Husband & Wife Articles


Holy Associations

God often speaks through people in our lives

By Joel Schmidt

I blame Deacon John. Whenever someone asks me about my vocation story, I start with him.

After Lisa and I were engaged, I began RCIA classes, albeit two months late. I did my catch-up sessions one-on-one with Deacon John, and loved him almost instantly. He was a retired Medieval Literature professor from the university at which Lisa and I were both graduate students, but he was no ivory-tower academic drone. Deacon John radiated something, but it was more than just joy or kindness or peace. It was all those things but in such a way that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. It was holiness, and I had never encountered anything like it before. He and it were positively magnetic.

Early on in our friendship, about a year after I was received into the Church, Deacon John said to me, “I see you being ordained a deacon. I don’t say this lightly. I’ve only said this a couple times, and I’ve never been wrong.”

The seed was planted. I thought about it and prayed about it countless times. When Lisa and I discussed applying to the diaconate, we always talked more about when than if.

After Lisa and I both graduated, we moved to another diocese. We lost touch with many people at our former parish, including Deacon John. Several years later, after a Knights of Columbus meeting, I assisted with Benediction along with two men who were then in the diaconate formation process. I discussed the diaconate with them, and they strongly encouraged us to apply since the deadline was approaching. When I got home and discussed this with Lisa, she told me she had been praying at her holy hour, asking God to put people in our life to lead us closer to him. We put two and two together and started the application process.

Four years later, I was preparing for ordination. I needed someone to vest me during the ordination rite, and I could think of no one more fitting than Deacon John. We had crossed paths a couple times but hadn’t been in regular contact in years. When I called him, it was as though we had lost no time. However, Deacon John had taken a bad fall a couple years earlier and was then battling cancer. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments left him too weak to travel. He simply couldn’t do it, which left us both in tears. It would have been wonderful and fitting, but it simply wasn’t part of God’s plan.

I prayed for him often over the course of the next year. I received occasional updates on his health through a mutual friend. It was always the same. He’s weak. He doesn’t look like himself. He’s been slipping for a while. It’s not good. I assumed the worst. Elderly people don’t tend to recover from such things.

Recently, I traveled to my former diocese to attend the diaconal ordination of a friend. As I vested for the Ordination Mass, I saw Deacon John’s wife across the room without him. They were seldom far apart, so I presumed he was unable to make the trip. I continued to get ready for Mass when I heard an unmistakable voice. “Joel?” I turned around, and there he was, the man God had used to plant the seed of my diaconal vocation so many years ago. During the year I had believed he was dying, he had actually been recovering. He looked exactly the same as he always had, in better shape than he has been in years. He was back, and we were back together, at least for the day. It was wonderful.

Recall that at one point Lisa had been praying for God to put people in our life to lead us closer to him. God does that if we ask, and sometimes even if we don’t. After all those years, I realized Deacon John had been one of those people for us, long before Lisa had uttered that prayer.

Who have been those people for you? How can you be that person for someone else?

Joel Schmidt is an ordained deacon for the Des Moines Diocese and holds a doctorate in biochemistry. He lives in Des Moines with his wife, Lisa, and their three young children. Joel and Lisa write together at The Practicing Catholic.