If you read some of the articles here at American Watchmen, then you have undoubtedly read something written by Joshua Johnson. Proud of his Catholic faith, he received his First Holy Communion on Christmas of 2017. Here the reader will get a glimpse of what his path to fully knowing Christ has been like.
John: In your early life you transitioned through a number of different Christian denominations. Could you tell us about a few of them and the ways in which they are different?
Joshua: To be totally honest with you, with regards to the early denominations I belonged to, I could not really see much of a difference between them. They were all, on the surface level that I was interacting with them at least, theologically similar for the most part. Typical evangelical ideas really. I’m sure that there were some key differences between the Berean and the Assemblies of God but your typical visitor or attendee would not be able to decipher these from simply attending service I don’t think.
In any event, at that stage in my life, I was not particularly engaged with my faith on a deep intellectual level. That didn’t start until I began looking into Catholicism and that really was a direct result of my beginning to intellectually ponder the theology of my faith and the Churches I had been attending. To put it in rather blunt terms, I was in my spiritual infancy for most of that portion of my life.
John: What role did your parents play in your faith life?
Joshua: I’d give the most credit to my Mother. Both of my parents were active members of the first Church we attended in my life but my Mom spent much more time in the development of my faith. Early on by ensuring I was enrolled in Sunday school programs and getting me religious-themed childrens books and so forth. They also briefly enrolled me in a Lutheran private school despite the fact that we were never Lutherans, but that only lasted until First Grade and then I was transferred to public school.
Whether or not that contributed to my eventual conversion to Catholicism…I’d say it played a part in some way. At least in as far as that it was through my parents I first came to know about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My Mother’s side of the family had been Catholic but my Mother was never practicing during any part of my early youth, maybe in some way there were some cultural aspects of her growing up Catholic that rubbed off on me, but I couldn’t really tell you in detail what, if any, of those aspects were.
While my Mom was surprised about my decision to join the Catholic faith, she wasn’t antagonistic in any way. My Father by contrast, did have issues to put it lightly. For a while he didn’t want to discuss religion at all with me. But things have improved since and I continue to pray for his conversion, along with my Mother’s.
John: Well, I’m glad that things have been smoothed out. This next question follows up on the last. How have friends helped you to find yourself and to increase your relationship with Jesus Christ?
Joshua: Well most of my friends are or were Christian of some variety and there were always a good amount of Catholics within my circle of friends as well. That said, beyond being active in wanting to defend traditional values, I can’t say that many of my friends particularly in the early phase of my life played much of a role, if any in terms of my relationship with our Lord. By that I mean, we weren’t often discussing Church or anything so very much although we would discuss why homosexuality is a sin or the importance of traditional values but nothing too substantively deep.
Later on, that is after I got out of college and began to sort of get my feet into the real world, I began choosing who I socialized with a bit more. It no longer was just people you knew from a class in college or high school. That really opened the door in terms of friends helping to play a role in my faith life.
I’d say that Kurt, Chas, and Stephen all played some of the most major roles in that regard, given how all three of them helped me to convert really. Stephen by having a discussion with me about it after a podcast we’d both been on, Chas in noticing my increasingly Catholic social media posts which lead in turn to Kurt arranging a meeting with my current Priest who helped guide me through RCIA.
John: When you attended Mass for the first time, what was it like?
Joshua: I was immediately struck by the atmosphere. You’ll remember I said that a huge factor in my conversion was my love for tradition and my increased understanding of the fact that Christ is our King and so therefore it stands to reason that when having an encounter with him, we’d handle ourselves as one would in the presence of their sovereign. Up until that point my life every Church I had attended had been thoroughly modernist in layout. That is to say, they had a place for a band with guitars and drums and everything up front and then either chairs or tables laid out for people to sit at up and down the center and sides. Nothing at all like pews. Then at the back they typically would have a little place where people bought coffee. Stuff that I think would just be appalling to any of the early Church fathers.
