Christian rock star Matt Maher and his band are on their way to entertain the crowds at World Youth Day in Sydney, and at Youth Arise in Brisbane before that. Reporter SELINA HARRIS speaks with him about his music, his commitment and his faith
CHARISMATIC composer and musician Matt Maher said he’s “content with the season” God has him in, as his discernment of “single life” continues.
“One of the things that’s hard about being a young Catholic is stepping into your vocation,” he said during some down time towards the end of the working day in Phoenix, Arizona.
“Sometimes you search it (your vocation) out too much that you take your eyes off Jesus.
“Sometimes you just need to let him lead you into whatever you’re meant to be doing.”
Feeling “most at home in Catholicism”, Matt and his band of three others will be special guests at Brisbane’s Youth Arise in the week prior to World Youth Day (WYD08) next month. They will also headline WYD08 in Sydney.
Of his first time visit to Australia, Matt was genuinely animated saying he “can’t wait”.
The band is scheduled to lead worship on Sydney’s Bondi Beach on the Wednesday night (July 16) prior to the WYD08 papal Mass (on July 20), as well as Thursday evening (July 17) in the Sydney Entertainment Centre and the Friday (July 18) at Receive the Power Live on the main World Youth Day stage in front of an anticipated crowd of 120,000.
Agreeing it’s “a lot of hands to shake” Matt said his main “goal in travelling” is to “write different songs to engage people and lead them into different postures and moments of worship”.
“The pathway to prayer is a multi-faceted journey,” he said.
“It starts with songs that really concelebrate who God is and the greatness of Him and His love and then there’s songs that journey more towards intimacy.
“I think in that space is when we hear things from God.”
Matt sees worship leaders as being “a bridge of sorts, connecting people with God”.
One of his songs, Litany of the Saints, from the album The End and the Beginning, was sung at the official papal evening prayer during World Youth Day in Toronto.
The 33-year-old “bridge builder” leads worship once a month in his local community of St Timothy’s in Mesa, Arizona, otherwise he visits parishes and gatherings, especially of young people, “around the country”.
Taking out United Catholic Music and Video Association’s Best New Artist of the Year in 2003 and the 2004 Praise and Worship Song of the Year, he is actively involved with Life Teen, WorshipTogether.com and Adore Ministries to name just a few, all of which continue to significantly have an impact on the faith life of thousands.
The path to such success started with parish music.
Canadian born Maher admits to allowing wandering eyes in his teens, but it was his fixation on Jesus that preceded the worship career he enjoys today.
“I’ve always wanted to play music (although) … I never initially heard a call to do this,” he said.
“I was involved in parish ministry and it was something I knew I would always do but I didn’t think I’d end up there forever.
“What I did was I tried to fix my eyes on Jesus and suddenly I took a look around and I was writing songs for the Church.”
Matt described his “initial conversion” at age 20, when he moved to America with his Mum to study jazz piano, as “a gradual illumination”.
“It was the opposite of dimming … and there have been epiphany moments since then but the process of God leading me back was very gentle.”
The title track off his fourth and latest release Empty and Beautiful has itself been described as “a gentle song of worship” and Matt said it’s one of his favourites.
With previous releases being on the Spirit and Song label, Empty and Beautiful is Matt’s first venture into a broader audience, released by Essential Records, a move towards his own brand of ecumenism.
“At the core of who I am … is John chapter 17,” he said.
“Jesus, before he enters the paschal mystery is praying to the Father and you’d think that if he’s the Son of God and he’s about to give his life, his ransom, for the sins of all human history, he’s going to pray a pretty important prayer. And he prays for unity.
“For me the thing is I think there are a lot of rifts in the Church between denominations and I just feel called to be a bridge.”
With a song from an earlier album about his understanding of “transubstantiation” and known to encourage more traditional forms of worship such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Matt said quiet prayerfulness is popular in today’s climate because people are seeking “silence”.
“In a culture full of technology and instant access everywhere it’s very hard for people to unplug,” Matt said.
“I think part of the reason young people are drawn to adoration is because the soul longs for contemplation and to be with God.
“The things of the earth and of the world, especially these days, are so superficial and they don’t satisfy you. It’s all sugar. The human soul needs protein, it needs nutrition.”
Himself clearly nourished by the Word of God and taking time to “just be” during days away from the spotlight, Matt said he is praying for “more labourers for the harvest”.
“It’s an exciting time … what the Church needs is more people to say, ‘Yes’.
“We aren’t in a vocations crisis, we are in a response crisis. God’s calling people. People just aren’t listening.”
While he considered priesthood, Matt said his discernment for remaining single is propelled by practicality.
“Because of the extensive travelling I do it wouldn’t be fair to meet a girl, court her for marriage and then say, ‘Hey, by the way, you’ll never get to see me’,” Matt said.
“When you’re in ministry you have to allow God to lead you to what you need not what you want.”
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