What I Learned After Attending the Vatican's Pre-Synod Youth Gathering - Letter from Katie Prejean McGrady

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I’m still not entirely sure how I got picked to be there, and even now, months later, having unpacked and processed and written extensively about the work we did at this Pre-Synod Gathering (preparing for the Synod on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment happening in October), there are still moments I’m surprised I was able to be in that room.

Dear Sisters, 

I was in the second row when he walked in. I could see the top of his head, the white zucchetto appearing above the sea of people standing on their tip-toes to catch a glimpse of the old Argentinian man we now call Pope Francis. He had the most magnetic smile and was taking an intentional moment with each person he passed, shaking their hands, looking into their eyes, sharing a quick thought. 

He spent the morning with us: 300 young adults gathered from around the world to spend a week in Rome discussing the state of youth and young adult ministry today. Over the course of the four hours, he answered questions, shared his thoughts, spoke honestly about his concerns, and offered his solutions to many of the problems we face. It never felt like we were merely a “meeting” on his agenda, or an item on his to-do list. The Vicar of Christ, Supreme Pontiff, His Holiness Pope Francis, wanted to be with us, and then charged us to speak our minds over the course of the week, articulate our thoughts about what the Church needs to know about young people, and help him and the Bishops understand how to serve the young Church now and for years to come.

Standing in that room with Pope Francis and spending a week in Rome having those conversations about youth and young adults, was a beautiful reminder that when I go where He leads, I often end up in places I could’ve never imagined or planned for myself. But that’s what God does best: He surprises us with His goodness.

And I got to be in that room. 

There are a few moments in life when it feels like time has stopped entirely and you’re watching something happen in front of you, almost as if you’re both in the moment and observing the moment. Walking down the aisle, getting fired from a job I loved, holding my daughter for the first time…all moments where I experienced that. Add to that list this week in Rome, spending time with people from Ghana, India, England, China, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobego, Latvia, Bella Ruse, Sweden, Switzerland, Hungary, Germany, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Australia, Canada, and the U.S., having honest conversations about our thoughts, concerns, fears, hopes, and desires for the Church today. 

I’m still not entirely sure how I got picked to be there, and even now, months later, having unpacked and processed and written extensively about the work we did at this Pre-Synod Gathering (preparing for the Synod on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment happening in October), there are still moments I’m surprised I was able to be in that room. 

When I try to be in charge, take control, chart my own course, or attempt to micro-manage moments, I find myself to be irritable, easily frustrated, and far more likely to give up. But when I place myself in the arms of the loving Father, draw close to the heart of the Son who loves me, and become docile to the movements of the ever-present Spirit, then I am at peace.

And each time I catch myself thinking back to that week or have the chance to speak or write about the work we did and the work to come, I contemplate (for just a moment) how the Lord calls us constantly to step way beyond our comfort zones and go to places only He can imagine. 

I wouldn’t have put myself in that room. I wouldn’t have chosen to be away from my daughter for 12 straight days, nor would I have considered myself even qualified to contribute to the discussions and conversations. But there I was, because that’s where the Lord led me. 

And when He leads, we’re called to follow. 

At 28 (almost 29) years old, with a 10-month-old daughter, a husband of 2 years, a mortgage, 3 books published, 40+ speaking engagements a year, a car note, half a Master’s degree, and more stress than I sometimes know what to do with, it’s becoming more and more evident, that following where the Lord leads is the only recipe to success that ever works. 

When I try to be in charge, take control, chart my own course, or attempt to micro-manage moments, I find myself to be irritable, easily frustrated, and far more likely to give up. But when I place myself in the arms of the loving Father, draw close to the heart of the Son who loves me, and become docile to the movements of the ever-present Spirit, then I am at peace. Then I find I can succeed at a task, do something good in the vineyard, and contribute to the Kingdom.

Standing in that room with Pope Francis and spending a week in Rome having those conversations about youth and young adults, was a beautiful reminder that when I go where He leads, I often end up in places I could’ve never imagined or planned for myself. But that’s what God does best: He surprises us with His goodness. 

I struggle to give God control because, deep down, I sometimes think that He doesn’t want my heart. Why would God want my heart? It’s muddied and confused and filled with junk and gunk and all manner of things that have distracted me from Him.

When we trust Him and let Him lead us, He shows us just how powerful He is.

Sisters, the worst thing any of us could do is try to wrestle control of our lives away from the hands of the One who knows us best, sees us entirely, and desires our heart.

It’s easy for me to write “Give God control!” But it’s really hard to do…

I struggle to give God control because, deep down, I sometimes think that He doesn’t want my heart. Why would God want my heart? It’s muddied and confused and filled with junk and gunk and all manner of things that have distracted me from Him. Why would He want my inadequate talents, my endless questions, my consistent confusion, or my selfish desires? How could He ever use any part of me? I’m better off just being in charge of myself, because then He won’t be disappointed and neither will I.

