Archbishop Aquila at Respect Life Mass: If dignity of human life does not exist at the beginning and the end, it will not exist in between

Below is the full transcript of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s homily he gave during the Respect Life Mass, celebrated Jan. 23 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. This transcription has been edited for clarity with Archbishop Aquila’s approval. 

Today, as we gather, we remember the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in which for 48 years, human life has been struck down from the very beginning, that unborn children have been thrown away, in the words of Pope Francis: tossed away. In our readings, they point first to the blood of Christ and the gift that the blood of Christ brings about. The letter to the Hebrews states, … “how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”   

It is important to listen to those words. First, when we look at a crucifix, we see one of the most brutal ways of killing another person. The movie The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, captured well the suffering of Jesus, and his tremendous love for us and God’s love for us. 

We see, too, that the Blood of Christ cleanses our consciences from dead works; important words because our conscience is the voice of God. Our conscience is not my voice. Our conscience is not the voice of the world, but rather, the voice of God himself. These are crucial facts [to know] about our conscience. It can be erroneous, and it can be dead. It is dead when I do not listen to the voice of God, and it is [not] my conscience when it is my voice or opinion. That is the work of the devil as he is the deceiver. The devil wants to deaden our consciences or have our consciences can be erroneous. The voice of the evil one can even pose as light. 

When we believe we are listening to our conscience, we must test it. Is it truly the voice of God? Is it consistent with the Gospel and the teachings of the Church? Our consciences must be formed according to the Gospel and according to the teachings of the Church. We must listen to that, and then our works will become good, and they will bring light. 

When it comes to human life and the dignity of human life, Pope Francis has spoken clearly about the dignity of the unborn child and about the evil of abortion. All you must do is Google, “Pope Francis sayings on abortion,” and you will have a lengthy list of what he has stated – a list that the media does not want to look at, and a list that Catholics at times do not want to look at because it does not fit their image of Pope Francis. He is one who has always said, “the teaching of the Church is clear on abortion, and I am a son of the Church.” 

One must be merciful with the woman who has had an abortion. When one is merciful towards a woman who has had an abortion, it does not mean that one condones the abortion. The two are quite different. Women who have had abortions are broken. They are wounded, and especially when they come to their senses, like the younger son in the story of the prodigal son. He comes to his senses and realizes the sin that is present, he does not condone his sin or look for approval from others. His dead conscience is awakened, and he returns to the father. And the father welcomes him with love and with mercy. That is exactly the way the Church must treat the woman who has had an abortion and who comes to her senses. The Church accompanies her in the mercy and the love of Jesus Christ because that is what is going to heal the wound. That is what is going to help her, to see how much the Father loves her, and bring her to true repentance. 

The Gospel reading is very brief. There are relatives of Jesus who obviously thought he was nuts, to put it in the vernacular. They said “he is out of his mind” because of what he taught, because of what he did. And even though they visibly saw the miracles that occurred, they still thought he was crazy. They never asked, “by what power does he do this?” They just wrote off Jesus.  

That, too, is important for us, because there are many today in the world who completely write off Jesus. In fact, they hate Jesus. But there are also many Catholics, unfortunately, who think Jesus is crazy, or some of his teachings are crazy, and especially when it comes to human life and the dignity of the unborn child. It is important for us as Catholics that both our hearts and our minds, that our words, thoughts, and actions, are always conformed to Jesus Christ and to the Gospel, and not to the ways of the world. 

A question we must ask ourselves is, “Are my words and actions, my thoughts truly subordinate to the teachings of God and to the truth of the Gospel, or do I go along with the ways of the world?” 

That is precisely the problem with now President Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and other Catholic politicians and laity who, when it comes to the dignity of human life for the unborn child, do not subordinate their positions to the truth of the Gospel and fail to give witness to life. And what they truly do not understand is that they are putting their eternal souls in jeopardy by the position they take. 

Yes, there is a heaven and there is a hell. And yes, we will be judged, as we proclaim in the Creed and as the Lord taught in the Gospels. It is for the salvation of souls that Pope Francis, that bishops and priests, speak so ardently on the Gospel and the Gospel of Life. If we do not accept the dignity of the unborn child, then we will not accept, or we will find other ways to get around the dignity of other human beings, and we see that in euthanasia today.  

It is important to give witness to the dignity of the unborn, [as well as] give witness to the dignity of the human being when it comes to immigration, when it comes to capital punishment, and other life issues. But we are also clear that the preeminent [concern], and the place dignity begins, is with the unborn child and the dying – at the beginning of life and at the end of life. If dignity does not exist at those two points – at the beginning and the end – it will not exist in between.  

And so we too, today, when we speak out on the Gospel of Life, must clearly speak the truth, and do it with love, mercy, and gentleness. We must never back off the teaching on life. We can never take the position of a Pelosi or a Biden or of so many other Catholics. 

By their positions they give scandal to the Church by what they do, because what they do is wrong. And we must be clear about that. One day, as every one of us will, they will die, and stand before the judgment of God. Our task is to urgently pray for their conversion, for their change of heart. It is not a political issue. It is an issue of salvation. It is an issue of integrity. It is an issue of living the Gospel, and of being a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. You cannot just pick what you want to follow. Jesus is clear that if we are his disciples, we must take the narrow road. And we must never forget Jesus, too, is truly clear about the possibility of hell and people going to hell, and he encourages his disciples to enter through the narrow gate, to take the narrow road.  

He also warns his disciples, and we use his words to warn Biden and Pelosi and other Catholics, “There will be many who say, ‘Lord, Lord,’ on the day of judgment, and I will say, ‘I do not know you.’”  

Those are tough words to hear. Jesus does not say, “Yeah, I’ll just open the gates and let you all in.” He is clear, that our hearts, our minds, our words, our actions, must be formed by him and by his way of thinking. That is why St. Paul will remind us in his letters for us to put on the heart and the mind of Jesus Christ.  

And so, as we continue today, let us first pray for the conversion of our country and for the conversion especially of Catholics who take a so-called pro-choice position, or who say, “well, I am personally opposed, but it is fine for you to do it.” They would never say that about cheating or lying, about embezzling or anything else. Abortion is much more of a grave sin than any of those, as is euthanasia. We must pray for their conversion, for the awakening of their consciences, that they may no longer be dead or erroneous, but come to the truth of Jesus Christ. 

Second, we must also pray that the blood of Christ will bathe all the sins and sinners in the world. All of us are sinners, all of us need the blood of Christ, all of us need to be bathed in it, seeking reparation for the sins against human life, seeking reparation for my own personal sin. 

Third, we must pray that our own hearts and minds, our words, our thoughts, our actions may truly be formed by Jesus Christ. Praying to the Holy Spirit and opening our hearts to the Spirit, we must continue to ask the Spirit to form our hearts and our minds so we may embrace the Gospel of Life and give witness to it, no matter what the cost, and be faithful to Jesus Christ and all that he teaches. 

Jesus and Jesus alone will save the world. It is not humanity. Human beings can never create a perfect world, and it is delusional to think so. It is only when our hearts and minds are formed and configured to the order of God, as revealed in Scripture, that there will be true peace in the world.  

So, let us ask the Lord to open our hearts to that truth and let us pray that we may always have the courage to be those who give witness to the Gospel of Life, at both the beginning of life from the moment of conception, until natural death at the end of life, when hopefully we will enter the glory of God and the promise of eternal life.  

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”