Redemption for Lent: Sin, Soul Searching and Salvation

There’s a famous story in St. Augustine’s Confessions in which he and a group of youngsters looking for mischief steal pears, just for the thrill of the theft:

We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. (The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book 2, Ch. 4)

This is a story that Marshall Schmidt can understand. I know this because one night he sat in a restaurant with a group of relative strangers, fellow students at the Augustine Institute in Denver, quietly listening as they shared the details of their lives.

When the group finally turned as one to look at him and asked, “What’s your story?” they were surprised into silence. For the next half hour, while his food grew cold, he shared the tale of his first 30 years.

Marshall’s Story of Redemption

“Well, do you want to know the part about my going to jail, or the drugs and drinking? Or the part about my becoming a friar?” We wanted to hear it all.

He came to the A.I. as a student, seeking a Master’s Degree in Theology. It’s a new journey for him. Prior to that, he’d spent the last six years as a Capuchin friar, a place he still thought of as home, and where he still visits from time to time. His time there was a balm to a troubled soul, but in the end, he felt called to a different vocation.

“I loved my time as a friar,” he says, “but I was looking for a non-clerical way to shepherd souls.”

Backing up his story, he explained that he’d had a normal childhood, growing up the oldest of three kids in a Catholic family where Sunday Mass was a given. Good grades were expected. But he was bored. As a high school junior he began smoking grass, and he got away with it.

“My grades were actually better when I was using,” he explains. “I’d just do my homework so my parents wouldn’t know what I was up to.”

After graduation he bounced around, going to school for a while, working in a lumber yard, a stint as a cook. He started drinking regularly because alcohol was easier to get than pot, and easier to hide, but before long, it became a problem. He says he would drink as a way to cope with stress he didn’t know how to handle.

“I was doing a lot of  things that were making me unhappy,” he says. To kill time and for a cheap thrill, he and a buddy got into the habit of breaking into the concessions area on the campus of his college and pilfering snacks. One fateful night they were caught with $500 worth of soda and chips.

“I didn’t even want them,” he says with a wry smile. He spent two nights in jail before he got to see the judge, long nights of staring at the ceiling, thinking about where he was going, looking at why he was making bad decisions, wondering why he wasn’t happy. The light still didn’t come on. So he went to cooking school and got a good job working as a chef, in an environment where drinking and casual drug use were the norm.

God Never Gives Up 

As proof that God never gives up on a soul, the nagging discontent in the back of Marshall’s mind never stopped.

“My brokenness contributed to my search for God,” he says. “I thought, ‘I am worth being loved.'” On a whim, he went on a church retreat where he met a girl and fell in love. He began practicing the sacraments again.

He thought his life was finally on the right track, until the girl that he thought he would spend his life with suddenly broke off their relationship. He says he was devastated, and despair took over his life.

“I was angry at God,” he says. “I went into the church and challenged him. I said, ‘Okay, if you think you can run my life better than me, go ahead.’ I don’t know what I expected, but once I gave him that permission my phone started ringing; I was hearing from people who cared about me, I got close to my family again. I lost my taste for alcohol. Didn’t want to drink at all. I found myself going to church, praying more. So I thought, ‘Okay, God, I guess you proved yourself.’ I know now that God is almighty and he can be in control if you invite him.” Through that invitation, he says he became aware of a desire to serve God, but felt the priesthood was too solitary for him. He began looking into religious communities, and the Capuchins appealed to him. “I felt at home there, so I applied, and by the grace of God, they let me in.”

After six years of formation, though, there came what he called a “gut check” moment when it was time to either totally commit his life to the community or go a different way. “I just didn’t feel I was called to make a lifelong commitment.” So he left the order in April of 2017.

He was already a student at the A.I., and working on an undergraduate degree as well, but what he’ll do with them once he finishes he says, “God only knows.” He says he’s open to the guidance of the Lord, but he suspects he’ll be heading for a chaplaincy program where he’ll work with the sick.

He may not become a famous bishop, as St. Augustine did, but he hopes to make his mark in his own way. And with God on his side, he knows he’s been redeemed.

Monica Hannan is a three-time Emmy-Award- winning television anchor, talk show host and news manager at NBC affiliate, KFYR-TV, in Bismarck, ND. She has been in the broadcast industry for 35 years, and currently works as the Managing Editor at KFYR-TV, while hosting North Dakota Today in the mornings and co-anchoring The Evening Report at 6 p.m. Her latest book, Gift of Death- A Message of Comfort and Hope, tells of her father’s journey toward death, interlaced with personal, uplifting and amazing stories of people’s final moments on earth. She is also the author of The Dream Maker, which chronicles the life of God’s Child Project founder Patrick Atkinson; Nice and Fat, which she authored with health and fitness expert Renita Brannan; and she is the co-author of Dakota Daytrips and More Dakota Daytrips. Monica has published articles in numerous national and regional magazines, including Highlights for Children, Historic Traveler and RTNDA Communicator. She is married to Cliff Naylor and they have three children, ranging in age from 20 to 30.