As COVID-19 spreads, will we be more like the saints?

How to help your neighbor during the pandemic

How would the saints act if they were in our position? The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has certainly caused various reactions – some have chosen to monitor the situation while others have fled to the stores to try to stock up on toilet paper and frozen foods.

There’s no doubt that the latter act out of care for their loved ones and want to make sure they have the necessary means in case the worst happens. Yet, as Christians, we are called to something greater. The problem is that in the type of behavior previously described, there’s a limited vision of the human person, of the family and of our mission as Christians. The human person and the family are, by essence, social. They cannot become isolated from everything or everyone else. We clearly depend on one another.

While the care and safety of our family is our primary mission, will we, as Christians, retrieve into ourselves or will we choose to look outwardly, love our neighbor as ourselves and serve the common good?

Therefore, in these times, Christian should rightfully ask: “What’s my role?” “What should I do?” “What is God calling me to do?”

They’re important questions that guide us to the true and the good, and lead us on a path of holiness, like the saints before us.

So, to answer these questions, let us look to the example of a few saints who have faced similar or worse circumstances.

THE EXAMPLE OF THE SAINTS

The great thing about the saints is that they participated in caring for others, each according to his own position. If we want to serve others during this time, we must first know our position in life and act accordingly.

St. Charles Borromeo | Persons in Authority


The Archbishop of Milan represents those in authority who have a large number of people under their care.

Milan not only faced a famine and plague outbreak from 1576 to 1577, but also the consequences of the cowardice of their governor and many nobility, who fled the city as things got out of control. Thankfully, Archbishop Borromeo, the other figure who exerted authority in the city, took the responsibility to fight the plague. He issued guidelines to prevent the further spread of the plague, organized volunteers and medical experts at hospitals to best tend to the poor and sick, and used all of his personal resources and other resources available to provide food for the hungry, feeding from 60 to 70 thousand people daily.

So, for people with authority, their mission is to implement the appropriate measures to prevent the spread of disease, to tend for those under their care and to provide the necessary means for their survival.

St. Rocco and St. Damien of Molokai | Medical Professionals

Both of these saints represent those who are in a position to help more directly tend to those in need, mainly doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

These saints provide an opportunity for reflection, as they risked their lives by tending to those who were infected. They did not serve the needy thinking that their faith would save them from getting infected, rather, they did it knowing that they could very well die doing it.

St. Rocco is an example of someone who miraculously survived the plague in Italy during the 14th century. He travelled throughout Italy healing people and was himself miraculously healed from his sores.

St. Damian is another example. He traveled to a Hawaiian leper colony to tend to the sick. He found the place was poorly maintained and that immorality and misbehavior were prominent. In his years of service, Father Damien contracted leprosy and eventually died from it.

For medical professionals the example and intercession of both of these saints can be of great help.

The saints next door | The rest of us

But the question lingers: Where is my place if I’m not a medical professional or a person in authority?

This example is best reflected by the great number of saints who we probably don’t know about, those saints who served their families and their neighbors with love, and followed the just measures implemented by people in authority for the common good.

We are called to be those “saints next door,” as Pope Francis said. But how?

While everybody else is looking to stock up on what they think they need, we can ask to see what our neighbors need. Of course, all of these actions should be done with the appropriate precautions, so as to not contribute to the spread of the virus, which, in itself, is a great contribution to the common good.

  • Pray for your neighbor and for all of those who are suffering due to the current situation.
  • Offer to babysit for your neighbor if you see they need it.
  • Offer to bring a home-cooked meal.
  • Ask them how they are doing and if they are stressed about the current situation.
  • Ask if they have any material needs.
  • Exchange phone numbers so you can check up on them if they get sick or in case there’s an emergency.
  • Stay home if you’re sick. This may be the hardest one for many people but staying home can be an act of charity, humility and penance, knowing that you’re protecting others from also getting sick. That’s the best favor you can do to them.

As we continue in our Lenten practices, let us make this an opportunity to examine our lives and see how, according to our state and position in life, we can look beyond ourselves and follow the example of Christ and the saints.

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

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

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.”