Finding the man on the cross

The crowd gathers before the imposing Capitol building to follow the lone man carrying the simple wooden cross through Denver’s well-trodden downtown streets and steely skyscrapers. Windows reflect the prayerful countenance of the group who recalls the Way of the Cross on Good Friday.

“It’s a way of being drawn into that mystery on Good Friday,” explained Father Michael Carvill, who leads the Communion and Liberation movement that organizes the annual walk. “It’s an act of response to the love of Christ.”

Observers on the city streets are known to express their own response to the cross. Some join and express praises. Others raise their voices in anger.

“As we walk through city parks and streets, there are people who yell and hurl a few insults. We always get that reaction, too,” said the priest of the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo and pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Broomfield.

The claim of Christ on the cross is a sharp sword that modern man tries to understand, he said. Historical evidence is explored on TV series, and books are published to depict the characters surrounding the day some 2,000 years ago that a man named Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on a cross, and rose.

CNN’s latest six-part mini-series “Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery.” will culminate on Easter Sunday with an analysis of little-known manuscripts. The show included local Augustine Institute professor Tim Gray who weighed in on several episodes that explored Jesus through contemporary science and ancient artifacts like the true cross and Shroud of Turin.

In one part, John Jackson of the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado explains the shroud that bears an image of a crucified man.

“When we come to the frontal image we see what looks like blood strains that are coming from essentially punctured-type sources,” Jackson says. “They correspond to what the Gospels tell us happened to Jesus—the crown of thorns.”

Christ and the Biblical events following his death are also explored in a dramatized series called “A.D. The Bible Continues” that airs on NBC. The show continues the previous “Bible Series” and depicts the apostles and aftermath of the crucifixion of Jesus. This 12-week series begins on Easter Sunday.

“The immediate aftermath of Christ’s death had a massive impact on his disciples, his mother, Mary, and key political and religious leaders of the era, completely altering the entire world in an instant,” the network describes the show.


Mike Aquilina hopes “A.D. The Bible Continues: Ministers & Martyrs” will help viewers of “A.D. The Bible Continues” to go deeper into the historical founding of the Church.

Award-winning Catholic writer Mike Aquilina wrote a companion book, released this month, called “A.D. The Bible Continues: Ministers & Martyrs” to give viewers a deeper understanding of the apostles and help others understand the historical significance of Christ’s sacrifice.

“It gives people something they can talk about again with their neighbors, with their co-workers, with their family members and maybe especially those who are skeptical,” he said. “They may think of (Jesus) as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. He’s another one of those people who maybe show up on coins or stamps. ‘We know they’re really important, and we probably took a history test on it at some point, but how does he affect me now?’”

“We can’t just put the people in the room and turn on a video and expect them to be converted.”

The TV shows are an opportunity to start a conversation and friendship with others who may be “works in progress” in understanding Christ’s sacrifice, as Peter was in the Gospels, he said.

In response to man’s longing to understand, the key is not to show a set of facts but to live the love Christ had for humanity by dying on the cross, Aquilina said.

“They have to see what we have is not just a philosophy, not just a set of principles, but rather it’s a friendship we have with Jesus Christ. I think that’s the only way the faith will be credible,” he said.

Father Carvill said in presenting the cross, it’s vital to pay attention to modern man.

“I think we need to produce, propose and expose the life we live as Catholics,” he explained. “I really do think that practical attention to people is by far the most effective method of beginning a conversation—just helping someone out in a moment of difficulty; just listening to somebody.”

With a loving gaze, modern man may begin to meet the person who rose from the cross and lives.

“When you find somebody who looks at you with a gaze that’s really and truly gratuitous, it can only be borne if they belong to Christ. It surprises people and it attracts people,” Father Carvill said. “The Church community is the bearer of the living Christ encounterable and capable of being followed today.”


Way of the Cross
When: noon April 3
Where: start at the Capitol between Broadway and Lincoln Street, ending at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.
Details: Facebook event



Photo by Mike Crupi/ Catholic Courier


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.”