And that can be the hardest... Is just, I got to act. And even I got to make a commitment somehow to be able to move forward on this inspiration that God has given me.


Matthew Kelly:

What do you love most about being a priest?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Clearly would be... Quintessentially, the two... A priest is being a sacramental agent in the world. So celebrating the sacrament, celebrating holy mass, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation hearing people's confessions, but in the overarching, it's about conversion. I love the fact that a priest exists to bring conversion to individuals, but also conversion to communities. And I love seeing the transformation that takes place in people's lives, through the sacraments and through the conversion and renewal process.


Matthew Kelly:

We speak about conversion. Many people tend to think about a moment of conversion rather than the constant and ongoing conversion that God calls us to each and every single day of our lives. When you're so actively involved in trying to bring about this conversion in other people's lives, how do you attend to your own need for conversion on a daily basis?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Personally, I've what I call my non-negotiables. So non-negotiables as a priest. I say, mass every single day, I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the divine offers, which are several prayers that we have to pray throughout the day. I'm committed to spending two hours every day in front of the Blessed Sacrament to be in the presence of our Lord and to allow Him to be my all and my everything. I try to live a life of penance and discipline, asceticism. I would say those are my non-negotiables. Those are the things, I have to be doing these things. If I want to be doing what I want other people to be doing, I need to myself be living that life of radical holiness. If I want to call other people to be in disciples and followers of the Lord.


Matthew Kelly:

So we all experience seasons in our spirituality. When you get stalled in your own spirituality and you still have to wake up every day and serve people in their pain and in their need, what do you do when you feel like you're stalled spirituality? What do you do when feel you're stalled spiritually?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

For me, it's going back to the fundamentals. So that list that I just gave right there would be my first question. Okay. If I'm not where I'm at, is that because one of these things is missing? That I have found to be tried and true ways and means for me to be the priest, the saint, that God is calling me to be. So I look back at that, but also with the sense of, okay, has God invited me to something new at this moment? Is there another way or something that I should be doing right now in my life that I wasn't doing before? Yeah.


Matthew Kelly:

And do you look back on times where you felt like you were stalled spiritually and realize, okay, no, I wasn't stalled spiritually. God was doing something new, God was doing something different. I just didn't have the frame of reference to recognize it.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Yeah. So clearly one of the principles of the spiritual life is that when things don't seem to be going great, where there isn't great consolation, where there isn't a lot of maybe grace that's felt or experienced. Those are your growth points. This is why I love coaching is because it's the exact same. You can't train the human body without putting that human body through pain and through suffering and through toil. But also if we look at how the body ultimately conditions, bodies plateau, but then to get to that next level, something needs to happen to be able to push the human body to the next level. But plateaus are part of how people's training regimen happens. And so the same is true in the spiritual life. There's times where things may seem really bland or really dull, or I feel far away from God, but often, not often, those are the moments where God is clearly very close to you.


Matthew Kelly:

How is being a priest different to what you expected?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

In many ways, it matches up. If we go back to the original dream, I wanted to become a priest because I want to convert Catholics to love the Lord. It matches up so beautifully. And that was the original desire. That was the aspiration. When I look at the means of how that happens, I see it's very different than what I expected. For me, that often happens through celebration of the sacraments, perpetual adoration. Those were things that would've never originally been on my checklist. Even after I had my reversion in seminary, I don't think I had a clue. I think at that point, then it was very focused on the liturgy. I'm going to save the church because my investments are awesome. And because I celebrate mass perfectly and I quickly realized that that is good and just, but it is so much more about relationships and the entering into, through preaching, through catechesis, but also just being with people is what brings about conversion and renewal.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

...is what brings about conversion and renewal.


