Megan Johansen

Megan Johansen

Director of Religious Education

St. Gregory Barbarigo Parish

From “none” to beloved

As a child, my family regularly attended a Baptist or nondenominational church until I was around middle-school-age. Religion slowly faded from our lives, which meant the majority of my “formative years” were defined by a kind of secularism. I was a child of the world, media, my peers and what the most popular understanding of “truth” was. As we continue our exit of Christendom and head into the new era, my experience is similar to most young people I know. The ever-growing community of “nones.”

I went into college on fire with my already-earned degree in what the world had sold and was a herald for the latest societal trend in beliefs and morality which included topics of sexuality, gender, politics, etc. I genuinely believed I had everything figured out, as most 18 year olds do, and often scoffed at religion believing it to be archaic and dying out.

I somehow, by sheer miracle really, ended up on a retreat put on by the Newman Catholic Center the spring of my freshman year of college. A friend had invited me because, while I had loads of opinions on Catholicism and religion, I really knew nothing about it. I had maybe known three Catholic people my whole life, as those three weren’t even really practicing. My family also is English and northern German — so basically no one has been Catholic in my family in eons. All I “knew” of Catholicism was that they were some kind of flesh-eating-devil-worshipping-crazy-people, but in my pride and in an effort to appear as an open-minded and informed citizen, I agreed to go.

I sat through the talks and the activities the first night with my arms crossed over my chest, believing I was superior in wisdom and intellect to these poor, deluded individuals. After the talks had concluded, the group was moved into a modest chapel for a time of Adoration (Christ is present in the Eucharist and placed in a beautiful monstrance — a vessel to hold the Eucharist — to draw near to his people and be adored by his beloveds). I had never heard of Adoration before, had no idea what the Eucharist was, didn’t know the first thing about genuflecting, so the friend who invited me pulled me aside outside the chapel and tried her best to explain what was about to happen.

She told me, “We believe this is truly Jesus present on the altar in the bread.”

I responded candidly, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

And we went in without another word.

Upon first entering the chapel, I made myself comfy and anticipated a nice time of peaceful silence. I wasn’t praying. I wasn’t attempting to have any meaningful contact with higher powers — I just sat and relaxed. The longer I sat, I could not ignore very serious emotions welling up inside me. I tried to ignore these deep groanings of my soul, but they wouldn’t be ignored. Eventually, my body couldn’t fight this overwhelming reaction happening and I burst into a fit of tears. I was sobbing profusely and I couldn’t figure out why. I couldn’t stop. I was shaking, everything felt so raw and vulnerable.

I truly saw Jesus face to face for the first time and my entire body was responding.

What my brain, at the time, could not comprehend, my body knew and reacted accordingly. He was standing before me in the Eucharist, the blessed sacrament, and he called my name. The Bible never gives an account for the specific moment Jesus exorcised Mary Magdalene of her seven demons, but when I pray about it I imagine it as an experience similar to the one I had that day.

In reflecting on the most pivotal moment of my life, I feel as if Jesus instituted the Eucharist, this sacrament of his loving presence, all for me. All for this moment. That’s the intimate yet universal joy of the Eucharist. It is for everyone, but most of all. It is for you. Jesus is drawing you into his gaze. His physical presence and embrace.

It was this encounter that forever changed the trajectory of my life. It was his true and real presence that touched me and liberated me from a lifetime worth of shame and darkness. I left the chapel that day with my ego shattered, feeling smaller and more unaware of the world than I ever had been, but feeling truly loved, seen and excited to discover more things I had willfully and blindly missed.

After that day, the world became more beautiful, more intricate, more logical. Guided on the ship of the church to her heavenly destiny where perpetual unity and intimacy with the blessed Trinity awaits. Through Jesus, heaven and earth kiss, and it is through the Eucharist that this kiss reached me most profoundly and I tasted how sweet it is to be a Catholic immersed in this embrace!

Sadly, there are so many “nones” still out there believing that there’s nothing more to the world, to the story, than what is being told on social media or in other modern circles of thought. To these people, my friends, I implore you- there IS! There is a love so unimaginable waiting for you. A Eucharistic heart that beats for you alone! You are desired, called, seen beyond your wildest imaginings and I welcome you to experience this in our Church, in our times of Adoration on Wednesdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May God bless you!

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