Miracles happen in the parish catechumenate. People who seek deeper faith grow in personal maturity in ways they never imagined. Their behavior and attitudes continually amaze their acquaintances. They notice differences at home, at work and at play. The fascination of working with catechumens is that their journeys are always somewhat similar, yet each one is unique. The story of anyone’s journey of faith is a drama that attracts attention and a tale that deserves to be told.
Steve McCoy-Thompson is telling his story in his book, Journey into Belief: Finding God Through the Creed (Liguori: Liguori, 2004). When he was an infant, Steve’s parents had him baptized, but he received no further religious formation. After he grew up, fell in love, married a Catholic, and fathered two children, the faith of his new family awakened a longing within him. He joined a catechumenate group and was confirmed and received communion at his local Catholic parish’s Easter Vigil.
This is a remarkable story, honestly told. McCoy-Thompson writes clearly and intelligently. His style is not polished, but that is its strength. The reader meets the author as he is.
The book has two overlapping structures. It presents the chronology of one man’s faith journey, but the chapter titles sequence the phrases of the Nicene Creed. Logically, the two structures should not fit together, but the author draws enough links to justify this binary exploration of belief.
But there are problems. McCoy-Thompson cannot be blamed for this, but someone or ones in his parish and diocese have gravely misunderstood some elements of the catechumenate. McCoy-Thompson was baptized a Catholic as an infant. He was put into a catechetical group with baptized candidates from different churches and some unbaptized catechumens. He was dismissed from the Sunday mass together with the unbaptized. He signed the book of the elect in his parish church – a ritual he movingly describes at length – and interprets the rite of election at the cathedral as a blessing of the bishop – a ritual he dismisses briefly. He was confirmed at the Easter Vigil, but he never indicates any knowledge that his pastor needed delegation from the bishop to administer that sacrament to a candidate baptized Catholic as an infant. In fact, the author frequently describes his journey as one of joining the Catholic Church, but canonically he never left. His baptism made him a Catholic, even though he never received the subsequent catechesis.
These elements are strange, even alarming, but they candidly represent the decisions made in many local parishes with limited comprehension of the legislation governing the sacraments of initiation in the Catholic Church. In the midst of it all, McCoy-Thompson experienced a deepening of his faith that was real and life-changing. The book bears testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit even when the parish isn’t following all the rules.
Some sections of the book are especially powerful. Chapter 5 shows how the author personally wrestled with foundational questions of faith early in his seeking. Chapters 8 and 9 recount his conversations with his family, contacts that McCoy-Thompson feared would bring misunderstanding and resistance. In chapter 15, the author poses rhetorical questions that reveal how well he has grappled with the mystery of faith: “I believe that I had little to do with it. How, after all, can you decide on a longing for God? How can you realistically choose faith?”
This spiritual depth, the dialogue between faith and real human life, and the need to ritualize one’s relationship with God all combine to make McCoy-Thompson’s book a unique contribution to the literature on initiation. Flaws and all, it is a riveting read for catechumenate team members and all human beings who discover their longing for God.
This article first appeared in Forum Newsletter 22/1 (Spring 2005):6-7.