Matthew Kelly:

Mm. What do you think the biggest challenge facing priests and pastors are in the modern world?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

You just asked one of my favorite questions. I would say one of the biggest challenges in the priesthood right now is that there is a lack of an identity as the priest as father. I think that there has been a lot of really good books and a lot of great work being done in seminary about how a priest is a pastor and a shepherd, a servant, how a priest is even an administrator. And we get books on these things, on a whole toolbox of things that we can have in our toolbox so we can be great administrators. When it comes down to it, I'm a father. That's what everyone calls me, but we don't talk about what does it mean for a priest to be a father? And my greatest inspiration as a priest, besides the saints, have actually been very committed, lay faithful men who are just amazing fathers. And I look often at my life and I look at the radical difference that often exists in the life of a priest and the life of a committed father. And you just see this huge chasm. I live by myself.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I sleep by myself. My food is cared for. If there's a problem in my house, I make one phone call and someone is going to come and fix that. My car is taken care of. My groceries are taken care of. I am required to go on a five day silent retreat every single year that's paid for by the Church. When I look at the life of a father who has 5, 6, 7, 8, I have parishioners of my parish that have 11 children. They don't get a good night's rest. No one comes and fixes their house. No one's buying them groceries. And for them, a vacation is going to Disneyland, which is not a vacation for any man. And I look at the radical difference when it comes to a life of sacrifice or a life of just routine, and I see that there's a void.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And so I have tried to do all that I can to learn from the good fathers, my own father, other laymen in my life, but also the saintly men that I've seen that have really espoused fatherhood in their priesthood. And that's been my inspiration. And I really do think it's the crisis that we see very much so in the priesthood today, is a lack of masculinity, a lack of commitment, a lack of being all-in, a lack of seeing every one of my parishioners as my child, that I'm called to lay down my life for. And looking at priesthood in that way is a game changer.


Matthew Kelly:

St. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests. And how has John Vianney influenced you? How would you like to see him influence the priesthood going forward?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

You keep asking really good questions. So there was a point in my seminary career where I looked around at brother seminarians, I looked around on priests that I had encountered and a lot of despair set in of, what is this? And I kept looking at Jesus and the scriptures, and I kept looking at the radical call and I had the opportunity to spend a summer with St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi one summer. And I actually made the decision to leave in seminary and to become a Franciscan. And my spiritual director, out of obedience said, "You need to stay. You can't leave for a year." But I literally gave all my clothes away. I was sleeping on the floor. I'm like, I'm going to be St. Francis. This is the gospel. These are people who are living radical lives.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I want to do this. And instead, everyone seems to be living this soft, cushy life in the seminary. And then I met St. John Vianney, and I met a priest, a diocesan priest, a parish priest, who lived a radical life of conversion, who gave everything to his parishioners, who was devoted to the confessional, who loved our blessed mother and the Eucharist. And that was his whole entire life. He didn't need all these other things to make him happy. He didn't need a day off or a cabin or luxury cars. He didn't need anything because he had Jesus and he just wanted to give Jesus to other people. That's all he wanted to do. And he was willing to just be a martyr in the confessional for that. And he opened an orphanage for young children. So I read this biography and I was like, okay, I found my hero.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I found who I want to be as my model. I realize I'm not St. John Vianney. I will never be St. John Vianney, and I can't, and we all need to be the saint that God is calling us to be. However, he then really became my model. People often will say to me, "What priests were really great in your life when you were in seminary or when you were a young kid?" And I hate saying this, but like I didn't have any. It's one of the reasons why when I was a sophomore in college, it was so easy for me to walk and I didn't have priest heroes. St. John quickly became my priest hero. And I think he sets forth a really high bar and a really high standard, but nothing in life will ever bring you contentment unless you're striving for greatness. Even if it's greatness and holiness or greatness in being a priest, you find your joy in striving and giving your all. No marriage is going to be happy if a husband or wife is just like, "Yeah, I'm just kind of here just to do what I'm doing."


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And so I've just found great joy in doing all I can to study about him and learn about him. So I actually wrote my master's thesis about him when I was my last year of seminary. I've been to Ars, thanks be to God, six times. Did a silent retreat there that changed my life when a decision had to be made about an adjustment in my ministry. And I was the director of youth ministry for the archdiocese. And I did 11 day silent retreat there, and then I've been in full-time parish ministry since then, and transitioned out of the office of youth ministry. And he's my man. Love him.


