About a year-and-a-half ago, I interviewed Matt Meeks, chief digital and marketing officer for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for an article on the transformation of the archdiocese’s media outreach. During that discussion, some interesting personal details came out, such as Meeks’ former job at Warner Brothers and his time spent discerning the priesthood. I recently spoke again with Meeks to hear more about his story and his work spreading the Gospel using digital media.
Jeanette Flood, for CWR: Were you a strong Catholic your whole life, or did you come to that later?
Matt Meeks: It was definitely an important part of our family life, but I haven’t always stayed that way. Growing up in Colorado, I was going through a number of difficult things, especially with my parents’ divorce. There were things my dad was saying that contradicted things my mom was saying. So it started this drive for me to find what is true. I knew that to find what is true I had to find God, so that started me really diving into my faith and trying to find God. So I went through a long period—middle school through college, really—where I read everything related to God that I could get my hands on, and not just Catholic. And it ultimately led me back to my faith in a much more profound and strong way.
And then, well, when I went to college, I cut loose a little bit. But the thing that rooted me in my faith was my confirmation experience. I had an experience in the presence of our Lord in adoration of the Eucharist that said to me, “This is it. God is present here.” So after that, there was like this gravity that I couldn’t run away from. And that gravity was the Eucharist, which kept calling me back. When I moved to LA, I committed to myself that I’d go to Mass every week. And then that turned into daily Mass, and then it all just kind of took off from there.
CWR: Was working in entertainment your goal in college?
Meeks: I wasn’t shooting for Warner Brothers or Hollywood or LA or any of that. It came up completely out of the blue. When Twitter launched, I realized that everything was changing, that individuals were becoming just as influential as traditional media. So I started a company with some friends, and that resulted in a P.R. agency in LA reaching out to me. So that’s how I ended up coming out to LA in April 2008. And through that job, I got very involved in the web television movement. I co-founded a Rising Professionals group within the Television Academy, and then became a member of the digital media peer group at the academy and voter on the Emmys. And when the job came up at Warner Brothers, a person who worked there suggested that I apply. So it was never like this strategic plan I had laid out to get into entertainment; it was really just me pursuing things that I was passionate about and trying to solve problems, and then I found myself in LA working at a studio.
CWR: In our first interview, you said you wondered if you should stay at Warner Brothers in order to be a light in Hollywood. Is that even possible?
Meeks: Well, the short answer is, “All things are possible.” I don’t want to limit people who feel called to make a difference, to feel like they can’t. You absolutely can, and I think that we are called into these industries to be salt and light and transform them. It wasn’t for me.
I wish more Catholics realized that the way to make changes in Hollywood is through the business side of Hollywood before the creative side. I meet people all the time in LA who are hungry to create the great movies that will change the world, but it’s a long, hard, uphill battle, and most of them don’t make it. Where the battle is more likely to be won, I think, is on the inside, on the business side of entertainment. And then it’s very much just leading through friendships and example. If you want to change content and you want to create great stories…everyone thinks Hollywood and they think movies, and that’s what they all rush into: actually making the movies. But I think there’s more strategic value to be had working in finance or marketing in a studio, kind of working their way up through the ranks into positions where they make decisions—because it’s ultimately not the filmmakers who decide what movies studios produce; it’s the studios. So you need the business people to rise to the top to begin to change entertainment.
The other thing is that right now there are fresh industries disrupting everything, that will be the future of entertainment. Young people are not really spending time any more watching long-form narrative films; they’re spending their time playing games. Catholics need to be there too, because right now those industries—like virtual reality and mobile gaming—they’re all start-ups. Catholics could get in there and become CEOs in two years. So for the Catholics who have on their heart that they want to make a difference and get the good stories out there, don’t limit yourself to film. Look at all the other ways that stories are being told today.
But all that is to say that there is absolutely, absolutely hope. It’s an industry that is so devoid of God and the conversations around meaning and purpose. I think it’s important that Catholics go into those industries, but to go in there with open eyes and realize that they win through the business side and through relationships and friendships. That it’s those friendships that are going to make an impact in the long run.
