Coping with grief, spiritually and musically

Matt Maher performs to a captive crowd, hands held high, during last month’s Abbey Faith and Music Festival in Paoli, Pa.
Photo Peter G. Sánchez

Houston. Ferguson. Puerto Rico. Las Vegas.

In these and other places in the United States and around the world, suffering is abundant, especially lately. Why do bad things happen, and how can there be healing?

Grammy-nominated Catholic singer-songwriter Matt Maher is no stranger to pain. In the midst of writing and recording new music earlier this year, his father died. Maher’s new album, thus, became intensely more personal. He processed his grief, through the answers he found in his work.

“Jesus chose to respond to death by embracing it. By embracing it, he destroyed it,” he said in a telephone interview.

“This record became, for me, my response to sin and suffering. I had to formulate my own echo. I had to decide if I was going to echo the message of the cross back to the world, or my own narrow view of suffering,” he said.

“Jesus fought and won that battle, giving our suffering hope and meaning,” he added

The title for Maher’s sixth album, “Echoes” (Essential/Sony), released last month, stemmed from his idea of how people pass on what they’ve heard and learned in their lives.

“Spiritually, it’s about how you transmit your faith back into the world. In modern society, people can become satisfied amplifying someone else’s ideas. We read a post or see an image and think, ‘Yes, that’s how I feel.’ But without true contemplation, it can ring hollow,” he explained.

“That is the main message of this album, asking the question, ‘How do we echo our faith?’”

Through the exuberant “What a Friend,” or confidence of “As Good As It Gets,” Maher demonstrates on his record that the most powerful echo, one ringing through the generations and one we are challenged to keep heard, is Jesus’ passion on the cross.

The axis of the cross, vertical and horizontal, represent two different “sides” of the album.

The first half of “Echoes” focuses on the vertical dimension of the cross, and deals with God reaching down to humanity, to show his love, while the second “horizontal” half of the record focuses on God reconciling people with each other on Earth.

When knowing that we are loved and understood by God in the “vertical” sense, we feel a security that we can then share with others in this “horizontal” realm, Maher says.

“What’s needed today is reconciliation, engagement and understanding among people,” he said.

Since 2008, Maher has written hits for such artists as Third Day and Chris Tomlin, as well as garnered acclaim for his own songs, such as “Hold Us Together,” “Your Grace is Enough” and “Lord, I Need You.”

In 2015, he performed in front of Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and last month he engaged the masses at the Abbey Faith and Music Festival in Paoli, Pa. Maher is currently on tour with Tomlin. He says the collaboration between himself, a Catholic, and Tomlin, a Baptist, is “great for a world so divided,” seeing two musicians come together in praise and worship.

As Maher celebrates his new album and shares it with faithful and new fans, he has no expectations on what will connect with them.

“There is a huge element of mystery in music. My songs have a lifespan and trajectory of their own. Everyday, I just ask God, ‘How are you calling me to make an impact on the world today, and impact people’s lives, and put prayers on the lips of fellow Christians?’”


Matt Maher’s new album, “Echoes,” is currently available digitally or in stores.