by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you receive your vocation With whom did you discuss it and was that their response?
Fr. Matthew: When I was in my second year of college, I felt the call to the priesthood while listening to St. John Paul II. I discussed it with a few friends, with my mom, and with the diocesan vocation director. I looked not just at the diocese but a few religious communities as well. The Legion came up as sone to explore based on Regnum Christi members I knew.
Gordon: What seminary did you attend and what was your most challenging course and why?
Fr. Matthew: I went to the Legion’s seminaries. That was three years in our novitiate and college of humanities in Connecticut, two years of philosophy in New York, and three years of theology in Rome. The hardest classes were probably the ones on prayer and personal growth. I did not struggle too much with the purely academic side of the formation.
Gordon: When and why did you start a youth ministry?
Fr. Matthew: Between philosophy and theology, we in the Legion generally do a few years of work out in one of our communities. Usually, this is 2 or 3 years now but used to be a little longer, and I ended up doing four years. As a brother, I got assigned to traveling youth ministry in Ohio, with occasional trips to neighboring states. I took to it quite strongly and after a few years, I started writing the formation materials for Conquest and Challenge youth ministry groups. The books used in Conquest and Challenge have been updated significantly since then, but a decent portion is probably still my text.
Gordon: What are the primary challenges in evangelizing teens?
Fr. Matthew: There are a lot of books on youth ministry, giving various analyses of what youth are like and what they need. These are helpful. However, what is needed is to know the individual young person as nobody matches the precise profile any book presents. Young people often want a relationship where they feel comfortable bringing up the tough questions. However, a relationship is with an individual, not an abstract general teen as in books.
Gordon: What are the positive and negative effects of social media on teens?
Fr. Matthew: I think that social media can often be a way for teens to express themselves or explore topics that they might not encounter elsewhere. Both of these can be good or bad, depending on how they are used.
Expressing yourself online can be helpful for a lot of kids who might be shy or might have an opinion that isn’t popular (such as thinking everyone should pray the rosary). However, the same method can be used to bully kids or to push even more what is the “right” way to think or express oneself.
I grew up in a time and place where ministry to teens was very poor so almost no other teens I knew in real life in high school took their as serious as I did. However, I connected with other serious Catholic teens on bulletin boards / online forums (the social media of the late 90s). OneRock Forums (now offline) was very instrumental in helping me have a strong faith in high school and going into college where I did encounter others who took Catholicism seriously. However, I think we can all think of topics where kids got drawn into stuff they should not through the Internet.
Gordon: How many followers do you have on Twitter?
Fr. Matthew: A little over 54,000
Gordon: What are some of the publications for which you have written?
Fr. Matthew: National Catholic Register, America, Crux, Public Discourse, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, Aleteia, ZENIT, and NeuroClastic
Gordon: How do you choose the topics that you write?
Fr. Matthew: A number of different factors weigh in including what’s in the news, what can I offer a unique perspective on, and what do I think fellow Catholics need to hear. As my main responsibility right now is writing a doctoral dissertation in moral theology on the topic of privacy, there is also a tendency to over topics around that.
Gordon: What impact has your autism had upon your mission?
Fr. Matthew: Several different things in different ways. First, I am generally able to express myself better in writing than speech, which is common among autistics but uncommon in the general population. Thus, I have focused more on writing than most priests. Second, it was the end of my youth ministry work and a moving to a more academic direction. Having trouble as a school chaplain led to a diagnosis and after being diagnosed, I realized I was more suited to academic work. Thus, I moved on to doing my doctoral thesis now to either write or teach in a seminary. Third, I think the hyper-focus can help me. When I get fully in the zone, my production can be crazy. I’ve banged out a 2,000-word article on moral theology with a bunch of references in under two hours. Finally, I also realize that I have a few odd sensory things that help out a lot.
Gordon: What advice you give to a parent of an autistic child?
Fr. Matthew: First, don’t try to turn your child into a non-autistic child, but try to help them fulfill their God-given mission in the situation they are in which includes autism. Second, try to find out what specific challenges they have and try to help them out in that. Autism is a spectrum and a lot of things can be quite different for different autistic kids. For example, sensory irregularity is usually part of autism but how the senses are irregular varies: one kid can want squeeze hugs that create a lot of pressure while another may barely be able to stand the lightest touch. Third, try to find a way to pray and participate in the liturgy as a family that they can partake in. A lot of cities have a sensory-friendly Mass. I have an upcoming book from Pauline Press on prayer for autistics.
Gordon: We deeply appreciate the opportunity of featuring this interview