For me, though…Warner Brothers just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t where I was called in the long run, but I certainly was called there for a short period of time.
CWR: After Warner Brothers, you went to an advertising agency, but I gather from our first interview that you were discerning your vocation. How long were you considering the priesthood?
Meeks: Despite all my wild adventures in college, and my intellectual interests in other religions, from my confirmation retreat on, the priesthood was something that was always in the back of my mind. But I didn’t take it seriously. It wasn’t until I moved to LA and I got thrown into the midst of all this and my career was really taking off that I really discerned.
At the same time that I was offered the job at Warner Brothers, I was one of three finalists to be head of communications for Hulu. I met with their CEO, and we had a good meeting. I’d just been given this pinnacle career opportunity to be head of the coolest video startup out there, and it felt totally empty. And so that night I really prayed and realized, “I really need to give this whole priesthood thing a shot.” I didn’t know where to start, so I reached out to my confirmation sponsor, who’s a deacon in Denver. And he said he was going to be in LA for the new archbishop’s welcoming Mass. So he took me to dinner, and it was dinner with Archbishop Gomez. So he sat me right next to Archbishop Gomez, and his wife said to the archbishop, “We know Matt and his family well, and Matt is thinking about the priesthood.” So Archbishop Gomez got my information, and that started my friendship and his role as a mentor in my life.
And the archbishop was amazing with the guys who were discerning; he would call me or text me every few months and say, “Let’s get together; let’s talk.” So the whole time I was working at Warner Brothers, I was really trying to figure this out. With my parents’ divorce and all that, I had never seen a good marriage in my life. I didn’t know what a proper husband was, what a proper father was. (To be fair, my mom remarried, and my stepdad’s a great guy, and I saw glimpses of it there, but it was just different.) And so, the priesthood for me was the ideal form of manhood lived out that I had witnessed.
When I was discerning, I felt very clearly called to the priesthood, even [to the point where] in prayer I would hear things like, “You’re a priest, my son.” And I was like, “Okay, I’m a priest. I know I’m called. I’m supposed to serve Archbishop Gomez; that’s very clear to me. I’m not supposed to leave LA.”
So in June 2012 I met the archbishop for breakfast and told him I was ready to enter seminary in the fall. And the funniest thing was that that night I sat down at a dinner next to my future wife.
I had never met any woman like her before in my life. We talked at the table until one in the morning. And she was so interesting.
So anyway I was very confused because I had felt so clearly in prayer that God had told me I am a priest, and there was this woman. I had told the archbishop I was ready to enter the seminary, so I thought she was my final temptation, and I needed to avoid her at all costs [laughs]. But I couldn’t…like, she would message me on Facebook, and we’d talk at work, and we actually started praying the Angelus over Facebook at noon. But I wasn’t dating her. Praying the Angelus was safe, but other than that I wasn’t asking her out.
I couldn’t shake her out of my mind, so I decided to pray the Mary, Undoer of Knots novena. And this phrase “priest of the family” kept running through my head as I prayed the novena. I talked to my spiritual director, and he said, “Well, that’s actually true. By nature of your baptism—you’re not a ministerial priest but—you are a priest, and the role of the husband is to be the priest of the family. He leads the family in prayer; he offers sacrifice for his family.” And so I realized, “Wow, I can be a priest for her.” And then I understood what a husband was and that that was what I was called to.
And so I did all of that work before I ever asked her out. So when I asked her out, I knew with no doubt in my mind that we were going to get married.
But I was afraid to call the archbishop and tell him, so I kind of avoided him for a little while, because I didn’t know how to break the news to him.
CWR: So when fall came, and it was time to enter the seminary, did you just—not go?
Meeks: Yeah, yeah, exactly. There was enough uncertainty in my heart after meeting her that I just put it on hold.
CWR: And how did working for the archbishop come about?
Meeks: The archbishop didn’t follow up to say, “Hey, what’s going on with the seminary thing?” but the following May, in 2013, he had David Scott, head of archdiocesan communications department, call me and invite me to work for him. So it was almost like through his prayer life the archbishop knew where God was calling me. And so I told him, “By the way, I’m dating, and this is what’s going on…”
But God’s timing is so interesting; it all worked out perfectly. I knew I was called to help Archbishop Gomez, and I am. I am serving him in LA. I am serving in my vocation, and it all came clear.