Matthew Kelly:

Why do you think his example gets rejected, not only today, but 20 years ago, 50 years ago?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I think it's because they don't really know the man. I think people read the paragraph version of his life, which only talks about sitting in the confessional and loving the Eucharist and doing physical mortifications, and they don't know the man. I mean, I love St. John Vianney because any aspect of the priesthood you want to look for, it's really there. The man founded an orphanage and the man fed starving children. And so when we sometimes look in the Church, we see these divisions about like, you have these people that love the liturgy and love the sacraments, but what about the social justice issues? And what about the poor? No, Vianney was all over it. And the two of them fed each other so beautifully. And that's the part that I love about. It's a beautiful integration, but I think it's so easy just to reduce people. And we do it all the time in our world right now with Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook and social media. We reduce people down to a paragraph or one picture and we don't know the whole person. If people study Vianney, you will see a man who is fully alive and that's attractive.


Matthew Kelly:

Nearly eight years ago, you got a call from your bishop one night. Tell us about that call.

Father Jonathan Meyer:


Yeah. So it was actually February 14th. And I got a phone call, invited me to come to the chancery on Monday and I did. And the Bishop asked me if I'd be willing to help a priest out. And I of course said, "Well, of course. I would love to help a priest." And he went on to explain about how there's a priest in his assignment that he was struggling. And the way that I was going to help this priest out was by actually taking his assignment. And at this point I was five and a half years into my parish assignment and I was coaching and great things. We'd just opened up perpetual adoration chapel, and we had redone the interior of the churches and there were great things happening. And so it's February, and so I said, "Archbishop, I prayed to the Holy Spirit before this meeting."


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And I said, "I will say yes to what the archbishop asks me because I made a promise of obedience. So if you believe that I need to go to this assignment, then I will do that." And normally, assignment changes take place in June. So I was like, "When is this going to happen?" And he said, "On March 1st." It's like, you've got to be kidding me. So our diocese had been going through a merger process up to that point, and the assignment was four parishes that were being merged into one. And the priest who was shepherding the transition made the decision to step away from the priesthood.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And those next 13 days were brutal, of trying to wrap my brain around this new assignment, while at the same time saying goodbye to a parish community that I'd given to myself to for five and a half years. It was hard. It was very, very, very, very hard. It's one of the things about the priesthood that can be challenging, is that you give yourself wholeheartedly to a community, to a group of people, and then you leave. I look back at it now, clearly see God's hand in it, clearly see that this is where he was leading me. And I'm thankful.


Matthew Kelly:

Where are the four parishes?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So the four parishes are in the southeastern corner of Indiana. I always say on the Indiana side of Cincinnati, and there are four parishes that date back to 1824. And so they were all founded within a few years after each other and they're pretty close together. When the four of them became one, all the congregations were just about the same size. They were all about 300 families, 200 families. And canonically, by the time I had arrived, by canon law, they had become one parish with four buildings, and they were charged by the archdiocese to become a parish with one church building and one site within two years. And that was the task that I had.


Matthew Kelly:

And how did that go?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Well, getting on the ground, my first desire was to get to know the people and to make a very clear statement that I'm here for one reason, and that's to help you fall in love with Jesus and to love his Church. And I realize that right now, you don't like his Church. At least you don't like the decisions that the Church are making. All four parishes went into a Vatican appeal. So when a parish closes, they have a certain time period, according to canon law, to appeal the decision of the bishop to close the parish. And all four of them had hired canon lawyers and were paying them to open an appeal to be heard by the Vatican. By the time I had arrived, any other church that had been closed, their appeals had been shut down by the Vatican.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

