To follow your conscience is to follow God, says Archbishop

Says many misunderstand conscience, follow their own voice

Acting in accord with one’s conscience is important, if that conscience is informed by the voice of God, says Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver.

The archbishop spoke of the role of conscience in promoting a Culture of Life on Saturday at the White Mass for Health Care Professionals, held at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial. The Mass also opened the annual Gospel of Life Conference, organized by the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of Denver.

“What has happened with so many Catholics today is that they have come to understand conscience as listening to their own voice,” he said, “rather than listening to the voice of God as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in Tradition.”

The archbishop quoted soon-to-be Saint John Paul II, who wrote that “the first and fundamental step towards… cultural transformation consists in forming consciences with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life.”

“It is important for us to form consciences, especially in our own time when people are told, ‘Well, just follow your conscience,’” he continued. “Most people today do not even know what conscience is, let alone that they are called to form their conscience.

“It is essential that we help people to understand that conscience is the voice of God living within the human heart (Guadium et Spes,16). They must quietly listen for that voice and open their hearts to it.”

The archbishop explained that if one rejects God, “then one’s conscience becomes deadened and hardened, because you deny that there is even a voice to listen to.”

Addressing the health care professionals in attendance, he said that it is “essential for us in whatever field of life we are in, in whatever vocation we are in, to be those who help people form their consciences, to understand what conscience is, and that yes, and understand that one’s conscience can become hardened, can become deadened, and can be erroneous when it is not faithful to God and to the truth.”

Click here for the audio of Archbishop Aquila’s homily from the White Mass.

See the full transcript below:

Homily of Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
White Mass/Gospel of Life Conference
St. Thomas More Parish, Centennial
October 19, 2013

[Note: This transcript has been edited for print publication.]

My dearest brothers and sisters in Christ,

Today as we gather for the Gospel of Life conference we also celebrate the Memorial of the North American Martyrs, of those who first came to the United States and proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ, who laid down their lives in that proclamation of the Gospel.

The Gift of Faith

We hear within our readings for today, the importance of the gift of faith.  In the first reading from Romans we are told the righteousness that comes from faith is a gift.  Abraham “believed, hoping against hope, that he would become the father of many nations” (Rm 4: 18). All of us know, in faith, that Abraham is the first to believe in the promises of God, promises that were given to the people of Israel and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that “everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will acknowledge before the angels of God” (Lk 12: 8).  It is precisely in putting our faith in Jesus Christ, having a personal relationship with him, coming to know Jesus intimately, that we who follow him then live our faith in the world.

Jesus reminds us too, that a word spoken against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.  And essentially that sin against the Holy Spirit is truly the rejection of the voice of God.  It is a radical rejection of God himself, a lack of belief in putting one’s faith in God.  Because when one does not believe, essentially what one says is that God is not faithful or trustworthy.  And we know that when we read Sacred Scripture, and most especially the Gospels, God is trustworthy; he is faithful.

Jesus also assures us in today’s Gospel that when you are taken “before synagogues and before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how or what your defense will be, or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say” (Lk 12: 12).  What a tremendous promise!  Do we believe it?

My dearest brothers and sisters, that too, points to the gift of faith.  A deep trust and confidence in Jesus, in the promise of the Holy Spirit; that the Holy Spirit will prompt us when we proclaim the good news of Jesus, when we teach, when we go before others and into the world.

A Clash of Cultures: Life vs. Death

As we celebrate today the call of the Gospel of Life, certainly we recall the encyclical, Evangelium Vitae (EV) of John Paul the Great in 1995.  John Paul warned that we live in a time of spiritual battle and spiritual warfare.  He stated, “…we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the ‘culture of death’ and the ‘culture of life.’

We find ourselves not only ‘faced with,’ but necessarily ‘in the midst of’ this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life” (EV 28).

John Paul the Great referred to the importance of all of us having the responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life, and that is true of anyone who claims to be Catholic.  One must see the dignity of human life, the beauty and goodness of human life, from the moment of conception until natural death.

My brothers and sisters, it is essential for us to be those who proclaim that truth, to be those who give witness to it.

Pope Francis, in a September 20th address to participants of an international meeting of Catholic Medical Associations, reminded them:

“Every child who, rather than being born, is condemned unjustly to being aborted, bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord, who even before he was born, and then just after birth, experienced the world’s rejection. And every elderly person – I spoke of children: let us move to the elderly, another point! And every elderly person, even if he is ill or at the end of his days, bears the face of Christ. They cannot be discarded, as the ‘culture of waste’ suggests! They cannot be thrown away!”

And it is precisely a “throw away culture” that Pope Francis speaks about often, that is truly a “culture of death,” a culture that turns its back on the truth of Jesus Christ and the dignity of the human person.  John Paul II would remind us, “We are asked to love and honor the life of every man and woman, and to work with perseverance and courage, so that our time, marked by all too many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit of a culture of truth and of love” (EV 77).

It is important for us to understand that we are called to promote a culture of truth and love that springs from that encounter with love, who is Jesus Christ.  And in that encounter with love, in that encounter with mercy, we come to know and to receive he who is the Son of God.

We know too that we live in a culture that is deeply rooted – at least at this point in time – in relativism: each and every person is free to choose what the truth is.  And with that type of approach, with no common approach to truth, that means that if each person is deciding what truth is, there is going to be conflict.

There are going to be disagreements. And those “multiple truths” can lead to war, to violence, to a throw away culture, to disregard for the dignity of the human person and to hatred of our brother or sister.

