Much has been made of the Catholic faith of Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s most recent nominee to the United States Supreme Court.
The judge’s Catholicism has taken center stage in her political career thus far: from “the dogma lives loudly within you” comments made during her 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nomination hearing in 2017 to recent articles debating - and debunking - whether People of Praise, the charismatic movement to which Barrett belongs, was the inspiration behind the dystopian novel and T.V. series, The Handmaid’s Tale.
Like many Catholics, Barrett inherited her faith from her family. Her parents are Catholic, with seven children - Barrett being the eldest - and are also members of People of Praise. Her father, Mike Coney, has also been a permanent deacon for 38 years.
In a personal testimony of faith written in February 2018 for his home parish, St. Catherine of Siena in a suburb of New Orleans, Deacon Coney shared how “pivotal moments” of his life - both decisions and experiences - came to shape his life and his relationship with God.
“They are not random,” Coney said of the pivotal moments in his life. “I firmly believe the Lord is close at hand drawing us through human events closer to him.”
One of the first moments that shaped Coney’s faith was the death of his mother.
“In August 1962, the day before my 17th birthday, I came home from a summer job and found my mother dead,” he wrote. “At first I was filled with grief and anger at God.”
But then Coney remembered the story of Job, a man in the Old Testament who is tested by Satan, who kills off all of Job’s livestock, herdsmen, shepherds and children. Instead of blaspheming God, as Satan had wanted, Job rends his garments, cuts his hair, and prays: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
“That passage dissolved the anger I felt against the Lord,” Coney said. “All through the wake and funeral I kept repeating that passage as a kind of prayer. Although the grief remained, the anger left.”
His mother’s death left Coney considering for months “what really mattered in a person’s life,” and when he went on retreat his senior year of high school, he said he was struck by the verse from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?”
“Sure money is necessary but it can’t be the primary goal of life. That’s not what life is all about,” Coney wrote.
This experience led him to consider being a Jesuit, and he made a customary 30-day Ignatian retreat and spent one and a half years as a Jesuit novitiate, an experience that “remained the foundation of my adult life, as has the axiom that love manifests itself in deeds and not just in words.”
Rather than become a Jesuit priest, however, Coney married his wife Linda during his first year of law school. His marriage shaped his faith, Coney said, when he and Linda began praying together and when he made the decision to do one simple act of love for Linda every day.
“So picking up a towel on the floor or a shoe or putting a single cut flower in a vase became a way to grow in love and unity,” he said. “That practice continues to this day and the love grows.”
Throughout his marriage, Coney said he has jointly discerned the will of God with his wife many times. As an example, Coney and his wife jointly discerned to turn down a transfer in his career and a promotion that would have meant uprooting their (at the time) six children.
“Our discernment had told us that money and success were not as important as what was best for our family,” he said.
Coney’s decision to become a permanent deacon was also a joint discernment, brought about by the couple’s experience with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a movement with a particular emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
“Like many people and most guys, I saw very little to like in Charismatics,” Coney wrote of his first impression of the movement. “I dodged it until I was trapped into attending a Life in the Spirit Seminar. When prayed with for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit, nothing happened. Then later that night I began to speak in tongues.”
“More importantly,” he wrote, “I was filled with an insatiable appetite for reading scripture and spiritual books. Making time for personal prayer became important. I sensed a call from the Lord to serve.”
His wife independently confirmed that she had also felt a call from the Lord that Coney should enter the permanent diaconate, a decision that Coney said is always best discerned as a couple. By the time Coney was ordained, he and Linda had four children. After ordination, they had three more, becoming a family of nine.
He had to learn to “juggle” life as a husband, father, lawyer and deacon, he wrote, but he said the Lord helped him by making smaller stretches of sleep feel longer and by helping him write his homilies in about an hour.
His prayer, he said, became: “Give me wisdom, knowledge, discernment and sound judgement.”
It was also after ordination that the family felt called to join People of Praise, an ecumenical lay covenant community - to which Barrett continues to belong - that would allow his family to live in “a close knit Christian community, one like that described in the Acts of the Apostles, one that would help form our children into good Christians and strengthen our marriage and family.”
“The glue which binds the members of the (People of Praise) is a promise to share life together and to look out for each other in all things material and spiritual,” Coney added. “In this ecumenical community my faith has been nourished and my commitment to my friend Christ has grown deeper and stronger and has borne good fruit.”
In his conclusion, Coney wrote that reflecting on his testimony made him grateful for the generosity of the Lord in his life.
“This scripture from Deuteronomy sums up how I feel. ‘Do you not know that the Lord your God has carried you as a Father carries his child all along your journey?’”
Deacon Mike Coney continues to serve the parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Metairie, Louisiana.