These four had not. So there's a little actually some confusion and some concern, even on the side of the diocese, that these four parishes, what happens if their appeals are flipped? But anyways, I just showed up and I was like, listen, all I can do is help these people love Jesus. And so I did all that I possibly could to preach the gospel, be joyful, and then my other modus operandi was, I just need to listen to people. I need to talk to as many people as possible. I need to listen to what they're saying, and I need to just start doing my research. And so I had a lot of time, because I didn't have anything to do. I like arrived on the ground and I had stuff to do, but my life, clearly, from where I'd come from, my life was easier in a certain sense.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So I spent a lot of time listening. A lot of time hearing people yell. Not so much at me. They were angry at God. They were angry at the Church. Sometimes the anger was at themselves in their own community that they believe it somehow failed in what it was to be a parish, and that's why they were being shut down. I met with people over dinner. I met with people in my office. I met people. Sometimes it would be an exchange at a gas station. I remember one guy yelling at me at a gas station about how I had been sent to shut down their churches. And I was like, "Ah, why don't we just go over here and talk for a little bit?" So just trying to really be open and to listen to what people have to say. And that listening then led to me realizing that maybe this wasn't the best decision.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I met with my parish council and I made a proposal to the parish council like, "You guys have been in existence since 1823, and maybe there's another way to look at this." And so we created out of that the concept that we have now, which is All Saints Parish is one parish. And if we understand what a parish is, it's a family, it's a community. So there's one parish, there's one community. But that parish, that community just happens to have four places to worship. And so we call them campuses. I said, "But if we're going to do this, this can't just be a way for us to save buildings or to create historical monuments. No, we need to be one parish. So one parish council, one finance council, one religious ed, one youth ministry program, one lady sodality, one everything."


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And they're like, "Father, that's what we want. We're willing to move forward." So I went and met with the bishop and I remember the phrase that I had kind of come up with was like, "I think we're being too German with the Germans. Show me in canon law, Archbishop, where it says that a parish is one church building, one school building, one parish hall. Why can't it be something different? Why can't it look different?" And so the concept ended not just being approved by the bishop, but ultimately really being embraced by the people. I think a lot of them realized like, "Okay, this is our only way to possibly exist as we knew who we were." But it also then became an excitement about how do we actually create something new? So there was something new being created, a new identity, a new community, a new model of ministry, while at the same time, preserving something that was very important to them, which was the buildings.


Matthew Kelly:

What was the culture at the beginning? And how has the culture evolved over time?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Well, culture is a very big thing, as you know. I think you've written a book about it. And the culture in the beginning was a culture of, "This is mine. This is the way that we do things. This is how it's always been. And Father, we don't need to change this or that." Through this process, the culture is now a very we-orientated culture, not a me-orientated culture. And it's a culture that looks for best practices instead of this is how we've always done it, or this is the only way to do it. It really is. So I always use our lady sodality. We had four lady sodalities that had to come together and become one lady sodality. And I remember going to one of the meetings and the ladies had like, "Well, we do this and we do this, and we do funeral meals this way, and our funeral meals are better than yours."


Father Jonathan Meyer:

But the question had to be asked. Well, okay. So we have four ways to do a funeral meal. What's the best way? What are you doing? And what are you doing and what are you doing? And how do we actually bring that all together and create the most powerful experience we can for grieving families? Okay. So this is how you did the youth ministry, and this is how you did do youth ministry. And this is how you did youth ministry. What is the best way for us to do this? And I bet you all have something that can contribute here. How do we collaborate and make that the most amazing experience. Instead of being backed up in our corners trying to protect ourselves, we're now actually in a position where we're constantly asking, how do we do this better to more effectively and more efficiently preach the gospel?


Matthew Kelly:

So you're in rural Indiana, you've got these four parishes becoming one in a time where parishes are merging all across the country, all around the world. And honestly, in a great majority of cases, it's a massive failure. You've had this tremendous success in creating this one community. How important was fried chicken to the whole process?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Fried chicken is actually really, really important. And I mean this. So I arrived in March. So these local churches in southeastern Indiana have the best fried chicken in the nation. I'll say that. I know that you got some dislikes or something on your YouTube channel here, but fried chicken dinners are a huge fundraiser. And each of these parishes has a local festival. When I had arrived, it had been decided that because they were now going to be one parish, there was no longer going to be these different festivals. There was either going to be a new one or zero. And I remember showing up and I was there in March and we were financially in the red. We were bleeding and we needed money, but this new concept came out of like, we can be four campuses with one parish.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

We have three festivals every single summer that our parish puts on. Each festival on the weekends. 300 plus volunteers just to put the festival on. So the festival exists to make chicken, which does make us money, but the festival actually exists for the sake of the community, the camaraderie, and the joy, and the laughter among ourselves that is desperately needed to get people out of their homes. The preservation of the festivals that first year actually was a game changer in the long run on community and identity. People need people, and those chicken festivals are really people needing people.