So I immediately fell in love with just the atmosphere of the Church in sheer terms of aesthetic. But then it got even better as Mass got underway. The rhythm of it was really appealing to me and of course the way in which the liturgy enables us to participate in it. When you go to Mass you are not simply observing as you might at a protestant service. You’re actually having an encounter with our Lord and Savior, Christ the King in the flesh. He is present in the Eucharist and you could just feel it. I myself was not technically even Catholic yet but upon going to Mass for the first time I was just totally in awe of how you could actually feel Jesus was there with you. How he is present in the room with you in body, blood, soul, and divinity.
I fell in love with the Mass on the first time I went and ever since I’ve made a point of going whenever I can. It truly is an awesome, mind blowing experience.
John: What are some of your favorite feast days in the liturgical year?
Joshua: Well these are all subject to change since I’ve not yet experienced the liturgical year in full, I’m told that if I loved the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve that the Easter Mass will blow my socks off but I’ve not experienced that yet.
In terms of what I have had an opportunity to experience since becoming Catholic though, I would say that the Feast of Christ the King is my absolute favorite. For two reasons. First, because it acknowledges a key aspect of our Savior which is sadly overlooked in our modern society by many. That he is our King. We all like to focus on Jesus as our buddy, the loving-cuddly Jesus. But we forget as culture that first and foremost he is our King and deserves our respect and worship as such. That, in scripture, he sometimes could be a pretty demanding figure.
For example, when he let his righteous anger loose on those changing money in the temple or when in Luke he says that anyone who is not willing to hate their own family for his sake, is not worthy of him. People don’t like to focus on that Jesus so much. They want to focus on the loving aspects of him while ignoring the harder truths that accompany such love. The Feast of Christ the King, by highlighting his Kingship over us, can help bring that to mind.
Secondly, because of the way in which Christ’s Kingship is something which we ought to recognize and factor into our politics. He is our sovereign and has a role in public life. I applaud Poland’s recent decision to recognize Christ as their King and can only pray that we will one day as well. We like to pretend in our modern world that we can seperate our religious and our political lives, or any other aspect of who we are really. But the truth is that we can’t. Being Catholic isn’t just a part of who we are, it IS who we are. It is an identity and one which defines who we are in every single possible aspect of our lives.
John: Who are a few of your favorite saints and why?
Joshua: Well first would have to be St. Thomas More, because I chose him as my Confirmation Saint. That particular decision was the result of two factors. 1- In my studies of the Saints it came down ultimately to either More or St. Francis de Sales. St. Thomas More sounded more like me though in both the way he expressed his zeal for the faith and in that he was a bit rough around the edges. If de Sales was known for his soft approach, More was known for being a bit heavy-handed and that is the same way I operate so that played a role. 2- More importantly, More was fighting for the preservation of the Church’s infallible teachings on Marriage and made the ultimate sacrifice to defend those teachings.
We face a similar struggle today. Not only outside of the Church in the way of the LGBT lobby or the media constantly cheer leading for divorce or bad mouthing traditional family values, but also we face challenges within the Church. Particularly from those heretical elements which seek to change unchangeable doctrine. Those who think we ought to suddenly start allowing same-sex, “weddings” or those who think that Christ’s teachings about the indissolubility of marriage ought to change with the times. So that was another huge factor in why I chose More as my confirmation Saint.
Other favorites would have to be St. Mary of Egypt, St. Augustine, St. Wenceslaus, and St. Peregrine. While I wouldn’t necessarily call her a favorite of mine, I would include also St. Maria Goretti because of how truly touching her story is.
John: What prayerful devotions do you practice now as a Catholic?
Joshua: Well one of the first things I did after beginning RCIA was to buy a Rosary and while it started out as a weekly devotion, I’ve since made an effort to try and pray the rosary daily. It is truly our weapon and I carry mine with me 24 hours a day, every day. I can personally attest to the powerful intercession of Our Lady through the rosary because shortly after I made the decision to pray it daily, I was able to make significant progress in something which I had been struggling with and praying about for some time.
I’ve also started making a nightly visitation to our Church to just sit and talk with the Lord each night for a little while. One simply cannot walk into a Catholic Church, spend time in the presence of our Lord and not leave with some new sense of peace or calm or some new reflection.
