Beauty a universal path to Christ, speaker says

Bestselling author Joseph Pearce to talk on evangelizing through literature and art

If a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim and an atheist all gather in a field to watch a sunrise, they will likely share a similar experience.

“If they have any sort of life in them, they’re going to experience the beauty of that sunrise—the sky changing color and probably look at the sun as it comes over the horizon,” said Joseph Pearce, a prolific Catholic writer in residence at Aquinas College in Tennessee. “And they’ll be uplifted and edified by the experience. They will feel that they’ve experienced something good.”

They have something common—an appreciation for beauty, he said.

Beauty is considered one of three universal supernatural experiences called transcendentals—including truth and goodness—that Pearce said is key to leading an anti-Christian world to God.

Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce

In the first of a series of talks for the 2015-2016 Archbishop’s Lecture Series, Pearce will share how great works of literature and fine art can depict a beauty that transcends divisions and attracts a world resistant to reason.

“We live in an age of relativism. It makes it difficult to actually engage people on level of reason because they’re out of the habit of reasoning. It’s all about opinion and feelings,” he told the Denver Catholic. “Evangelizing through the power of beauty is a powerful way of reaching people. People can still be touched by the beauty of nature, the beauty of art … as the great poets and artists have shown.”

On Sept. 1, Pearce will kick-off the lecture series in the Archdiocese of Denver centered on the theme “Truth, Goodness and Beauty: Avenues for the New Evangelization.”

“Archbishop Samuel Aquila chose the theme for the lecture series because he wants Catholics in northern Colorado to think about how they can live and present the Gospel in new ways,” said David Uebbing, chancellor for the archdiocese. “Being a part of the new evangelization means creatively seeking ways to bring the Gospel into our families, friendships and workplaces. That’s not an easy task, so this year’s lecture series is designed to help give people the intellectual and practical background to do that, and do it with joy.”

This year’s series provides the faith community with a social and intellectual forum featuring well-known Catholic leaders lecturing on current topics. The events begin at 7 p.m. in the St. John Vianney Seminary refectory, 1300 S. Steele St., with a half hour of socializing with drinks and appetizers before an hour lecture and Q-and-A with the speaker.

Uebbing said each speaker will also spend time with Augustine Institute graduate students for an informal discussion about the night’s topic.

Pearce’s talk will offer unique insights into a powerful way of evangelizing, he said.

“I think that Joseph Pearce’s insights into the role of art and literature in creating a culture that is more receptive to the Gospel will be very uplifting and enlightening,” Uebbing said.

Pearce, a native of England who directs Aquinas College’s Center for Faith and Culture and is executive director of Catholic Courses, has written extensively on Christian literary figures and lectured on the Catholic underpinnings of bestselling books like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

“We need to recognize here that in the list of top 10 bestselling books of all time, The Lord of the Rings is normally listed as second or third and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is always in the top 10, too, and the Hobbit is hovering just outside,” he said.

These are books read by people of all backgrounds and faiths, he said. Together with art such as Michelangelo’s Pietà or St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, beauty can serve as a tool to draw people to Christ.

“The point is that the beauty of art, the beauty of literature, the beauty of music, the beauty of nature is a very, very powerful evangelical weapon of apologetics in our relativistic age,” Pearce said.

Once an agnostic and political rebel, Pearce said the works of G.K. Chesterton led him down a path of conversion and eventual entry into the Church in 1989.

But the beauty of literature is not all that’s needed for conversion. Beauty with truth and goodness are connected and together lead to Christ.

“So ultimately when you understand them on a deeper level they are inseparable,” he said. “Anything beautiful always leads to the truth and goodness of God.”

While the best method of evangelization is for each person to become a virtuous person, Pearce said literature and art is a great way to start.

“Certainly, the great classic works of civilization all bring us closer to the truth,” he said.





St. John Vianney Seminary

Archbishop’s Lecture Series
7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Sept. 1
Joseph Pearce on “Evangelizing through literature and fine art”
St. John Vianney Seminary refectory, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver
Begins with reception followed by lecture
RSVP: 303-715-3207 or


Upcoming speakers
Nov. 3
—Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development
Feb. 23—Mother Agnes Donovan, S.V., the first superior general of the Sisters of Life
May 9—Scott Hahn, Catholic theologian, author and professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville



Lecture series a new social and intellectual experience

Attendees at the Archbishop’s Lecture Series will enjoy a new experience at talks this year.

The lecture series, a tradition started by former Archbishop Charles Chaput and continued with Archbishop Samuel Aquila, is designed as an event featuring intellectually-stimulating talks and time for building community, said David Uebbing, chancellor for the archdiocese.

Starting with the first lecture Sept. 1, attendees will arrive at the new venue inside the refectory of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, located on the St. John Paul II Campus for the New Evangelization. Faithful may enjoy wine and appetizers while socializing with others before the lecture begins. Thirty minutes after the event begins at 7 p.m., the speaker will start his lecture on the topic of the new evangelization.Red wine pouring into wine glass, close-up

Well-known Catholic intellectuals and leaders in the faith community will be featured in the 2015-2016 series. Attendees will have the opportunity to listen and ask questions during the event.

Also, each speaker will spend an afternoon with Augustine Institute graduate students to have an informal discussion on the topic of their lecture.

The archdiocese recommends making a reservation to the free events to secure a seat. Contact 303-715-3207 or by Aug. 25 for the Sept. 1 lecture.

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.”