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Not coincidences, ‘they’re God-incidences’

July 15, 2020

Editor’s note: This is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Jonathan Monfiletto
Contributing Writer

EVANS MILLS – Long before Noel Voos officially converted to Catholicism, he experienced the power of prayer and learned to see God even in life’s hardships.

Shortly after their marriage and the birth of their first son, Voos and his wife, Cathy, were living in Utah when Cathy developed a serious ovarian cyst that needed to be removed quickly to prevent any complications. At the time, the family was attending a Lutheran church as well as going to Catholic Mass, and they turned to their Lutheran friends and their faith for support.

“We had faith, and we both prayed,” Voos said, noting Cathy had to have surgery to remove the cyst or face a hysterectomy in her mid-20s. “We would go with the group, and we would pray about this and we prayed about it.”

The day Cathy went in for her surgery, doctors found no sign of the cyst when they tested her as part of the preparations for the surgery.

“What she had was so severe that within 30 days it had to be removed in order to save her reproductive abilities, and the day the surgery shows up, poof, all this bad stuff is gone,” Voos said. “I can’t tell you God intervened in that, but I know He did. I can’t prove it, but that is what my faith tells me.”

This moment in his life was a lesson in the providence of God for Voos, a moment – which he calls God-incidence instead of coincidence – that God orchestrates to show us His presence in our lives and draw us closer to Him.

“Every little hiccup and bump along the road, you do that hindsight thing and look back at that and go, ‘OK, it worked there. It’s going to work here,’” Voos said. “You look back at life and you look at those circumstances that happened. … They’re not coincidence. They’re incidences that were put there by the good Lord Himself, so they’re God-incidences.”

Voos, who lives in Evans Mills and attends St. Mary’s Church there, has continued to look for the providence of God – the God-incidences – throughout his life and particularly as a candidate in the Deacon Formation Program.
Though he acknowledged his mission is to serve God and serve Bishop Terry R. LaValley, Voos said he hopes to become involved in nursing home ministry or prison ministry once he becomes ordained as a deacon. But his ultimate goal as a deacon – and as a Catholic – is simply to touch at least one person’s life through his example of faith, especially considering the impact one person could have on another and then another and so on.

“We don’t know the providence,” he said. “We can believe it. We can presume all we want that it’s something that we can identify, but we don’t know what our actual dealings, our work, our speech, our actions will actually bring about once we’re beyond it.”

Voos recalled seeing a poster of Bishop LaValley with the words, “Follow me” while he was involved in Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in 2007 and 2008 before he converted to the faith. He has allowed that slogan to guide him ever since, especially as he seeks to serve the bishop and his fellow Catholics as a deacon.

“If I’m following my ideas correctly and pursuing what I’m pursuing, it’s simply that if someone is able to ask me, ‘Why is it you believe what you believe?’ I’m hoping to have an answer,” Voos said. “Enough to spark an interest in an individual to say, ‘I see something in this person that I either desire or I admire or I like, and I want to know more about it.’ That’s what I see as my personal mission once I become a deacon, not too much different than what we should do as Catholics period.”

Voos also keeps in mind that the Lord’s Prayer includes only one request – “Give us this day our daily bread.” – while the rest of the prayer contains words of supplication to and adoration of God. That helps him to remember that God has a plan for him and to sense God’s presence when he can’t physically prove it.

“We’re always quick on the give-mes and few on the thanks,” he said. “We fail always to realize that what we expect, what we anticipate, is not necessarily what God has planned for us. … I’ve seen enough without seeing God to know that He exists, and there’s just too much of it around me to see anything that would cause me to believe otherwise.”

Raised Lutheran and converting to Catholicism about 12 years ago, Voos has always had a strong faith that he has built his life and his family around.

“Even as a Lutheran, I had a very strong faith,” he said. “I don’t know where (it comes from), other than the providence of God that I have it. That’s the only reason I would say that I have it. He has a plan for each of us. Some of us refuse to see it. Some of us accept it. Some struggle with it. As my life has played out, the ups and the downs, you come to a realization eventually that there’s something greater than just me.”

Voos described Cathy as “a cradle Catholic” and said the two were married in a Catholic church then attended both a Lutheran church and a Catholic church. When he entered the military in 1984, though, he never went to a Lutheran service and only went to Mass.

It was the Communion experience of the Lutheran service that eventually led Voos to convert to Catholicism, even though he said he was “absent from the body of Christ,” in the sense of accepting the Eucharist, from 1984 until 2008.

“It had a fulfilling of sense for me. It was something I felt worthy enough to be done, and I did it reverently and respectfully,” he said. “There was a longing deep inside for it … like a yearning, a spiritual yearning for it.”

Along with accepting the Eucharist, taking Mary into his heart also helped Voos take the final step toward conversion. During an Easter Mass, he heard the words of Jesus Christ from the cross as Christ commands the disciple John to take Mary as his mother and Mary to take John as her son.

“We all forget the sentence that comes after that: ‘From that hour, he took her into her home,’” Voos said. “If we are to be the beloved disciples to Christ, have we taken Mary into our home? … If John took her into his home, then I said to myself, ‘I have to have her as well.’”

As with the foundation of the Catholic faith – something started by Christ and His 12 disciples 2,000 years ago that continues the same way today, Voos noted – the foundation of his faith began with someone who took the initiative to say, “This is something that is true, period.” He hopes to have the same kind of impact on people as a deacon.

“I’m believing fully that Christ walked the earth, spoke what He spoke, did what He did as written in the Scripture, died, went into a tomb, three days later resurrected, and then ascended into heaven,” Voos said. “I can’t prove it, but I believe it as sure as I’m sitting here talking to you.”

Keeping his faith strong every day is the focus of the daily morning routine Voos has kept for years. Each day at 5 a.m., he turns on his computer, and before he even opens a browser or checks his email, he goes through each of the six prayers on his desktop. As a deacon candidate, he also participates in Morning and Evening Prayer using the Liturgy of the Hours.

And as a civilian employee of the Office of Personnel Management on Fort Drum, Voos spends a lot of time on the job driving – and a lot of time in conversation with God in the car.

“I talk to Him all day long,” Voos said. “If someone were to look over at a stop sign, my mouth is going and they’re probably thinking I’m singing a song to the radio. But I’m not. I’m having an audible conversation. ‘Help me with this. How do I …?’”

He encourages his fellow Catholics to “get back to the beginning,” he said, and to draw closer to one another and to God through their shared faith.

“I would like to see more unity within our faith community, take the time, break free from society, break free from the domain of the secular world, dig into your faith,” he said.

Voos and Cathy celebrated their 40th anniversary earlier this year, and he said they continue to look for the God-incidence in their lives through the ups and the downs.

“We’re blessed, my wife and I,” he said. “There’s no question or doubt in my mind about it.”

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