Stephen Colbert on how he returned to Catholicism after being an atheist

“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert is known for wearing his Catholic faith on his sleeve, often weaving religion into his criticism of President Donald Trump or using it to call out immoral actions of fellow Christians.

But in a candid conversation on the talk show “Faith in Focus,” published Thursday, Colbert revealed that his religious convictions haven’t always been so strong.

He spoke about how he’d struggled with doubt in his younger years. He told the show’s host Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at the Catholic magazine America, that he was “convicted of my own atheism” in his early 20s.

“I had lost my faith in God, to my own great grief,” Colbert said. “I was sort of convinced that I had been wrong all this time, that I had been taught something that wasn’t true.”

But then, he said, there was a moment when all of that changed. 

RELATED: See Stephen Colbert and his wife, Evelyn

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Comedian Stephen Colbert (L) and his wife Evelyn arrive on the red carpet for the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington April 29, 2006. The Comedy Central personality was the scheduled entertainer for the evening. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
The Daily Show correspondent Stephen Colbert (L) arrives with his wife Evelyn McGee-Colbert at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California September 16, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES)
Nominee Stephen Colbert of "The Colbert Report" and his wife Evelyn McGee arrive at the 61st annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California September 20, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok (UNITED STATES ENTERTAINMENT)
Comedian Stephen Colbert arrives with Evelyn McGee-Colbert to be honored at the Time 100 Gala in New York April 24, 2012. The Time 100 is an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the previous year complied by Time Magazine. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA)
Comedian Stephen Colbert and his wife Evelyn McGee-Colbert arrive at HBO's post award reception following the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards in West Hollywood, California September 23, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Redmond (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert and wife, Evelyn McGee, arrive at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES Tags: ENTERTAINMENT) (EMMYS-ARRIVALS)
Television comedian Stephen Colbert and his wife Evelyn pose for photographers on the red carpet as they arrive for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors gala dinner at the U.S. State Department, in Washington DC, December 1, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES - Tags: PROFILE ENTERTAINMENT)
Stephen Colbert from Comedy Central's show "The Colbert Report" poses with his awards for Outstanding Variety Series and Outstanding Writing For A Variety Series with his wife Evelyn McGee at the Governors Ball for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 22, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)(EMMYS-BALL)
Comedian Stephen Colbert from CBS's "The Late Show" arrives with hIs wife Evelyn and son John at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California August 25, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES -Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)(EMMYS-ARRIVALS)
Comedian Stephen Colbert and his wife Evelyn McGee-Colbert pose for photographers on the red carpet as they arrive ahead of the 37th Annual Kennedy Center gala dinner at the U.S. State Department in Washington December 6, 2014. This year's show will toast actor Tom Hanks, recording artists Sting and Al Green, ballerina Patricia McBride, and actress Lily Tomlin, "for their lifetime contributions to American culture." REUTERS/Mike Theiler (UNITED STATES - Tags: PROFILE ENTERTAINMENT POLITICS)
TV host Stephen Colbert and wife Evelyn attend the 35th Annual Kennedy Center Honors performance and gala at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington December 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Television host Stephen Colbert and wife Evelyn McGee-Colbert arrive at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala (Met Gala) to celebrate the opening of "Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" in the Manhattan borough of New York, May 2, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 02: Stephen Colbert and Evelyn McGee-Colbert attend the 'Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology' Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for People.com)
MONTCLAIR, NJ - MAY 01: Stephen Colbert (L) and Vice-Chairman of the Board, Evelyn Colbert attend the 2015 Monclair Film Festival Opening Night Film, 'Hello, My Name Is Doris at the Wellmont Theatre on May 1, 2015 in Montclair City. (Photo by Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival)
MONTCLAIR, NJ - APRIL 29: Actress Evelyn McGee-Colbert and talk show host Stephen Colbert attend the 'Life, Animated' opening night screening and Q&A during the 5th Annual Montclair Film Festival at The Wellmont Theatre on April 29, 2016 in Montclair, New Jersey. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 23: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Stephen Colbert and Evelyn McGee Colbert pose backstage at the hit musical 'Hamilton' on Broadway at The Richard Rogers Theater on August 23, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 25: John Colbert, Stephen Colbert and Evelyn McGee-Colbert attend HBO's Official 2014 Emmy After Party at The Plaza at the Pacific Design Center on August 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - JUNE 21: (L-R) Evelyn McGee-Colbert, Stephen Colbert and Julie Taymor attend Daniel Battsek Send Off to London Celebration at Omar's La Ranita on June 21, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
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After graduating from Northwestern University in 1986, Colbert joined a comedy troupe in Chicago. At age 22, he said he was walking through the streets of Chicago on a cold night when a stranger handed him a little green pocket Bible that contained the Christian scriptures and the books of Psalms and Proverbs. 

