Saint Mary Mokena’s new Deacon tells his conversion story and outlines how to bring fallen away Catholics home
This past summer, Saint Mary Mokena gained a new Deacon who is on fire with the Holy Spirit and dedicated to sharing his love for Christ and the Eucharist with the entire parish. Regular churchgoers have probably heard some of Deacon John Rex’s passionate homilies that address the issues and struggles facing Catholics today.
He can speak not only from the standpoint of a clergyman, but also as a husband and father. When not preaching from the pulpit or helping to administer the Sacraments, Deacon John can be found spending time with his family or running his local printing business.
Day-to-day, he’s just another member of the community, which is why his witness to Christ is particularly encouraging in today’s climate, where it sometimes seems like secularism and scandals are sinking the Church.
We sat down with Deacon John to learn about his own conversion story, his views on the state of Catholicism today, and how he believes everyone can pitch in to help bring Catholics “home.”
Were you always religious?
I was raised as a Methodist, although my family didn’t practice it very much. As a teenager, I had gotten sick of going to church. I didn’t like all the rules, and I didn’t feel valued or inspired. Religion seemed to be constantly beating me down, so I left and became agnostic.
Why did you convert to Catholicism?
I was agnostic until I met my wife, Marijean. She was a South-side Irish Catholic girl whose family was heavily involved in the faith. We got married in our early twenties and faced a number of challenging issues. Amidst the stress of these issues, I couldn’t help but notice that my wife had a peace about her that I lacked.
I eventually determined that this peace stemmed from her faith. She never pressured me to convert. Her witness to Christ is what converted me—the way she took care of our kids and taught them the Sacraments—this is what inspired me.
Why did you not only convert but seek to become a Deacon?
After converting, I was on a fast-track to being involved in my faith and, eventually, becoming a Deacon. At my RCA program in my old parish of Saint Catherine of Sienna in Hammond, one of my teachers, Sister Margaret, told me that being Catholic was more than just sitting in the pew every Sunday.
I wasn’t sure what she meant at first. Then I remember her looking up at the ceiling for an uncomfortable amount of time before proclaiming, “God wants you to be a lector.”
When I found out that being a lector meant public speaking, I became extremely nervous but agreed. Becoming a lector was the spark that drove me to get involved in many other ministries, such as the food pantry and other programs.
Eventually, my family and I ended up moving, and I became a parishioner of Saint Damian Church in Oak Forest. I continued being involved, and the Pastor and Deacon at the time asked me to become a Deacon myself. After a year of discernment, we decided to do it.
What do you feel drives people away from the Catholic Church?
Some are no doubt leaving due to the sex abuse scandal. It’s wounded a lot of people and violated their trust in the Church. But that’s not the only thing.
Some people have issues in their life that prevent them from truly following the Gospel, so they give up. They go to a different denomination that is much more watered down or doesn’t hold people to a Gospel standard of living. That way, they can feel OK with themselves. They practice “do-it-yourself” religion instead of following the path Christ laid out for us.
Are Catholic teachings “watered down” today? If so, why?
They are sometimes. I think sometimes we’re embarrassed to be Catholic. We’re afraid to preach the Gospel as the Apostles preached it, of calling people to a higher moral standard of living. We water our faith down just to get along with others.
What will you do, as a deacon at Saint Mary, to “bring Catholics home” and keep them here?
The most effective way to bring back fallen away Catholics is through the Eucharist. No other denomination has Jesus Truly Present in the Eucharist. We need to reawaken this belief in people. Catholics who leave will miss true worship during the Liturgy and will develop a hunger for Christ that only the Catholic Church can satisfy.
We shouldn’t belittle or condemn those who have left, but rather be passionate about what we believe. People can’t witness to others if they don’t know how much they’re loved by Christ—they’ll fall away quickly. That’s what I want to convey as Deacon. I want to help people rediscover the joy of the Gospel, the joy of being loved by Christ. As Christ’s bride, the Catholic Church is the only place we can find this joy. This is where we belong. This is where we have the closest union with our Savior.
What can the laity do to bring Catholics back?
They need to take time to turn off the TV, computer, and smartphones and learn about the faith. This way, when fallen away Catholics or people of different denominations have questions for them, they have answers. Degrees in theology aren’t necessary. Just take some time and effort to be well-informed. Rediscover the joy of the Gospel for yourself. Then, have civil discussions with people about the faith. Your joy will be contagious.
What are some specific resources you recommend for Catholics looking to learn more about the faith?
I recommend anything from the Augustine Institute. They offer great CDs with solid Catechesis. C.S. Lewis’ book, Mere Christianity, Bishop Robert Barron’s book, The Strangest Way, as well as anything written by Scott Hahn, explain the Gospel in a clear, down-to-earth way.
Any final thoughts?
I hope the Holy Spirit works through me to help enliven other people’s faith. My greatest joy is to see somebody else come back to the faith and the doors of their heart open to Christ.