Flannery O’Connor once said, “You don’t join the Catholic Church, you become Catholic.
For David Augustine, his journey from Jehovah’s Witness to atheism to Catholicism resonates with O’Connor’s statement.
Although he grew up in a loving, moral family, the 33-year-old from Kenosha was not raised with a set of religious convictions, so his grandparents stepped in to fill the gaps in his faith life.
“They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and throughout my youth, used to lead me in Bible studies, primarily working from their Watchtower magazines, of course,” he said. “I didn’t have a very good filter at such a young age, so my religious convictions were formed in their belief system, although I never formally attended their services. Hence, I was raised to believe that the Trinitarian faith of Christians, for example was a ‘Babylonian accretion’ onto the ‘authentic’ Christian doctrine of the One God.”
PEOPLE OF FAITH
Name: David Augustine
Occupation: Teaching assistant and caregiver
Parish: St. Anne, Pleasant Prairie
Favorite hobby: Reading and writing theology
Favorite church hymn: Too many to name just one
Favorite song: Lately, ambient electronica as good background music for studying
Favorite quotation: “Fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars …” Blaise Pascal
Augustine was raised to believe Jesus was neither divine nor the second person of the Trinity, but a created being, possibly to be identified in his pre-incarnate state with the archangel Michael.
“I know this sounds nuts, but like I said, no filter,” he explained. “During high school, I gradually lost interest in their belief system and, as you can imagine, college was not exactly the high point of my religious life. During this time, I became an avowed atheist and a moral train wreck.”
The conversion to Catholicism began when Augustine was 24, and he had an encounter with Jesus while reading a passage in Matthew’s Gospel.
“The Jesus that for so long had been to me a dimly lit historical figure filled out with mythological accretions by early Christianity leapt across the centuries and became for me the Risen trans-historical Christ, the Lord of history. ‘He is not here; for he has risen, as he said.’ (Mt 28:6 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition),”Augustine explained. “This initial experience came as the climax to a long period of depression brought on by moral dissolution in my life, above all between the ages of 22 and 24. Hence, my encounter with the Lord led to an experience of deliverance, of liberation.”
Augustine lived with depression for years, but those feelings immediately lifted after his biblical revelation. In September 2004, a couple of months after this encounter, he sought out a Pentecostal pastor friend, was baptized and remained a member of the Pentecostal church for nearly three years.
“For the first year and a half, it was a really positive experience for me. Pentecostalism, at its best, offers a certain experiential mysticism of the Holy Spirit,” he explained. “My experience at this church began to decline throughout 2006 and what I was left with was more or less disorganization and fuzzy doctrine, none of which satisfied me.”
Disappointed, Augustine searched for something deeper and one day he happened upon a program on EWTN called, “The Journey Home,” hosted by Marcus Grodi, a convert from Presbyterianism. The guest on his program was an Evangelical missionary to China named Leona Choy who had converted to Catholicism in her 70s.
“I might have turned it off, but there was something about this woman that intuitively struck me as being credible,” he said. “I felt a certain consonance of spirit with her. Every once in a while you meet people, who, as it were, positively radiate the grace of the Holy Spirit from their bodies. She is one of those people. She made the decision to convert after being introduced to the writings of the so-called Church Fathers, a mysterious class of people I had never heard of before.”
After reading a text Choy recommended, Augustine discovered a Christian world he didn’t know existed. A friend once told him to be careful with the Church Fathers, as “they are a door with one handle, which he would enter and not come out.”
“He was right. I discovered a Christian world that is a story of 2,000 years of continuity, grounded in the historical actions of the God-man, Jesus Christ,” he said. “And this form of Christianity looked oddly like that found in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. From here, it took about nine months more of study and prayer. I made the final decision to enter the Catholic Church in August 2007. The deciding factors for me were both doctrinal and also the result of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament during eucharistic adoration.”
Augustine was received sacramentally into the Catholic faith on the Feast of the Epiphany in 2008, and became a member of St. Anne Parish, Pleasant Prairie. Since his conversion, he has returned to graduate school and attends University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein where he is working on his Master of the Arts in Liturgical Studies, but his interests have adapted into becoming a speculative dogmatic theologian.
He is working on this master’s thesis on sacrificial theology, which he hopes will become his first book. He works at USML as a teaching assistant for Dr. Matthew Levering and cares for his grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease. As part of his mission is in sharing his conversion story, he has spoken with confirmation candidates in the Kenosha area and presented a talk to members of his parish on “Seeking His Face.”
“I am developing a whole series of talks and would like to give these at parishes for weekend retreats,” he said. “Thus far, Fr. Bob (Weighner) has given me permission to give the first two (held earlier this year). I have ideas for at least six of these so far.”
Augustine admits his life has changed in nearly ever way possible, and continues to change.
“It’s redirected the basic orientation of my life from whatever I was in from week to week, to serving the Lord Jesus Christ and ongoing assimilation to him through the continual acquisition of the Holy Spirit in which the whole of Christian life consists,” he said.