Colbert remembered that the pages were frozen stiff, so he had to crack the book open. What appeared was an index listing verses to read based upon the emotions that a person might be feeling.

Colbert said he was feeling “anxious” at the time, so he flipped to the Bible verse recommended for those struggling with anxiety. 

It turned out to be Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which contains the verse, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? ... Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

The words seemed to speak directly to him. 

“I was absolutely, immediately lightened,” Colbert recalled.

“I stood on the street corner in the cold and read the sermon,” he said. “And my life has never been the same.”

He told Martin he still tries to carry a copy of the Bible with him wherever he goes. 

And when he prays and thinks about God now, Colbert said he thinks about love. He described his image of God in near-mystical terms. 

“What I’m imagining is some triune opening, like a bay door ... opening up and through which I can go, and on the other side of that is freedom,” he said. “And that has to do with love and acceptance."

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Stephen Colbert attends 'Rei Kawakubo/Commes Des Garcons: Art of the In-Between' at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic))
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Stephen Colbert (L) and Evelyn McGee attend the 'Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garcons: Art Of The In-Between' Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 1, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly)
MONTCLAIR, NJ - APRIL 30: Stephen Colbert and John Turturro arrive at Conversation Series Discussion at the Montclair Film Festival 2017 Day Three on April 30, 2017 in Montclair, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival)
MONTCLAIR, NJ - APRIL 28: Stephen Colbert and Dolores Huerta arrive at Montclair Film Festival 2017 Opening Night on April 28, 2017 in Montclair, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Montclair Film Festival)
NEW YORK - APRIL 25: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and guest John Legend, Kelly Osbourne, Dr John during Tuesday's 4/25/20 show. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 17: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert during Monday's 04/17/17 show in New York. (Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - APRIL 6: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on *Thursday, April 6, 2017 Special Hybrid Episode: Jessica Lange; Bassem Youssef; Judy Gold. (Photo by Mary Kouw/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02: Evelyn McGee-Colbert and Stephen Colbert attends 'The Play That Goes Wrong' Broadway Opening Night at the Lyceum Theatre on April 2, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK - MARCH 27: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Tuesday March 27, 2017 with Lily Tomlin & Jane Fonda; Jay Chandrasekhar; musical performance by Aimee Mann (Photo by Richard Boeth/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 31: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Friday March 31, 2017 with Susan Sarandon, Joey McIntyre, Robert Klein. (Photo by Richard Boeth/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 21: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, March 21, 2017 with guest Ryan Reynolds (Photo by Mary Kouw/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 14: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Tuesday, March 14, 2017 with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Todd Barry. (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 13: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, interviews with Ewan McGregor, Finn Wittrock and musical performance by The Shins on Monday's taping in New York. Pictured left to right: Finn Wittrock and Stephen Colbert. (Photo by Michele Crowe/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 6: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Monday, March 6, 2017 with Judd Apatow. (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 6: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Monday, March 6, 2017 with Anderson Cooper, Judd Apatow and musical performance by Jidenna. (Photo by Timothy Kuratek/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 28: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert airing Tuesday February 28, 2017 with Lisa Kudrow; former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest; comedian Tony Rock. (Photo by Richard Boeth/CBS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 17: The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 with guests Julie Andrews; Christina Hendricks (Photo by Mary Kouw/CBS via Getty Images)
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