Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered the world “full of grace and truth,” born to reveal the Father’s love for the world, yet born to suffer, to be crucified, to die and to be buried, and then to rise conquering sin and death.
This week, we enter the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection as we celebrate the sacred triduum. In the Mass and in Scripture and in the Church, the events of 2,000 years ago become present to us. The triduum is ancient and yet present to us now.
More than 2,000 years ago, God became man, entering into the fabric of time as a small and vulnerable child. In the love God and in the family of Mary and Joseph he grew to be a man. He gathered a Church to himself and he preached the kingdom of God.
By signs and wonders we knew he had come as the suffering servant, fulfilling the promises in the book of Isaiah.
We begin the sacred triduum by remembering the Church that Christ gathered. On Holy Thursday, in the breaking of bread and the washing of feet, we remember that Christ came to serve us. We remember that he called us to serve one another.
On Good Friday, we remember that he suffered in our place. We also remember that the Son of God was led like a sheep to be slaughtered. He bore our sin: “He was pierced for our sinfulness and he was crushed for our transgressions.”
By violence and cowardice and betrayal, the Prince of Peace died on a cross for our sins.
On Good Friday, we remember that he called us to suffer for one another—to love one another to the point of death.
But the sacred triduum does not end with death. Jesus Christ died in order to set us free from death. All of us will die an earthly death. In his death, Jesus Christ became like us in mortality.
The sacred triduum ends with Resurrection. Christ died, and then he rose again. Because Jesus died, as we will, death is redeemed. Because he died, we can be resurrected. We can be set free of our sins and set free from death to live eternal life. In death “life is changed, not ended.”
It’s easy to forget how radical the mystery of the triduum really is. It is easy to go through the motions. This year, I pray that you will not take Easter for granted. I pray that you and your family will enter into the mystery of Christ’s death, and of our resurrection.
Lectio divina is the practice of prayerful reading of the sacred Scripture. It is a way to encounter Jesus Christ and to live the mysteries of his life. This Easter, I will enter into the triduum through the liturgies of the week and through lectio divina. I pray that your family will join me.
On Holy Thursday, begin with Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 22. Sit with your family in a quiet place. Read the chapter aloud. Read it slowly. Ask the Lord to be present to you. Ask him to show you himself. Sit silently with the Scripture. Place yourself in the Scripture using your imagination. Listen to the Lord as he speaks to your heart. Share the Lord with one another.
The next day, Good Friday, read the 23rd Chapter of Luke. Ask God to be present to you. Allow yourself to be present as Christ is crucified for our sins.
On Easter, take some time together. Read the 24th Chapter of Luke. Rejoice with one another in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Rejoice that Christ is “truly raised!”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Easter is a “source of light,” which fills us “with its brilliance.” Easter is the “feast of feasts” and “solemnity of solemnities.”
Easter is the mystery that gives meaning to our Christian lives.
This year, I pray that Easter will be a source of light for you. I pray you will enter its mysteries. I pray that Christ, our risen savior and brother, will fill you with his brilliance and with his joy and peace that no one can take from you!
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”