He wants you – your heart, dreams, hopes, plans, confusions, doubts, worries, successes, joys, failures, fears… He wants all of you, entirely and completely. And you get to give yourself to Him, to go where He wants you to go.

But those thoughts – and that fear that God doesn’t want us – is straight from the pit of Hell. It’s precisely what the father of lies wants us to believe, so that we feel broken, cast aside, useless, and unlovable. 

But God – in His perfection – loves you totally, even with all that mess, and has remarkably beautiful things planned for each one of us. Sometimes those plans lead us to Rome. Sometimes they take us to the local grocery store to pick up food for dinner. Sometimes He leads us to a stage or a webpage or a YouTube video or a podcast. Sometimes He asks us to be present to the people we’re with in the moment, family, friends, even perfect strangers. 

One thing is absolute, though: when we let Him lead, and we follow willingly, with delight and joy in His perfect plans, we will never go astray and we will always end up precisely where He wants us. 

Sisters, there is nothing harder than letting go of the control we think we have. But, sisters, there is nothing better than releasing ourselves into the arms of the loving Father to be taken to new places to do things bigger than we could’ve ever dreamt. 

He wants you – your heart, dreams, hopes, plans, confusions, doubts, worries, successes, joys, failures, fears… He wants all of you, entirely and completely. And you get to give yourself to Him, to go where He wants you to go. 

Let’s be led. And let’s follow. 

I’m praying for you.

Katie 


This letter was written in the summer of 2018.

 
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Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I'm a wife and mom, a full time Catholic speaker traveling for about 40 to 50 gigs a year, an author of 3 books, and podcaster with my awesome husband. I'm a Southern girl at heart, preferring slow mornings on the front porch with a cup of coffee or ice cold sweet tea, I love to watch NBA basketball, can quote The Office and Parks and Rec with scary accuracy, and I hate running, but am forcing myself to do it more and more because Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones. 

Where online can we keep up with you?

My website or on Instagram and Twitter @katieprejean  

You recently got to speak to the USCCB General Assembly. Could you share a little bit about what that experience was like?

So imagine walking into a room full of men that could be your dad or grandfather, and you have to tell them "here's what we need to do..." That's pretty much the task set before us when we were asked to speak about the Pre-Synod Gathering. I kept telling myself "Don't be nervous, don't freak out, they're just priests who have more paperwork to deal with..." And, to be honest, they were kind, warm-hearted, open-minded, and willing to listen and engage in a fruitful dialogue. It was really remarkable to stand in the room, offer insights and thoughts about what we learned in Rome and what we thought the Church needs to do going forward. As the first woman, under 30, to address the General Assembly, it's definitely something I'm proud to have on my resume. But honestly, it's even cooler to know that they listened, wanted to know what young people need from the Church, and to help them serve their flocks better 

To the millennial Catholic woman who doubts her place and value in the Church, what would you say to her? 

You are wanted, you are needed, you are gifted, valuable, talented, and what you have to offer - and who you are - is vitally important to the life of the Church. A lot of times we feel like we have to "make room for ourselves" in order to offer our gifts or share our ideas. And that's sad, and probably only because there are some misguided, misinformed, out of touch folks who mistakenly place women on the margins. But, what a time to be alive, because Pope Francis is calling us to go to the margins - and if some people think women should just stay there, then good for us, because now we're all supposed to be there, and we've already got that market locked down! In all seriousness: you are valuable and essential, and please don't go anywhere, because we need you. 

Fill in the blank…

My favorite liturgical holiday is…

Good Friday. 

The saint I identify with the most is…

St. Peter (he put his foot in his mouth a lot, and yet is still a Saint...so there's hope for all of us) 

A favorite quote of mine is…

“If you are who you're meant to be, you will set the world on fire." -St. Catherine of Siena 

I feel at peace when…

I'm rocking Rose (my daughter) to sleep at night

A current obsession of mine is…

Learning about podcasting, audio editing, etc. It's fascinating and fun.


About Katie Prejean McGrady

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Katie Prejean McGrady is an international speaker and author of Room 24: Adventures of a New Evangelist and Follow: Your Lifelong Adventure with Jesusand host of The Electric Waffle, a podcast of conversational chaos about culture and Catholicism. She has been traveling across the country since 2007 engaging audiences of all ages and sizes with theological truths and a unique blend of humor. Katie taught 9thgrade Theology for 5 years while also working as a youth minister at a parish of 3,000 families. Katie appears regularly on EWTN, Catholic TV, & Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel, she publishes with Ave Maria Press and writes for LifeTeen, EpicPew, and America Magazine and she has spoken across the United States, Canada, and the U.K. In March of 2018, Katie was one of three delegates chosen by the USCCB to represent the United States at the Pre-Synod gathering on Youth, Faith, and Vocational Discernment at the Vatican, where she contributed to the writing of the document which informed the Instrumentum Laboris for the Bishops. She has her degree in Theology from the University of Dallas and lives with her family in Louisiana. 


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