CWR: And when did you get married?
Meeks: May 31, 2014. And the crazy thing is May 31 was also the day of ordinations for the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Not that there’s any mystical, deeper meaning; it was just cool for me: the day that I said yes to my vocation and entered into it was the day that priests are ordained here.
CWR: Any children yet?
Meeks: We have a son named Ralph, and he’s two years old now.
CWR: Any reflections on that whole discernment process: where God’s plan for your life ended up being something completely different?
Meeks: It’s interesting: everything I heard in prayer was fulfilled, but in the opposite way I would ever have expected it. I think young people—and myself included at times—get stuck in discernment, where we’re waiting for God to give us a sign or some clear direction. Vocation is a mystery, where God wants us to walk forward. He can’t guide our feet if we’re not moving forward.
And it’s often not what we expect. We’re all called to God; we’re all called to Christ, 100 percent. That’s our vocation. It’s just a matter of how he wants us to serve him. And it’s always done through others: it might be through a spouse, or it might be total service of the universal Church, or it might be through a number of different means. But I think it’s less like this moment of light that comes, and people just know; it’s more of this journey that we take with God where he fathers us into the place where he wants us to serve him. My advice to people in that process would be: Don’t stress out about it. Just keep walking forward and praying, and be open to whatever direction God’s going to take you. Don’t close opportunities off because you think you know what he’s doing in your life.
CWR: How is working at the archdiocese different than previous jobs?
Meeks: This job is just as maddening as any other job I’ve ever had. If not more so. Frustrations with things moving slow can be higher—my heart’s in it more, so there’s more emotions in this job, I think. But there’s peace all the time. I feel like this is exactly where I’m supposed to be. And I see the fruit of everything we’re doing, and really believe in the work that we’re doing. So on a day-to-day level, it’s very similar to other jobs I’ve had; on a deeper, kind of personal fulfillment level, it’s dramatically different. For me, it’s a dream job, and I love it.
CWR: And the world would just be baffled at that. They would see your career path as utter lunacy. How would you reply?
Meeks: I’ve had people tell me that. What I do is tell people that this is where my heart is, and I believe in the work that the Church does. And we’re trying to do something in LA that other dioceses are going to notice, and it can, hopefully, change the world. And professionally, the opportunity to be part of a movement that brings a 2,000-year-old organization into the digital age is something that I want to be part of. And then spiritually, it’s the only product I’ve ever sold that I believe 100 percent in. And people get it. My friends smile and think that I’m their nutty Catholic friend.
CWR: In our first interview, you said you’re responsible for overseeing anything related to digital media. Any updates on your job since then?
Meeks: The title now is “Chief Digital and Marketing Officer” because so much of what I do is marketing. And since we last talked, I’ve been invited to numerous other dioceses to do consulting with them. What’s happening more and more is that people from other dioceses have been visiting here, spending time with the team, and learning what we’re doing and trying to bring that back to their dioceses and archdioceses. So the model here is starting to get replicated in other places, which is kinda cool. So in that sense, my role has expanded, but the day-to-day activities remain the same.
CWR: Would you be willing to share your hopes for the future?
Meeks: Personally, Katherine and I want a big family, so a good marriage and a big family and a lotta love is number one.
Number two is just a Church on fire. Where we all bring different talents to the table and build the Church in such a way that we’re not operating in these little kingdoms, or dioceses as independent apostolates, all of us trying to try to save the Church ourselves or be our own independent churches, nor a bunch of independent businesses competing for more donor dollars, but we’re all working together. That’s my hope for the Church. Jesus tells us in John 17 the key to evangelization when he prays to God for unity: he prays that we “may all be one so that the world may believe that you sent me.” All of our efforts will be in vain if the Church doesn’t operate as a unified body because the true evangelization will flow from unity. And so my hopes for the future of the Church are the unity of the Church, where we’re all working together, sharing resources and helping lift each other up across dioceses, across countries, across apostolates, and we’re all building the Church.