Matthew Kelly:

Did you like fried chicken before you were moved to these parishes?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I was very blessed as a seminarian. Way back in 2002, I was assigned to a southeastern Indiana parish and I had fallen love with chicken. So coming home, in a certain sense, I was ready. Oh, it's fantastic. It is so good. I'm just going to stop.


Matthew Kelly:

I remember before I come out there to speak to the youth group, I saw an article in the New York Times about the fried chicken.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

It's true.


Matthew Kelly:

And you were gracious enough to take me out for a fried chicken.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

New York Times declares.


Matthew Kelly:

Declares.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Declares that southeastern Indiana has the best fried chicken.


Matthew Kelly:

There it is. What about staffing? When parishes get merged, priests will tell me that one of the biggest challenges they face is bringing together staff from the different parishes and bringing them together as a cohesive team, working out what roles and responsibilities are going to look like going forward. And in some cases, working out should all of these people stay on the team? What was your experience around the staff of these four different parishes as you became one parish?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Whenever you start dealing with staff, you're dealing with people, you're dealing with lives, and you're dealing with money, and you're dealing with people's money who are financially giving on Sunday. And as the pastor, I have the responsibility to make sure that that's being spent appropriately. I've learned, because I've had other assignments where I've had to make adjustments, not just currently at the All Saints. I've learned to be patient. I've learned to assess, which is a lot of listening. And I've learned to build up. I have a clear vision in the way that I operate or I like to run a parish that it's really, really focused on volunteering. So to have really good trained staff that see themselves really as individuals that are charged with getting other people engaged and other people involved.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

The best way to run a parish is not with a really, really well-oiled paid staff that's really knowledgeable and has lots of degrees, but a staff that is really, really good at engaging people and inviting them to be a part of the mission. That the goal of your best staff members, the fact that they're able to get work done quickly and efficiently and get more people engaged. And so that building a team around that. And with most parish staffs, people are always in different places. So I've always had, when we've made these transitions, people that leave because they don't like the new vision. They don't like me.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I've had people that come on board because they like the vision. They like what's happening. So staff is one of those challenging things, but I think it's always finding the right people who are willing to collaborate and are willing to bring other people on board. With that, I think so, so important is that your staff is going to mimic you. So as a priest and as the father, if I'm in the office cranking it away, if I'm making things happen, if I'm getting things done, if I'm being creative, if I'm coming up with new ideas, if I'm willing to get things set up or cleaned up, you know what? That changes the culture of my staff. And I've been very, very blessed throughout my entire priesthood that I have wonderful people who are willing to be like? This is actually fun. We love being creative. We love thinking outside the box. We love getting people engaged and finding life in that. So it's been a blessing.


Matthew Kelly:

What about with the parishioners? There's obviously shock, there's disappointment, there's anger, disagreement with decisions being made, all sorts of frustrations. When parish is emerging, what are the most prominent challenges or concerns amongst the parishioners?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I liked how you listed off shock and disappointment. It is a grieving process. In fact, in canon law, we refer to a parish as what's known as a juridic person. That parish is a person. That parish had a personality and it's now dead. So as a father, I need to lead them through the grieving process of what used to be alive, which no longer is alive. That's paramount. If you're able to help someone grieve, you're able to help them to accept, and if you're willing to help them accept, they actually will be on mission. They'll be the ones who are like, "No, this is great. We want to invite people to this." But they need to be brought through that process. And it's hard. It's hard to bring them through that process while at the same time trying to just get the daily work done. And so often, people get hurt, people get neglected or left behind because they are hurt or they're seen as a problem. And I need to get this done. So I'm going to just move forward. Yeah, so I think leading them through that process is important. I don't remember the second part of the question.


