by Joshua E. Johnson
“I met Annie in the summer of 2003. She was Catholic; I was not. When we got married, everyone assumed I would convert, but I didn’t. When Guinevere was born in 2011, she was baptized Catholic. Everyone assumed I would convert then, but I didn’t. I’ve attended Catholic mass every week since I met Annie, but until this year I was a non-Catholic. I thought that just meant I couldn’t partake in communion. I now know being catholic is much more than “taking communion” and my conversion was (and had to be) much more than fitting in with my family.
My conversion came as no surprise to anyone, but how it happened and how long it took might be. In late 2013, we were living in South Carolina and news came of another terrorist attack in Europe. I started to think about the root of evil and how anyone could carry out such atrocities and it was obvious … sin. I thought, “How could I be a better person in the face of such sin?” Again, it was obvious… become closer to Jesus. The only unclear item was how I could become closer to Jesus. As a Disciple of Christ, I was taught to embrace and welcome all Christian faiths. I wondered why there were so many denominations, how they were different and what I could do to unite them. I mentioned this to Annie and she explained Catholicism to me. In the prior 10 years we were together, either she didn’t explain it to me or (way more likely) I didn’t listen, but it finally started to click. My own research and the Bible reveals that Jesus gave His church to St. Peter and Peter passed it on to form an unbroken chain of succession to the current pope, Francis, from the greatest man who ever lived. That’s amazing. The obvious next question is, “why are there so many other religions?”
Over the next 2 years, I continued my research. I listened to videos, read books, whatever I could do in what little time I had for such things. One man in particular, Dr. Peter Kreft, really spoke to me via YouTube. A Calvin (believers in predestiny) convert, he stressed the lineage from the Pope to Christ. Until about 1054 AD, there was only one Christian religion. That means that all Christians believed what Catholics believed until about 1054, when the Orthodox Church split, mostly over the centrality of power in Rome. Both sects continued to believe and practice almost identically until 1517. Had Martin Luther, the first protestant, never posted his 95 Theses, we Christians would all be Catholic or Orthodox and believe almost all the same things. After accepting this as historical fact, it seems obvious that the way to grow closer to Jesus was to practice my faith the way Jesus taught Peter and the Apostles, who taught all other followers since then.
As you can imagine, my biggest struggle was accepting the Eucharist as the actual body, blood and divinity of the Lord. If that were true, how could a person ever be in its presence without falling to his knees? Even still, I decided to pursue RCIA, knowing I could pull out if I didn’t get answers. Turns out, Catholics believe this because that’s what Jesus said at the last supper. Accepting, for the moment, that as true, I asked Father Len how I could EVER think I am worthy to be in the presence of Christ, let alone receive Him. He so eloquently explained, “You’re not worthy, but He wants you to receive Him anyway.”
Starting the third Sunday of Lent, the elect (that’s me) and catechumens are called before the congregation for one of three scrutinies and to receive a blessing. We kneel before the priest, he leads a prayer, we rise and he puts his hands over each of our head for a few seconds, the same way Jesus passed the Holy Spirit to the apostles. My eyes were closed, but I knew when Father Len’s hands were over me. The feeling is hard to explain, but it was a strange, but good, nervousness which I had felt once before. About ten years ago, Annie and I went to LA for her brother’s 30th birthday. He had a special mass (15-20 people) and I went forward to receive a blessing from the priest. It was the exact same feeling I got 10 years later in Tampa, FL at Christ the King Church. The RCIA leaders explained that a priest during mass acts In Persona Christ and what I felt was the Holy Spirit. Not that I needed a sign I had done the right thing, but He gave me one anyway. The Easter Vigil and my first holy communion was very emotional; I couldn’t even look at Jesus on the crucifix without tearing up. When I received the Eucharist for the first time and each time since then, I get the exact same feeling, but it lasts much longer. It is amazing.
Annie and her family have always wanted me to become Catholic. A million years of her asking or even Guinevere’s first communion would never have convinced me to convert. It had to be personal and it was. Now that I’m here, I don’t consider it “being Catholic” because it is so much more. It’s the sacraments and the personal relationship with Christ I was missing.
Catholics are not taught to push non-Catholic Christians to convert, but I know I am a better person now than I was before I converted. My friend and RCIA leader encouraged me to reach out to invite you to do your own research … not because you “should” be Catholic or anything like that, but because I feel so good and want to share it with you. If I could help answer questions you may have, please reply. If not, I hope you enjoyed my conversion story.”
To learn more about RCIA please contact: RCIA@CTK-Tampa.org