It truly is just an awesome experience to sit with our Lord and since beginning these nightly visitations, I’ve just really seen my prayer life develop and mature. I went from treating God as essentially a cosmic gum-ball machine that we make petitions to, to actually engaging in a dialogue with our Lord. Actually sitting down and listening for his voice in those small moments of quiet, peaceful solitude with him.
John: That is really awesome! In a world in which the everyday sounds are constantly growing louder and louder, times of quiet to listen for the Lord are becoming rare. And yet they are really needed. While on the topic of silent prayer, have you been able to go on any retreats or pilgrimages?
Joshua: I have not yet but we are blessed with a really great Retreat House here in Waverly Nebraska and the Priest who runs that house, Father Gary Coulter has come to preach at our parish three times since I’ve converted and he’s really a wise man of God and gives great homilies. In fact it was his homily which convinced me to start making nightly visitations because I was not able to attend daily morning mass due to my work. I intend on going to one this summer there probably.
John: What moment or story in the Gospels stands out to you the most?
Joshua: Well there are quite a few that I could name that all cover the same theme that really attracts me to this, but I would say the Agony in the Garden. Why? Because it perfectly illustrates how our Lord was human like us. Both fully man and fully God. He does not want to go through with the Father’s plan on some level because he knows the pain it will entail. Who can blame him? Who amongst us would jump at the opportunity to be tortured and nailed to a tree?
But what does Jesus do? He submits fully to the Father’s will. “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”
That is key. In order to faithfully follow Christ what must we be willing to do? We have to be willing to deny the self. Christ has to be our #1 desire in our lives.
John: How would you say Catholicism has rounded off other areas of your life?
Joshua: Well I would say that I think my Catholic faith has helped me to simply become a better person in many ways. A huge factor in that would be because taking part in an examination of conscience really helps to force us to look at ourselves in the mirror a bit and see where we’ve treated others poorly or ways in which we could have done better. In aspects of pure and practical health, I’d just note that penitential days have most certainly helped cut down my intake of meat. Ha ha.
Perhaps the biggest way in which my faith has improved me as a person is the way in which it has helped me to develop a coherent and consistent worldview. As I said earlier being Catholic is who we are. It is not simply a part of us, it IS us. So whenever we look at a political issue for example, we have the authoritative teachings of the Church we can fall back on to help and guide us to a decision.
Prior to my conversion you could say that I had a cafeteria worldview. Stuff picked here and there which sometimes or often did not make sense or contradicted something else or which could flip with remarkable frequency. There was no real worldview, not a consistently well developed one anyway. Catholicism however has greatly helped me in developing a coherent and consistent values system by which not only to live by but also to advocate for as well. A worldview, a way of life.
John: Last question before we’re through. You mentioned perhaps going on a retreat in the future. But what other plans do you have for deepening your relationship with Christ?
Joshua: I’d like to go on a Pilgrimage to any number of shrines and sites either within the US or without one day. I’ve also talked with my Priest about doing the Exodus 90 Program by Those Catholic Men which is basically an ascetic fast that lasts from January 1st to April 1st. So think of lent but basically longer and on steroids because instead of just giving up one thing, you give up a whole bunch of stuff. We’re looking for a group of young men willing (or maybe just crazy enough ha ha) to do it in our Parish but that is something else I’d like to do one day.
I’m also looking forward to being more involved in my Parish. Someone suggested I could be a thurifer for us which I’d be more than happy to learn how to do and then maybe teaching Catechism one day because since converting, one thing I’ve noticed over and over again in general is that we can AND MUST improve our catechesis for the young.
I myself had an awesome, in depth experience because my Priest met one on one with me weekly, and we read through the whole Catechism and discussed it for a few hours every Saturday after mass. But not everyone gets that and when you read about how we’re struggling with young people falling away from the faith or having issues with Church teaching it is often because they weren’t properly taught it to begin with. Leading to misconceptions or leaving them vulnerable to any number of false accusations and arguments out there in the world today.
Joshua Johnson is not only the Editor-at-Large for AW, he was one of the site’s crucial founders when it took off back in 2016. AW would not be half of what it is today without Johnson. Visit here to read more articles from him!