Francis de Sales, Lenten lessons and praying for journalists

Sometimes Lent can seem overwhelming. Everyday life is already time-consuming, so adding a bu


St. Francis de Sales

nch of extra spiritual practices can seem doomed to fail. Luckily, Catholicism possesses a spiritual tradition that says we can sanctify our everyday lives. One of the saints who best understood this was St. Francis de Sales. Even though he lived in 16th century France, he taught lessons on the spiritual life that are still applicable today.

1.He was supernaturally patient
I’m usually pretty adamant about remembering the saints were human, but sometimes their virtue is so inspiring we just have to talk about it. St. Francis de Sales was a master of patience and humility.  He knew he was going to be a priest in his early teens, but waited because his parents didn’t approve. Then, it turned out he was a terrible pastor. His homilies frequently came across condescending and his parishioners were uncomfortable around him, so he worked diligently to correct that.  He wasn’t desperate to “start his life” or “make his mark” like so many of us are. He was willing to see where God took him, and he wasn’t afraid to take the long route.
Perhaps the story that best illustrates this is the story of how he battled Calvinism.
Just across the Alps of Francis’ homeland, the Protestant reformation was in full force. Francis was convinced that he was going to convert all 60,000 Calvinists back to the Catholic faith. Unfortunately, no one supported him, so he went with only his cousin for support. The Calvinists hated him with a passion they usually reserved for private revelation. They threw rocks at him, slammed doors in his face and refused any semblance of hospitality, which was pretty dangerous in that corner of the world. St. Francis had to actually sleep in trees so that wolves wouldn’t attack him. One night, the weather turned so cold that he woke up unable to move and his cousin had to cut him down.
After three years, they didn’t have a single convert. His cousin left him at that point.
Yet he didn’t give up. He found creative ways to communicate with people who wouldn’t answer their doors (more on that later). Since the parents wouldn’t come to him, Francis began to evangelize their children. Much like the parents who follow their kids after a Steubenville conference, the parents began to listen to Francis after they saw the effect he had on their children. He is accredited with converting as many as 40,000 souls back to Catholicism. As a result, he was made bishop of Geneva, Switzerland.

St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal

2. He believed the laity could be holy

This was counter-cultural. The prevailing thought at the time was that holiness was only for priests and religious. St. Francis de Sales wasn’t buying it. He believed that God wanted every soul to come to Heaven, so even the simplest of actions must be open for sanctification. He believed that as a bishop, it was his job to guide everyday people toward holiness, often through spiritual direction. He even spiritually directed St. Jane de Chantal! He also wrote letters and gave advice to his parishioiners and directees. These writings have been compiled in his most famous work, Introduction to the Devout Life. Here are some of his quotes that are still applicable today:
On growing close to Christ in the midst of a busy schedule: “Retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God.”
On prayer having fruit in one’s life: To be an
in prayer and a beast in one’s relations with people is to go lame on both legs.”
On relationships showing us how to love Christ: “The thoughts of those moved by natural human love are almost completely fastened on the beloved, their hearts are filled with passion for it, and their mouths full of its praises… Thus too those who love God can never stop thinking about him, longing for him, aspiring to him, and speaking about him. If they could, they would engrave the name of Jesus on the hearts of all humankind.”
3. He’s the patron saint of journalists
When he lived in Switzerland, no one would listen to his homilies and sermons. St. Francis de Sales solved this by writing down his sermons and slipping them under people’s doors, which some sources claim is the first instance of religious tracts being used to communicate with people (please forgive him). He also communicated the Truth in a way that encouraged ordinary people to grow closer to Christ. His life serves as a reminder to pray for all those who work in media, so that they may use their communication skills for good, like he did.

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.”