Beyond the Laudato Si’ headlines

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’ (Praise be), was predictably covered in the press as an endorsement of climate change. But the encyclical goes far beyond that to offer fundamental insights that the media has glossed over or simply ignored. I will highlight three.

The question which drives Laudato Si is, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (Laudato Si, 160). This question is one that I have heard frequently from parents today as they think about their children’s future. To answer it, one has to grapple with the bigger questions like, “What is the meaning and purpose of our life?” “Who or What is my God?” and “What is our relationship to all of creation?”

The first idea I want to emphasize comes from Pope Francis’ response to these questions. He answers them by pointing to Genesis and the Psalms, where we learn that creation is an expression of God’s love for humanity, and that “all creatures are moving forward, with us and through us, towards a common point of arrival, which is God” (83). In other words, the meaning and purpose of our lives comes from being made by and for God, and the same is true for creation. This shared goal and our common origin point to “three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself” (66).

Understanding this interconnectedness should change how we see the world and lead to what Pope Francis calls an “integral ecology,” which is the second idea that I would like to underscore. It is important to note that Pope Francis begins with our relationship with God, which is the foundation for our relationships with our neighbor and creation. It means that if I sin against my neighbor, creation or God, I impact all the other spheres of life, whether by hardening my heart or by carrying out an action that harms what the pope calls “our common home.”

In this context, the Holy Father introduces the concept of an “integral ecology,” which takes into account that the “health of a society’s institutions affects the environment and the quality of human life” (142). In other words, Pope Francis is saying that an integrated understanding of the environment includes nature, economics, culture and our fellow man, and that any analysis of environmental problems must look at all these aspects.

This is why he challenges those who justify abortion and human embryonic research while also campaigning for the protection of nature (120, 136). And it is the reason that he decries the failure to protect and invest in employees (124-126), the destruction of cultures by relativism (144), and the confusion of those who do not accept their biological gender (155).

One short illustration that the pope used might be helpful for grasping this integrated way of seeing the world. He writes in number 149, “The extreme poverty experienced in areas lacking harmony … can lead to incidents of brutality and to exploitation by criminal organizations. In the unstable neighborhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behavior and violence.”

Pope Francis therefore concludes that, “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139). This insight has great value for all who are seeking to bring the Gospel to the modern world, and it should be pondered.

The third insight that the Holy Father offers in Laudato Si’ that I would like to point out is one that affects many of us. Drawing upon the famous theologian Romano Guardini, he speaks about the “technological paradigm” in which the user of a technology seeks to employ its power to control and possess an object.

But what is often forgotten in our desire to have the latest gadget is that technology is not neutral. In fact, the pope argues that it creates “a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups” (107).

If technology is not used as merely a tool but becomes a kind of unquestionable force, then we end up losing sight of the human impact that economic, cultural or political decisions have. As Pope Francis explains, “Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence” (110).  This view ignores the dignity of the human person, of creation itself, and ultimately God.

 Laudato Si’ is, above all, a hopeful encyclical. Citing his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, the Holy Father draws his encyclical to a close by saying, “In the heart of this world, the Lord of life, who loves us so much, is always present. He does not abandon us, he does not leave us alone, for he has united himself definitively to our earth, and his love constantly impels us to find new ways forward. Praise be to him!” (245). The Lord of life became man for our sake, died on the Cross for us, and rose from the dead.  He alone gives meaning to human life.

I pray that all persons of good will may encounter the Lord of life and come to receive his love so that we all regain “the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (229).

Laudato Si’ can be read in its entirety at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

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.”