Young Adult Conference explores authentic faith

By Emily Booker

What does an authentic faith look like in a world that is terrified of authenticity and faith?

The Diocesan Young Adult Conference, “Bold Faith in the Modern World,” was held at the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on Feb. 18 aiming to address that question.

Author, speaker, and radio host Katie Prejean McGrady was the featured speaker. She hosts a daily radio show, “The Katie McGrady Show,” on The Catholic Channel, Sirius XM 129.

Accepting God’s love

Throughout the day on Feb. 18, Mrs. McGrady gave a series of talks on accepting God’s love and finding the courage to live a faithful life.

Young adults often struggle with finding their place, both in the world and in the Church. Mrs. McGrady pointed out that the term “young adult” covers a wide range of ages, vocations, career paths, and milestones.

Some are college students, some are professionals, some are single, and some are married. But they often feel like they are put into one box and underestimated. Further, the world tells them that their worth is determined by how successful they are in school, in work, in finding a spouse, in owning a home. It can be difficult for young adults to feel like they belong or have anything of value to offer.

“We are so underestimated, so little is assumed of us, so little is expected of us, but you have so much to give, especially in the heart of the Church, especially in a moment when revival is demanded,” Mrs. McGrady said.

The Lord doesn’t want anything from you—He just wants you, she told the participants. Their worth doesn’t come from their productivity but from being created and loved by God. They have to learn to stop asking, “What do you want from me?” and learn to accept what the Lord wants to give.

“We only have to accept that the Lord only ever has the best for us in mind,” she said.

“What could be more countercultural than a group of young adults, a group of Catholics, who believe that life isn’t this passive thing that happens to us but that every moment, every particular experience, every decision, every big or little discernment, every interaction, every talk given, every talk heard, every moment, is a moment and opportunity for us to see that the Lord has only the best for us in His mind?”

She encouraged the young adults to slow down, let go of the burdens and expectations placed on them, and sit with Christ.

“Jesus wants room to be in your life, room to enter in. …We make space for lots of things in our lives, and the last person we seem to make space for is Jesus, because we think He wants us to do, do, do, but really He just invites us to sit down and rest with Him.”

Aileen Litwin, a member of St. Augustine Parish in Signal Mountain, said the talks really resonated with her.

“I actually took a moment to tell Katie thank you and just to say God definitely works in mysterious ways,” she said.

“I was one of those people that didn’t know if I was going to get anything out of coming, and I will say that the two words that stand out to me that Katie has repeated over and over again is ‘rest’ and ‘joy,’” she added. “I think being a young adult now, those are two very important things that we sometimes don’t make time for. This has really revitalized that desire in my heart to search for those things through Jesus, through the Church.”

Authenticity in a fake world

It can be difficult to navigate one’s own faith in a culture that doesn’t understand or even actively opposes it. But, Mrs. McGrady said, each person has been put in this specific time and place. And they must see and respond to the needs of people in the world around them.

The modern world often shuns truth, prioritizes money over people, and offers cheap distractions instead of genuine connection, she noted.

“We exist in a space and a moment in human history where we are more technologically advanced and more connected and have more opportunities than ever before,” Mrs. McGrady pointed out. “Yet we are probably more wounded and more empty and more hungry for truth than our society and our world ever has been. With all that technology has come this fake veneer. With all that connection has come a lot of empty and hollow relationships.”

How can believers bridge the gap between the world and the Church—not only navigating how to live their own lives but reaching out and showing others the truth and beauty of God’s love?

“It can sometimes feel like we don’t know what to do with that, that we’re helpless, that we have no response, that we have this great body of teaching in our Church that everybody kind of writes off as old-fashioned. They have this massive, beautiful opportunity and encounter with Christ available, and yet nobody wants to show up for it.

“How do I as a Catholic who lives this Catholic life—who is animated and guided and changed and influenced by this Catholic life—how do I live in a world that is so distinctly not?” she asked the participants.

“Do I try to make that world as Catholic as me, or do I figure out a way to authentically live that faith in this world that is quite confusing and desperate and hungry for truth and doesn’t know up from down or left from right? What do I need to do to be that authentic Catholic in a world that might not fully get it?”

Participants broke into small discussion groups between talks, getting the opportunity to dive deeper, reflect, and share with one another.

“The small-group questions have really been a bonding experience for us, getting to know each other a lot better and grow closer to each other and in our faith,” Rayanne Wise of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Alcoa said. “It’s been a very enlightening experience, very emotional as well.”