Human beings are capable of discovering truth, and that the truth is a person, it is Jesus Christ who leads us into all truth, who is valid for every human being. We are called to proclaim that in love.  We must propose those truths constantly and courageously, helping people to come to know the truth of Christ.

Formed Consciences Change the Culture

We are reminded by our former Holy Father, soon-to-be Saint John Paul II, “The first and fundamental step towards… cultural transformation consists in forming consciences with regard to the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life” (EV 96).

It is important for us to form consciences, especially in our own time when people are told, “Well, just follow your conscience.”  Most people today do not even know what conscience is, let alone that they are called to form their conscience.  It is essential that we help people to understand that conscience is the voice of God living within the human heart (Guadium et Spes 16).  They must quietly listen for that voice and open their hearts to it.

But if one rejects God and says there is no God, then one’s conscience becomes deadened and hardened, because you deny that there is even a voice to listen to. And that is a sin against the Holy Spirit.  It is failing to recognize the dignity of the human person and that we are truly created in the image and likeness of God.

Sadly, what has happened with so many Catholics today is that they have come to understand conscience as listening to their own voice, rather than listening to the voice of God as he has revealed himself in Scripture and in Tradition.  It is essential for us in whatever field of life we are in, in whatever vocation we are in, to be those who help people form their consciences, to understand what conscience is, and that yes, and understand that one’s conscience can become hardened, can become deadened, and can be erroneous when it is not faithful to God and to the truth.

Any time anyone supports or takes the life of an unborn child or promotes assisted suicide or euthanasia or treats others as though they can be thrown away, their conscience is deadened and erroneous, and they are not listening to the voice of God or the voice of truth but rather are listening to the father of lies, to the evil one.

The Gospel of Life and the Archdiocese

Finally, we too in the archdiocese must be those who go, as Pope Francis has said so often, to the outskirts; to be those who go out into the world, into the “culture of death” – the “culture of waste,” and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Twenty years ago when John Paul II visited Denver for World Youth Day, he reminded the young people at the closing Mass:

“Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places, like the first Apostles who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel (Cf. Rm 1:16). It is the time to preach it from the rooftops (Cf. Mt 10:27). Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living, in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern ‘metropolis.’ It is you who must ‘go out into the byroads’ (Mt 22:9) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father.”

John Paul II noted, in that time 20 years ago, of the importance of giving witness, of the importance of trusting in the Lord and proclaiming the Gospel.

In his September 20th address, Pope Francis reminded those involved in medical care that they were to “…be witnesses and diffusers of the “culture of life.” Your being Catholic entails a greater responsibility: first of all to yourselves, through a commitment consistent with your Christian vocation; and then to contemporary culture, by contributing to recognizing the transcendent dimension of human life, the imprint of God’s creative work, from the first moment of its conception. This is a task of the New Evangelization that often requires going against the tide and paying for it personally. The Lord is also counting on you to spread the ‘gospel of life.’”   In closing his address, Pope Francis stated to the health care workers, and I state to you today, “The credibility of a health care system is not measured solely by efficiency, but above all by the attention and love given to the person, whose life is always sacred and inviolable.”

My dearest sisters and brothers, it is essential for us to understand these truths, to understand what both Pope Francis and soon-to-be St. John Paul II speak to us in terms of our mission in the New Evangelization.

It is only with great confidence and intimacy with the Holy Spirit that we will go forth and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  It is only trusting in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and praying for those gifts of the Holy Spirit, of knowledge, understanding, wisdom, counsel, fortitude, fear of the Lord, and piety, asking the Holy Spirit to stir those gifts into flame, that I may go into the “culture of death” and proclaim the only hope, who is Jesus Christ, to proclaim the goodness of life!

Each and every one of you, my brothers and sisters, whether you are physicians, nurses, dentists, or therapists, whether you are seminarians or teachers, in whatever field you may be, you always have the opportunity to proclaim Christ by how you live—to be those who point to the truth of our Lord and call others into relationship with him.  And you must always be rooted in charity as you help people to come to know the love of Christ.

As we continue with our celebration of the Eucharist today, first, I encourage you to open your hearts to Jesus Christ, to be those who enter into deeper communion and deeper intimacy with our Lord.  My brothers and sisters, Jesus hungers for each and every one of you. He desires to be your best friend. And he is with you always, even in those moments when you may feel lonely or in those moments when you may feel abandoned, or in those moments when the devil will tempt you with fear or distrust.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and most especially in the Eucharist that you will receive.

Secondly, I encourage you to be those who truly give witness to our Lord in the public square.  Be not afraid, as John Paul the Great spoke those words, be not afraid!  Do not let fear or discouragement keep you from proclaiming the “gospel of life” and entering into the “culture of death,” the “culture of waste.”  There are opportunities every day for you to proclaim the truth, to be participants in the New Evangelization.

Finally, my brothers and sisters, as you receive the Eucharist today, I ask you to open your hearts to our Lord. Pray to him. It is the closest you can be to our Lord, every time you receive the Eucharist.  Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, pray for wisdom to know how to evangelize, to be those who trust in the Holy Spirit.

Open your heart in prayer and pray especially for those who are so deeply rooted in the “culture of death.”  Pray for their conversion, pray for their change of heart, pray that the Blood of Jesus will flow over their consciences, that the Blood of Jesus will flow over their hearts and minds to take away the hardness, to open them to the truth, to his love and mercy.  It is only with fervent prayer that our culture will be transformed and that we will have the strength to continue to proclaim the “gospel of life” – that Jesus has truly come into the world so that we might have life and life abundantly.  God bless you and thank you for your witness to 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.”