Individual and cultural deafness

“Ephphatha!” proclaimed the Lord—“Be opened!”

We heard this proclamation in the Gospel this Sunday (Mk 7:34) as Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute.  All who witnessed this healing proclaimed God’s power. “He has done all things well.  He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mk 7:37).

Those who knew the Scripture also knew that Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Here is your God … he comes to save you,” the prophet declared, “then will … the ears of the deaf be cleared; then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Is 35: 4, 5). The healing the Lord gives demonstrates to us that he is truly God and truly man—the savior of the world.

Jesus healed by actions.  He put his fingers in the ear of the deaf man, and prayed as he did so, to remind us of the presence of the Trinity.  The Old Testament speaks often of the “finger of God” to prefigure the Holy Spirit.  By evoking the phrase, and looking upward to God the Father in heaven, Jesus makes clear that all three persons of the Trinity are present in the healing of the deaf and mute man.

Jesus healed because people had trust enough to ask—they brought the deaf mute man to him because of their faith in Him.  For us the act of faith begins a road to a life lived fully in the Trinity.

Pope Benedict has called for a “Year of Faith” starting this Oct. 11.  He is inviting us to renew and deepen our faith in Jesus and in his Church.  He is calling us to place our trust and confidence in Jesus and the promises given to us in the Gospel.

Faith is a gift given to us at baptism along with hope and charity.  Faith is a theological virtue—it transforms into an identity rooted in God’s identity.  Faith begins with the Father’s initiative in us. We respond by opening our hearts and minds to the truth given to us by Jesus and by the Church.

Faith can lie dormant in our souls if we do not pray for a deeper trust and confidence in Jesus.

Like the man in another Gospel story, we can cry out to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!”(Mk 9:24).  Let us pray this week for a deeper faith.

Sunday’s Gospel calls us to examine our lives and our hearts.  We can be deaf to hearing the word of God and the teachings of the Church.  A lack of catechesis, a resistance to a teaching, a hardness of heart, spiritual pride, or the influence of secular culture can render us deaf to the truth.  But Jesus can heal our deafness—he can set us free to the truth proclaimed by the Church and the Gospel.

We should ask the Holy Spirit to show us where we may be deaf to Jesus or a teaching of the Church.  Praying to the Holy Spirit for knowledge, understanding and wisdom is important each day.  Listening to the Holy Spirit regarding where we are called to conversion is essential.  We must desire to seek the truth and conform our lives to the Gospel.

Finally, these readings remind us of our obligation to evangelize.  Each of us is given opportunities within our family and neighborhoods, our society to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Our evangelization should be not only personal, but cultural.  We should evangelize by living our faith proudly in the public square—and by working toward healing our areas of cultural deafness.  America is deaf to the scourge of abortion, of poverty, of divorce. We should proclaim what is true on those issues—especially abortion—and on moral issues of cultural deafness.

We must hear the words given to us in the prophet Isaiah, “Be strong, fear not!”  They should remind us of the frequent words of Jesus, constantly re-echoed in the pontificate of Blessed John Paul the Great, “Be not afraid.”  We too often let fear keep us from proclaiming the truth of the Gospel or the teachings of the Church.  We are called to have courage, another gift of the Holy Spirit, fortitude, and we need to pray for that, too.

I encourage you during the course of the week to pray for a deeper faith.  Pray in the quiet of your home or make a visit to pray quietly in Church and ask the Holy Spirit to show you your deafness—the places where you need to hear the words “Be opened.” Finally, let us pray for the gift of fortitude to live our faith in the world and to proclaim the Gospel by our lives.

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.”