An Open Letter to my Parish: Why I am Discerning the Diaconate

This letter appears in the June 19 & 26, 2011 bulletin of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in West Des Moines, IA.

My name is Joel Schmidt, and Fr. Hoefler asked me to write this column to introduce myself to you. Why? Because I am a parishioner here at St. Francis of Assisi and, God willing, I’ll be ordained a deacon in 3 years. That means I’m nearing the end of the first of four years of diaconate formation. I’m not surprised if you didn’t know that; I haven’t exactly advertised it. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t even know who I am. You might be much more familiar with my wife Lisa by virtue of her musical gifts.

Why does it matter if you know? Good question. After all, wouldn’t it make more sense to just fly under the radar? That way, I could be spared a fair amount of public humiliation if this all doesn’t work out, right? That is true, but here’s the thing: I need your prayers. I humbly ask you for them because they’re so effective, and I do really need them. My family does, too.

Encourage each other daily while it is still today. ~ Hebrews 3:13

I didn’t just volunteer to be a deacon. For those who aren’t familiar with the process, allow me to describe some of it. Lisa and I (yes, both of us) began the application process around this time last year. This required several interviews, multiple references, baptismal certificates, marriage license, academic transcripts, written essays, etc. We essentially consented to have every phase of our lives scrutinized. If we passed through all those filters, we were rewarded with a day of various tests with a follow-up psychological exam. Okay, those who know me may be wondering how I didn’t get weeded out at that point. Frankly, I don’t know either.

I mentioned above that Lisa and I went through the application process together. It’s important to understand that her participation doesn’t end there. In the Des Moines diocese, she is required to do everything I do. Everything. Are you starting to get why we really need your prayers?

The program requires one weekend retreat each month at Conception Abbey in Missouri and one Saturday each month of local instruction presented by our diocese. These requirements fill much of the rest of our “free” time with reading and writing assignments. Yes, Lisa is required to attend all the sessions and do all the assignments . . . for all four years. Did I mention we have a 2½ year old daughter Lucy? No, she doesn’t come along. As you might imagine, this poses some logistical challenges.

I should mention here that nothing about this is certain. This is an ongoing discernment process, both for us and for the diocese. We could opt out or be dismissed at any time. So, why are we doing this? Another good question.

Lord, save us from sour-faced saints! ~ St. Teresa of Avila

Just like every one of you, God wants to do something through us, to make Himself known in some way. To that end, we sincerely believe that God has called us to journey the diaconate formation process. Does that mean we are certain God wants me to be a deacon? Not at all. But we do believe that in this process we will discover who He is calling us to be and what He is calling us to do.

One thing about which I am certain is that the Church has an image problem. Further, we’re the problem. Many Catholics make our faith appear to be so much drudgery, like it’s just a long list of rules we need to follow to eventually earn enough credits to get our salvation tickets stamped. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe this is essentially what God is asking me to make known.

My heart and my soul ring out their joy to God, the living God. ~ Psalms 84

In the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus turned 120 gallons of foot water into wine. He didn’t just purify the water to make it drinkable; He turned it into the universal Biblical symbol of joy! Sure we’re meant to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). But we’re supposed to do that with joy, secure in the knowledge that the God of the universe who created everything and needs nothing is so madly in love with each one of us that He sacrificed His Son so that we might be with Him forever! That is cause for joy! In Jesus’s own words, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Why as a deacon? I don’t know. Perhaps, it’s because the formation process is inconvenient; it demands something of us. It requires sustained discipline, sacrifice, obedience, prayer . . . and joy! Joy can’t be effectively communicated if it isn’t lived out, if it hasn’t been tested in fire. Further, joy isn’t authentic if it isn’t linked to discipline, sacrifice, obedience, and prayer. Please join our diaconate journey with your prayers, not just for us, but also for our Church, that we may lovingly and charitably witness to the glory of God who is the source of all joy. “Let us approach Him with praise and thanksgiving and sing joyful songs to the Lord” (Psalms 95).

Love and Peace,

Joel

11 comments to An Open Letter to my Parish: Why I am Discerning the Diaconate

  • I’m a year behind you in my discernment journey. Christine and I are just now going through the psychological testing for the formation program in the Diocese of Knoxville starting in September. While the wives take a fairly active role in our diocese, they do not attend the monthly weekends or do the reading and assignments. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be for the two of you, especially with a young child. You can be sure that you’ll be in my prayers.

    Christine is blogging about the journey at http://deaconswife.com. I’m sure she’d love it if Lisa wanted to contribute an occasional article or comment. Not that she needs something else to do! I maintain our parish website (http://stmaryathenstn.org) and I’m also working to build an online community for Theology of the Body enthusiasts at http://tobtoday.com.

    Let’s be sure to stay in touch and pray for one another as we continue to discern God’s will for our lives. Don’t know if you’ve thought about attending the Catholic New Media Celebration in Kansas City on Oct. 1st? Christine and I will be there and I think you’d enjoy the event (http://cnmc.sqpn.com). It would be awesome to meet you there.

    Peace of Christ,
    Scott

    • Hi Scott!

      Thanks so much for your comments and the information here. Joel and I are planning to attend CNMC on Oct. 1! It’s on our calendar; we just need to get registered now. It will be great to meet you and Christine. And thanks for pointing me in the direction of her blog. She and I will certainly have to connect.

      Prayers for you and Christine and your continued discernment. It’s nice having others walk the path with us, isn’t it?

      Thanks again for dropping by. Have a great weekend!
      Lisa

  • Beautiful post, Joel! I will keep you and Lisa in my prayers!

  • Kasey Eoriatti

    We pray for both of you and little Lucy. I love that you allow room for God’s will in your plan. Perhaps the process ends in ordination, perhaps it doesn’t; but your willingness to walk with faith is inspiring to us. God Bless

  • Tom Maly

    In the first reading for Mass today (Monday 20 June) God “calls” Abram and “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” If God has indeed called you and Lisa to this vocation, there is nothing better. By the way, I agree that if it is not what His will is for you, that will be made clear somewhere in the process.
    Please know that all of you in formation are held up in prayer.
    Be blessed always and in all ways!

  • [...] the last year traveling to a Benedictine seminary and monastery one weekend a month for Joel’s diaconate formation. My awareness and fondness for both Benedict and Scholastica has grown during this [...]

  • I will be praying for the both of you as you go on your journey to become a Deacon! This is a beautiful letter.

  • [...] today with a more contemplative, thankful spirit during the thick of the busyness. How awesome that Joel has been called to this process. Yes, the work needs to be done. But, may my mode shift to one of honor, joy, and thanksgiving for [...]

  • [...] Note: One of the graces throughout Joel’s diaconate discernment has been the opportunity to become friends with the wives of the other discerning men. One, [...]

  • [...] of diaconate formation, a process that is four-years long in our diocese (Des Moines). He wrote a beautiful post about the process a few months ago. The formation program requires attendance at one weekend [...]

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