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Conversion StoriesMormon

Iconography Draws an LDS Missionary

Anthony Hansen
February 9, 2023 No Comments

Being raised in a loving LDS home and encouraged to see God’s plan and love in everything, when I was 19 and in college, I felt God suggesting that I go on my Mormon mission after that semester, despite my plans of going after graduating with a degree. I was sent to Ukraine and immediately fell in love with the beautiful icons that I saw in the Orthodox and Catholic churches. I now consider this the earliest stage of my conversion to Catholicism.

Later, when the time came, the choice between Catholic and Orthodox became surprisingly easy. Once I realized that I needed a Church that taught Transubstantiation, I knew that I needed to be Catholic or Orthodox. I researched some of the primary differences and quickly noted that a defining difference between the two is that the Orthodox don’t have a single head of the Church. Having been raised LDS, I had a strong belief that the Lord must have called someone, such as Peter and his successors, to be leaders of the Apostles as a whole. I literally went from “I must be Catholic or Orthodox” to “I must be Catholic” in about 30 minutes.

One of my favorite parts of researching any faith is researching the beliefs and then answering questions. I am not a very emotional person, so I don’t relate well to conversations that focus on that aspect, but I love talking about the details and logic behind certain beliefs. I’m pretty quiet on social media in general, but the Facebook groups — like Catholic Converts, a private Facebook group — have helped me to see that there are other Catholics like me, and it allows me to share my insights into our beliefs with others who might not have as much knowledge about the faith as I do. Being a former LDS member, I was taught to share my faith with others, and that remains part of my mission as a Catholic.

Share the Gospel in Season and Out of Season

While I was on my mission, our leaders challenged us to reaffirm our testimonies of the Book of Mormon by praying about it and asking God if it was true. I had always believed that the Book of Mormon was true but never experienced what I would consider a spiritual witness of this fact. As I started to pray and look for a spiritual witness, as the leaders instructed, this approach began to bother me. Lacking emotion, I found it frustrating that the majority of references to spiritual witness involved some form of emotional response. This situation obtained even after I left the mission.

Upon returning home, I continued searching for a spiritual witness that the LDS church was true, but without success. Through six years of searching, the lack of result gradually led me with no desire to attend church, read my Scriptures, or even pray. I felt like I couldn’t claim to be LDS because I didn’t have the all-important witness from God that it was true. Attending my Catholic wife’s sister’s wedding Mass, I realized that I wasn’t living strong in my faith as I had promised God and my fiancée I would be. I simply was not measuring up.

About That Wife

My wife-to-be and I originally met in middle school. We had similar friend groups in high school but didn’t really interact until we sat together in 11th grade. I thought she was smart and pretty, and she thought I was annoying. She claims the first time she felt attracted to me (she already knew I liked her) was when there was a discussion in 12th grade about religion with some students (we had finished our math assignment and were bored), and someone tried to claim that my girlfriend wasn’t Christian because she was Catholic. I explained to the student that Catholics were the original Christians, and without them there wouldn’t be modern Christianity or the Bible. My girlfriend appreciated the fact that I would defend her faith when she didn’t know how to — and to think that I was LDS and defending Catholics! I was just trying to keep the discussion from spreading historically untrue information and didn’t realize the effect it had on her until later. We started dating the last two weeks of senior year and have been together ever since.

My wife was born and raised Catholic. She started serving as a lector immediately after Confirmation and would attend Mass, but she has told me she embraced her faith more deeply only after I defended her faith to classmates and also because, around that time, her mother experienced health issues, so she had to choose to attend Mass on her own or not go at all. In college, she was part of the Newman Club and served as their vice president.

We were married in a Catholic church using the marriage rite that didn’t include the Eucharist, because the only Catholics in attendance were my wife and her family. I was OK with having a Catholic wedding because Catholic rules would not allow us to have an LDS ceremony.

The first time I attended Mass was shortly after I returned home from my mission, and it didn’t go the way either of us expected. While I was on my mission, my (then) girlfriend saw me choosing to be a missionary and desiring to grow and deepen my faith, and she understood this as an invitation to deepen her own faith. Although I was unaware of it, she had already started planning to marry me and did not want a marriage where one of us far surpassed the other in commitment to God. When I returned from my mission, I visited her at college, and she invited me to come with her to the Mass on campus. I had no idea what to expect other than “church service,” although I was also aware that I should not participate in the Eucharist.

Mass was held in a little room off the chapel, there being only about ten of us. I found the attendees’ responses and postures to be almost robotic, and it didn’t sit well with me. After Mass, she asked me what I thought, and I frankly voiced my negative viewpoint. This led us to us having a deeper conversation about our faiths in general and exploring the question of whether we thought we could really make a relationship work when we believed such different things. At the end of the night, we weren’t entirely sure where we stood, but we knew we still wanted to be together. The next time we spoke to each other, we approached the topic from our commonalities, rather than our differences, and found that we had more common ground than differences. The next time I attended Mass, it was at her regular parish church with her parents. Knowing better what to expect, having more people in the pews (so feeling more like a “regular service”), and having a card that provided the responses helped me appreciate the Mass more and see it more positively as a community. Being able to read the responses, especially for my first time reading the Nicene Creed, helped me see that things weren’t as alienating as I thought.

Concerning marriage, I had no difficulty with raising my children Catholic, since we had agreed that we would attend services at both churches and let any children we had decide where they found the truth. As a couple, we attended both services during our engagement and for the first two years of our marriage before I came to a decision to leave the LDS church. Our attendance at both churches meant we were spending more than four hours in services every weekend.