The groups shared their own faith journeys and also discussed the struggles and fears that might hold them back from living a fully authentic, joy-filled, Catholic life and being a witness in the world.

By fully embracing Christ’s love and care for us, we can better go into a hurting world and love and care for others, Mrs. McGrady explained.

“I think if we love our Catholic faith and we’re living our Catholic faith, there is a way we can step into the world and lead with our Catholic faith,” she said.

“If I realize that the Lord cares for me, that it’s not this passive relationship but the Lord actively cares for me and wills my good, that then leads me to recognize that I am called to actively care for others. If I am cared for, then I am called to actively care for others. And in caring for others, my goal is not to fix them. My goal is not necessarily to convert them. My goal is to love them and walk with them. And in that walking with them, that loving them, share that truth that perhaps leads to conversion, that perhaps leads to a radical life in Christ,” she pointed out.

From left, Katie Prejean McGrady, Rick Grinstead, Stephanie Grinstead, Sister Anna Maria Schreyer, OP, and Father Martin Gladysz take part in a panel discussion during the Young Adult Conference.

‘Room for every possible range and experience’

As Mrs. McGrady pointed out, living a life in Christ can take on many different forms. Each person responds and lives out their faith differently.

“We all don’t have to live our faith the exact same way,” she said. “We all don’t have to love our Catholic faith in the exact same way. The Church is big—universal in fact—and this giant tent we all stand under has room for every possible range and experience and career choice and discernment of faith.”

This idea was explored more with a vocations panel, hosted by Mrs. McGrady, featuring married couple Rick and Stephanie Grinstead of the cathedral parish; a religious Sister, Sister Anna Maria Schreyer, OP, who teaches at St. Mary School in Oak Ridge; and a priest, Father Martin Gladysz, associate pastor of the cathedral.

The panelists shared how they discovered their vocation and what living out their faith through that vocation looked like.

The Grinsteads shared about how in a marriage, a couple must learn to make room for both their and their whole family’s needs.

“When it comes to discerning, it’s personal and it’s family discernment. There’s a lot of both, because we are individuals, but yet we’re a married couple,” Mr. Grinstead said. “So, we’re united and trying to still have an identity as a son of God, as a daughter of God, and as a couple.”

“The situations the Lord places you in, if you trust Him, things always work out,” Mrs. Grinstead shared. “If I’ve learned one thing, from all the things we’ve gone through together in our marriage, it’s that you place your trust in the Lord, and you pray, and you just have to have that faith that He’s going to guide you. It’s not always easy, but it will be OK.”

Sister Anna Maria shared a bit about the daily routines that help balance prayer, work, and recreation within her religious community, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville. In contrast, Father Gladysz said there is no “normal” day for a priest—he is always doing something different, from saying Masses and hearing confessions to visiting the sick or attending parish activities.

“I like this a lot. It makes us very flexible,” Father Gladysz said. “Of course, I have daily things I need to do, but after that, it’s other people. If people need me, I am ready.”

Despite their different lived experiences, trust in the Lord and joy were common themes from the panelists.

“I think one of the things that has surprised me about being a Sister is the authentic joy and freedom the Lord lets me experience on a daily basis and in big ways and in small ways,” Sister Anna Maria said. “When I go to prayer, just to be with the Lord, just to listen to Him, that He makes me happy every single time. It’s amazing. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by that at this point, but it’s kind of lovely to be surprised by that.”

She added that freedom is not just a product of the religious life but in living her faith in the way the Lord called her to, whatever or wherever that may be.

“I think any of us can speak to this: it’s amazing the grace the Lord gives us in the vocation we’ve been given to respond to whatever He’s asking of us,” she said.

The Diocese of Knoxville’s Vocations Office and Catholic Charities of East Tennessee’s Pregnancy Help Center and Adoption Services had booths to offer information during the conference.

Women of the St. Therese Guild from the cathedral parish and the Regnum Christi group from St. John Neumann Parish in Farragut helped provide breakfast and lunch.

The conference concluded with eucharistic adoration and time for confession.

Miguel Perez from St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Erwin provided music during the holy hour.

Brittany Garcia, director of the Office of Youth, Young Adult, and Pastoral Juvenil Ministries for the Diocese of Knoxville, said she thought the conference was a success and that she hoped to do more to unite young adults from across the diocese to encourage and uplift one another.

“Based on the success and positive feedback from this conference, there is a hope of continuing with diocesan young adult conferences in the future, most likely biennially,” Mrs. Garcia said.

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