Matthew Kelly:

You're good. So there have been many times in my life where I've parted ways with an employee, either their decision or our decision, and then down the road, you bump into them and they will see it very differently. They will see the hand of God in whatever it is that happened and see that other possibilities would not have happened if this defining event had not happened. You're eight years into this process now. Do people have the humility to say, "Hey, I dealt with that poorly and I never could have imagined that the outcome could have been this good." Do you have experiences like that with people?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

I do. And I can even actually say not just with people, but with archdiocesan staff, with brother priests who were a part of the decision making process to bring this about, who when the decision was made that we were going to try this new proposal, there were some pretty frustrated priests in our diocese who were like, "Meyer is being stupid and this is dumb." And they would tell this to my face, not behind my back, but like, "I disagree with what you're doing and I think you're making a poor decision, not only for yourself, but for brother priest." And a lot of them, thanks be to God, have been able to come back and say? This is clearly, oh God, something is working here." And so that is a blessing. I've had also some powerful experiences that I would actually say of reconciliation with staff members.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And I'm very blessed that they're with us at mass, they're with us at the church. And it's very hard when people leave positions in the Church, even if it's for nothing negative at all. Let's say that someone just is retiring or someone is leaving a position because their life has changed. It's hard for them to sit in the pew. It's hard for them, after mass, to be confronted by people who are going to ask them questions and sometimes still ask them what they used to ask them when they worked for the parish. Being a lay minister is very challenging. I don't think we completely understand what that means to work for a parish and have the utmost respect for those who do work for the Church and for those who worked for the Church and have left, and oftentimes the hurt or the pain or the wounds that are there, but they're still there. They're still a part of it because their faith is so real. Their belief is so real. And I have tremendous, tremendous respect for that.


Matthew Kelly:

In preparing for our conversation today, one of my hopes is that this would be a great resource for people who are facing the reality of merging parishes. And I had not thought about it in preparing, but in most cases, two parishes are becoming one. The other place we see that is in marriage. What does the theology of marriage have to teach us about parishes merging?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Powerful analogy. And I said earlier that St. John Paul II is one of my heroes and interesting characters in my life. His teachings on the theology of the body rocked my world. Rocked my world. And earlier in my priesthood, I did a lot of work and study and preaching surrounding the theology of the body, and the spousal or the nuptial analogy is the most profound analogy that we have when it comes to God's love for us. The fact that God wants to marry us, that God wants to become one with us. So I think when we look at the coming of two parishes together, you are. You are looking at two individuals that are coming together to become one. So what does that mean? That means that there has to be receptivity. There has to be...


Father Jonathan Meyer:

That means that there has to be receptivity. There has to be openness. There has to be a will a willingness for there to be a birth and a new giving of life. There also has to be submission. There has to be surrender. There has to be trust. There has to be openness and all of these, which make marriage thrive, is what will make a parish merger thrive. In Ephesians chapter five, when husbands love your wisest Christ of the church, each parish community has to be willing to die to themselves and to their pride and to their ego and to how they always did things and to what is routine and what is normal. And to accept the fact that I need to be willing to lay down my life so that together we can have life so that together there can be vitality. But when we live in this very transactional, like you do this and you do this and... But no, it really is a beautiful, it is a beautiful wedding feast.


Matthew Kelly:

Very often when parish is emerging people are angry and if you ask them, "okay, well, what is your problem with it or why do you disagree or why don't you want it to happen?


Matthew Kelly:

It's never because the church would be in a better position to evangelize and it'd be better for this and it'd be better for the community and we'd be more effective at serving God's people. It tends all always to be very self-referential, this is my parish or this is where I went to school, this is where I baptized my kids. Is this sort of consumer philosophy the core of all the opposition to parishes merging or throughout the process did people make really good and valid points against the idea and how did you deal with that?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

So I did receive a lot of my great-grandfather baked the bricks to make this church building. Every one of my relatives has always gone to master. This is my routine. This is my norm. This is where I spiritually connect with God. In my particular merger, we had the oldest standing church building in the state of Indiana and we had the second oldest church community in the state of Indiana. And I think there was a lot of that me and that me remained the focus until there was a proposal for us.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And once the proposal for us began to be on the table. People saw possibility and people began to meet people from other congregations and from other communities and they began to like, you saw life and the invitation quickly became this is actually joyful. There is something beautiful here. How do we continue that? How do we... So the merger actually did bring new life, it did bring vitality, it did bring a rebirth. One of the things that I always like to say is normal is toxic. And the only reason that we're having perish mergers across this country, people always say, "oh, because we have a priest shortage". It's not a priest shortage. Now, do we have a shortage of priests? Yes. Do we have a shortage of holy priests? Yes. Do we have a shortage of zealous priests? Yes.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

You wonder want we have a shortage of Catholics. Cause the reality is that you actually can all fit into church. And there's a priest actually who says mass in a church that's more than 50% empty, 90% of the time. There's a shortage of people who love God and want to receive his body and his blood. There's a shortage of lines of the confession but if we keep saying, "don't take this away or don't change this". Well, you want to what maybe what we're doing right now, maybe what's normal right now is actually really, really toxic because clearly we're not growing. And so what needs to happen to bring vitality in life? And I'm not saying the merging of four churches and keeping them open and calling them campuses is the only way, but we clearly need to start doing something different.