Love Opened My Heart; Truth Led Me Home

To rectify this, I dove into my search with renewed vigor. I started rereading the Book of Mormon and the Gospels (always my favorite part of Scripture) for the umpteenth time. I also tried to go in with a mind more open to Truth in general rather than only trying to reaffirm my LDS faith. While reading the sixth chapter of John, the same prompting that had told me to serve a mission now told me to think about why Christ would say “Verily, verily” (Mormons use the King James Version — or as a modern version might put it, “Truly, truly”) about eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood. At that moment, I realized I really had only two choices if I wanted to follow where Truth led me: Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Being raised LDS had left me with a strong opinion on the need for a leader among the Apostles, which the Papacy provides. In under half an hour, I had gone from being an inactive LDS to researching what I needed to know and do to become Catholic.

After several weeks of study, I decided to tell my wonderful wife that I thought I needed to become Catholic. Her loving response was to laugh at me for several minutes. Even before we got engaged, the plan was always for us to attend both her Mass and my LDS services and never try to convert the other. She could not believe that I was converting on my own. Throughout my journey into the Catholic Church, she made sure to constantly challenge me and ensure that I was converting for the right reasons and not because I just wanted a new church or because it would be easier to attend the same church or because I thought it was what she wanted. I frequently say I became Catholic despite my wife, because it took longer to convince her that it was the correct decision than it took for me to arrive at that conclusion. The next big steps were getting over being raised non-Trinitarian, my hesitation to praying to Mary and the saints, and my trepidation for telling my family I was converting — especially telling my mother, who had left Catholicism for LDS before I was born.

Can I Get a Witness?

After another month of study, I gathered my courage to pray to know if I should become Catholic. Despite all the other signs, it was important to me to get the spiritual witness — that kind of spiritual affirmation or consolation which I had never found in the LDS church. I was blessed to receive this witness and also a gentle encouragement to share my journey with my family. My wife also gave me her support, and I made several phone calls that day, first to my Catholic in-laws — at least I had someone happy for me! Then I called my mother and father. I am very blessed to have such wonderful parents who, while disappointed I was leaving the LDS faith, expressed their sincere support of me and even went so far as to offer to not share their faith with any of my future children, if that’s what I wanted. Now I just needed to assure myself concerning my final doubts about Catholicism.

Mary and the saints were probably the easiest hurdle after Transubstantiation. I already had a good belief in the righteous dead supporting us, including a version of Purgatory, and some of the Marian dogmas (the Assumption and Immaculate Conception made sense when these dogmas were fully explained to me). Once I learned that praying to saints is completely optional, I thought I was golden. Then reading Kimberly Hahn’s experience in Rome Sweet Home made me realize the role Mary and the saints can actually play in our lives. The Trinity was much harder to wrap my head around (as it can be for many converting from LDS/Mormon) until I heard an RCIA instructor on YouTube explain it this way: Within the Trinity, the Father’s perfect self-knowledge begot the Son, and the Spirit proceeds from Their perfect love. Before then, everyone had tried to use analogies that always left me more confused than before. Once the Trinity made more sense, I contacted our local parish to start RCIA.

In RCIA, I was known as the one who already knew all the answers. I also chose to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church from cover to cover during the Advent and Lent preceding my baptism. Being able to finally partake of Christ after more than a year of knowing it is something I needed and longed to do, it turned out to be one of the sweetest moments of my life. Since being baptized in 2018, I have volunteered my teaching skills, first developed in the LDS church, to do catechetical work for our RCIA program. My wife and I were RCIA coordinators for three years, we regularly served as lectors, and we currently lead the EDGE program for teenagers at our parish.

The Journey That Does Not End

After my wife and I became engaged, we were attending Mass together (a regular activity at that point), and I leaned over to her and whispered, “You don’t want to try to convert me too soon. If you convert me before we get married, I’ll have to leave you to join the seminary to become a priest.” She did not think I was funny. When I started preparing for baptism, this desire became a reality. I was already considering the diaconate, and my wife thought it sounded good, but we hadn’t told anyone about it.

We hosted a small dinner party prior to the Easter Vigil Mass, and both my sister-in-law and father-in-law asked if I thought I would become a deacon. I waited a few years after my baptism to contact the diocese about the process of becoming a deacon and was told I needed to wait until 2028 to submit my application, since I need to be 35 before applying, and they only take applications in January and February. So I have waited. Curiously enough, knowing nothing about my personal discernment, one of the deacons approached us after Mass earlier this year and told me, “I just wanted to let you know that I was looking at your beautiful family during Mass and had the strongest impression that you’re going to be a deacon one day. I just wanted to let you know that.”

He then walked away to get changed. For me, a big part of practicing my faith has always been serving others, particularly in a religious setting. That is what initially led to my joke about becoming a priest, and the intrigue I felt about the priesthood all those years ago has fueled my desire to become a deacon. It is also what led me to join the Knights of Columbus as soon as I could. I continue to hope to enter the diaconate, but that’s still years away.

Anthony Hansen

Anthony Hansen has worked in IT and for seven years, initially as a Linux engineer and now as a Kubernetes engineer. He and his wife have been married since 2015. They had their first child a few months after Anthony’s baptism and are expecting another baby during the Easter season. They attend St. Luke Catholic Church in San Antonio, TX, where they both serve as lectors and as catechists for the EDGE teen program.

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