HOWARD — The Easter Vigil will mark the culmination of one path of discovery and the beginning of another for Casey Cooney. The Bay Port High School senior will make a full profession of faith and receive confirmation and first Eucharist on April 23 at St. John the Baptist Church. He was baptized last year. Karla Thielmann, his aunt, is serving as his sponsor.
Last summer, Cooney, 18, decided it was time to take his faith seriously. He had grown up in a household without religion, but, at his request, attended Mass at times as a child. His mother took him to St. John the Baptist, which he describes as “my first experience with God.” Cooney, who also spent time as a teen at various Protestant and nondenominational churches, said he entered the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) after re-examining his faith life.
“I knew that I had to decide where I was in my communion with God,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to come back to the church, but I was initially dismayed because there are 3,000 different denominations of Christianity, some of which with mutually exclusive theology. They all say that they are the last remnant of Israel. Who do I believe?”
Around this time of personal faith exploration, television commercials for Catholics Come Home aired locally. Cooney said that he was inspired by the media spot that highlighted Jesus calling Peter “the rock” and saying, “Upon this rock I will build my church.”
“After that, I started to investigate the church,” he said. “Everything just made sense to me and I knew that’s where I belong.”
Cooney has embraced learning opportunities throughout the RCIA process. He has researched the history of the church and read about theologians, including Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Much of the learning is not found in texts though, he said.
“It’s one thing to have that knowledge, but it’s much more important how you live your faith,” he said. “I always try to keep that in mind. The people on the RCIA team have been practicing their faith longer than I’ve been alive, so there are a lot of things they can teach me about what it means to live the Catholic life.
“I’m learning what it’s like to be part of a church community for the first time,” he added. “For me, it was always kind of a Sunday thing where you just kind of go and after church ends, you filter out.”
Cooney has developed an appreciation for the Catholic Mass. He recalls what he describes as “musical productions” at some of the nondenominational churches he attended.
“When I come to the Catholic Mass, the music is more restrained and I like it better,” he said. “The Mass is more solemn and quiet, and reverent, and respectful. In one of Paul’s Epistles he talked about propriety in worship in that God is the God of order and not chaos. I’m not saying that those other churches are chaotic, but I appreciate the order in the Catholic Church. I find it comforting.”
Cooney will attend Edgewood College in Madison in the fall to study journalism and religious studies. His RCIA experience inspired his academic pursuits, he said. While he has found a lot of answers during his preparation, he still has some questions.
“Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I believe and what that means in the world and for the rest of my life,” he said. “There are a lot of hard questions, a lot of divisive issues within the church that people are not in agreement about. I’m learning that it’s part of my faith to really ask those questions and think about them.”
Cooney was among the readers at the chrism Mass on April 19 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay. He has been busy in his preparation for the Easter Vigil, but has no regrets.
“When I look around and see all my friends having a good time in high school, there are times when I have to remind myself why I started this in the first place,” he said. “During those times when I feel like I can’t do what I want to do I think about all the times I’ve read the Bible and how it just makes so much sense. It’s strange how perfectly it captures human nature and how antithetical God is to every natural impulse. I know that’s true. I know that I made the right decision.”