Matthew Kelly:

And it may not be the only way, but there are very few examples of all the churches that have merged in the United States in the last 25 years where we could say this is thriving. But you bring my mind to something else and that is I think we have a tendency as Catholics to want things to last forever. Very often people will come to my wife and I and say, "oh, can you help us with this?", and recently it was to support a group of nuns and the average age is north of 80. And the people who are approaching us were approaching this with like, "we need to make this last, we need to keep this going" and my position is actually, no, we don't we need to take care of these women who have faithfully served the church and God's people, but we don't need to make this last forever.


Matthew Kelly:

Because I subscribe to the idea that God raised these women up to serve the church and God's people in a very powerful way at a specific time. And at that time has passed and plenty of evidence of that, primarily the fact that their average age is 80. If God wanted this to go on forever and be powerful, I believe that he would bring young people to join it. And so, but as Catholics, I think we have an inability to say, "okay, God raised that up for a very specific reason at a very specific time, it served its purpose". We seem to have trouble letting things die, which I think subscribes to the idea that there is some permanence to this world, that is opposed to the idea that we are just passing through this world. How do you see that in your ministry and how do you see that as a spiritual distraction from the mission we're really being called to?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

It's key. So as Catholics, there's things that can't change. Like God doesn't change, glory be of the father and the son, the holy spirit is it was in the beginning is now never shall be like, God, doesn't change. There's things that God has given to us that can't change. This is my body given up for you. The mandate go there for make disciples of all nations that doesn't change, but there is so much else that does change. And we have such a desire to fight, to fight the things that can change, could change and should change out of fear, out of tradition.


Father Jonathan Meyer:

And there has to be that constant discernment of should we be doing something different? There's the old adage that we used to have like, if you do something once it's novel, if you do something twice, it's a tradition. And that can actually lead us into bad places when it comes to trying to bring about renewal and we don't have to always do something the exact same way. There are certain things that must always be done the same way and there's certain customs and norms that should be followed. But outside of that, we can't keep doing the same thing because what we're doing is not working. It's just not.


Matthew Kelly:

So you're in this transition eight years ago, you have a lot of turmoil. How did you continue to tender to the needs, the spiritual needs of your people, even in the midst of the turmoil and sometimes in the midst of active conflict?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

First things first, this is about Jesus and it needs to be about Jesus. So for me, it's how am I promoting what I know is Jesus. So we established a perpetual adoration chapel pretty soon into the program. We offer 12 hours of confession the first Friday of every single month, we put the primacy on that relationship. We talk verbally about our expectations for our parishioners, of course that they attend Sunday mass, that they get to confession. They try to get to confession once a month, that they attend daily mass once a week, that they have an hour in the adoration chapel. So if the spiritual life is primary, it heals people's hearts. It takes them back to Jesus and away from the distractions. But then also then just cultivates and keeps them where they need to be.


Matthew Kelly:

In these situations of merging parishes. There can be a lot of complexity. What is the first step?


Father Jonathan Meyer:

Listening and patience. It is listening and patience and I say that because even when I think about like showing up and saying my first mass, because of course there's a party who wants to say, well, of course, Jesus is first and foremost. And he is and celebrating mass and putting him in the center of our churches and making him who we need to be and... But he, I remember showing up for my first mass and just walking in and the sacristan was very busy and frustrated I could tell and was very confused on why this priest had left and why I was there. And so much of it is about that need to be human that need to listen to people and to treat people with dignity and respect. These are hurting people.


Matthew Kelly:

The transition, the merging of the parishes creates an environment that is ripe for gossip and rumor and how important is communication and how did you approach that?