In March 2018, American Catholic speaker, catechist, and fellow Ave Maria Press author Katie Prejean McGrady was one of only three young American Catholics chosen to represent the Catholic youth of the United States at the Vatican’s “Pre-Synod Gathering in Rome.” This event was in anticipation of the forthcoming Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. In the midst of being a busily devoted wife and mother, Katie recently answered some questions about what it is like to be an American Catholic Millennial – a group that unfortunately does not receive a great deal of credence, although millennials of course comprise the future of the Church. Enjoy Katie’s inspirational insights.
1) Please describe your faith journey, how you came to realize your vocation, and your ministries in the Church.
(Way to start me out with a loaded one, Justin!) So I think the best way to describe my “journey of faith” is like this: I’ve sometimes gone kicking and screaming down the path with Jesus, but in the end, realized that he is always right.
Honestly, that’s also sort of how I discovered my vocation: I gave Jesus an ultimatum in prayer one day, basically saying, “either send me to a convent or find me a husband, but I’m tired of not knowing what you want from me.” And, then I met my husband.
Professionally, my dad always told me I needed to find a job where I would get paid to talk, because I talked too much… and here we are: I travel about 40 weekends out of the year (sometimes more) for various youth and young adult ministry events, at events with teachers, youth ministers, and volunteers. I also write books with Ave Maria Press, blog for Life Teen and EpicPew, and I tweet like it’s my job.
It’s really quite cool that the Lord has led me to this point in my career – after five years in the classroom, being full-time on the road to speak and write has been a remarkable blessing and joy, and shown me just how much the Lord can do in the life of someone who just gives him control.
2) What was it like to attend the Pre-Synod Gathering at the Vatican in March?
It was remarkable and easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do in my life. Being with three hundred other young people from around the world who work for the Church, come from varied backgrounds and experiences, and have a variety of opinions and ideas, all in pursuit of helping the Church expand her reach and mission in the world, was (and this is not an exaggeration) truly life-changing.
3) What surprised you the most about the Pre-Synod Gathering?
I was surprised to find that far more unites young people around the world than divides us. Whether from Europe, the United States, or even Africa, there is an identity crisis among youth and young adults, and we are all feeling the pull of being “in the world” but not “of it.” Sometimes, that identity crisis manifests differently because of our cultural, socio-economic, or even political realities, but there is a unifying feature: we are all looking for meaning, purpose, and direction, and sometimes don’t know where to start.
4) What are signs for hope in the Church following the Pre-Synod Gathering?
But, and this was also very revealing, there is an acknowledgement and recognition that Truth is within the Church and life everlasting resides in relationship with, and commitment to, Jesus Christ. Hearing, over and over, that we are all in pursuit of relationship with him, was remarkably encouraging. There’s great hope to be found in the fact that most of us gathered (I’d say well over 90 percent) are desperately looking for ways to make the Church attractive, accessible, and a place of rest and satisfaction for our fellow youth and young adults who have walked away or left. There was a great sense of mission and purpose among those gathered, which manifests in the document we wrote, and the hope is that the bishops recognize that we need to do a better job, from top to bottom, of inviting, welcoming, explaining, and drawing people back into the Church and into relationship with Christ.
5) What comes to mind when you consider young Catholics in light of the term "New Evangelization"?
Two things, really: 1) yes, we need to evangelize, encourage, welcome, and teach in newways, and 2) young people are sometimes the best people to do that. So many youth – high schoolers to young professionals, young couples, young singles, those working for the Church and those in secular jobs – have so many creative, innovative, engaging ways to share their faith, and the Church would do well to bring more young people to the table to share those ideas, gain insights from their creativity, and “set them loose” in the world to share the Gospel. Young Catholics are valuable and have great ideas. Young Catholics are innovative and intelligent, and have wide-ranging experiences, varied backgrounds, and voices that are worth hearing and listening to.
6) Please tell us a little about the origin and message of your new book, Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesus.
So, Follow(which I’m immensely proud of) is a response to two questions a young man asked me after I gave a talk at a conference in Los Angeles. He asked me, with intensity and urgency, “Who is Jesus?” and “How can I get to know him?” And I won’t lie… I gave him some terrible, unclear, imprecise answers at the time. The fact that I didn’t give him good answers really bothered me, for an entire year, and so Followis a response to his questions, articulating (I hope) in very clear terms who Jesus is (the one who loves you, knows you, desires relationship with you, and fulfills you) and how to get to know him (by praying, reading Scripture, investing yourself in the Sacraments, and living a life of service). It’s not rocket science – I didn’t “invent new tricks” to be a better Catholic. Instead, this book articulates things young people (anyone, really, my mom really liked it too) can do each day, week, month, and throughout the year, to grow to know Jesus and live for Him.
7) What is your favorite scripture verse (or do you have a few), and why?
So I have two: one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.
I love the passage in Genesis 15 when God tells Abram to go outside and look at the stars, and when Abram does, he immediately has renewed trust and confidence in the Lord. But, if you pay attention to the entire story, Abram is going outside to look at the stars in the middle of the day! He trusts the Lord, even though he can’t see the stars, because he knows that God’s plans (which are perhaps unclear and confusing at the moment) are always good and enriching. It always gives me great hope when I read that story, because if Abram (who was waiting a long time for an heir and the promised land) could trust the Lord, then so can I.
I also really love John 1:35-42, when Jesus invites Andrew and John to “come and see.” They willingly (and enthusiastically) go and spend the afternoon with Jesus, and their lives are profoundly changed by the encounter. Andrew goes and tells his brother Simon about Jesus after that meeting – and Simon becomes Peter, the first Pope. And they’re so moved by what happened that day that they even remember what time it was when they first met Jesus – 4 o’clock in the afternoon. That’s what happens when you meet Jesus: you are changed forever, and your life is never the same.
8) Any closing remarks for your readers (whether of this article or of your books)?
Copies of both my books are available on Amazon, Ave Maria Press’s website, and folks can follow me on Twitter and Instagram: @KatiePrejean.