Iron sharpens iron

Become a sharper man with some of Denver's men's ministries

Courage. Strength. Leadership. These are but a few of the qualities men were created to exude; staples of masculinity that draw each man closer to God.

Scripture has a lot to say about how men ought to be. God created Adam to be king and overseer of all he had created, and he was called to be a leader to his wife, Eve. Man was also created to be a father to his children, to raise them to know and serve the Lord, and teach them his commandments. While the culture perpetuates several different stereotypes about what a true man is, only God can truly give a man his name and reveal to him who he was created to be. This can be an intimidating endeavor, but the good news is men don’t have to – nor were they created to – do it alone.

Men need other men to stay sharp. God designed it this way. Proverbs 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” and this foundational principle is at the heart of the many men’s ministries that exist in Denver and beyond. It’s never too late for a man to seek Christ, and doing so with other men makes the journey even more fruitful. If you’re man in need of a good sharpening, consider one of these men’s ministries.

Marked Men For Christ

Marked Men For Christ was co-founded in the early 2000s by Steve Spicer and Father John Lager, who currently serves as the national chaplain for Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Father Lager has resided in Denver for the past 33 years, and has given many retreats over the years. He recalled that in 1995, it became clear to him that many men’s retreats get “no further than down past the neck.”

“A lot of it was heady and not much was seeking into the heart,” Father Lager said.

He and his friend Steve Spicer began to pray about beginning a men’s ministry of their own. Led by the Holy Spirit, they named the ministry Marked Men For Christ and conceptualized what it would entail.

The reason why Marked Men survives and exists is to build stronger men for Jesus Christ. We just want to build men up. This is one tool of many that help men grow in the reality that grace builds on nature.”

The ministry revolves around a “44-hour experience of intense, experiential opportunities for men to look at their own woundedness and seek God’s healing,” Father Lager said of the weekend retreat, which they refer to as Phase One. The wounds the retreat focuses on are common wounds of man – fear, sadness, anger, loss and shame – and are meant to mirror the five wounds of Christ.

The first weekend retreat was in November 2002; now, 15 years later, over 260 retreats have been done and over 8,500 men have earned the title “marked man for Christ.” What’s more, Marked Men For Christ has reached far beyond the borders of the U.S., having held weekends in countries such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland and even Rwanda and Uganda.

After going through Phase One, men are invited to Phase Two, which allows them to unpack the things God revealed to them during the Phase One weekend, and from there, they have the option to go onto Phase Three, which is an accountability and prayer group that meets regularly.

“The reason why Marked Men survives and exists is to build stronger men for Jesus Christ. We just want to build men up,” Father Lager explained. “This is one tool of many that help men grow in the reality that grace builds on nature.”

If you’re interested in attending a Marked Men For Christ Phase One weekend, visit markedmenforchrist.org.

Patriarch

So you want to start a men’s group, but don’t have any clue where to start because let’s face it: Starting a men’s group can be really intimidating.

That’s where Patriarch comes in.

Started by Father John Ignatius in 2006, what began as a small gathering of men has grown to eleven different groups of men nationwide and an annual fall retreat of about 50 men. Patriarch equips men with the resources and curriculum they need to start a group of their own.

According to the ministry’s website, Patriarch is “based on the premise that God is a patriarch and God’s purpose is to raise up patriarchs.” Ed Lugo, who helps with development for Patriarch, said the goal is for a group of men to be tight-knit.

“They have to have some ownership of their group that allows people to really enter in so there is a healthy dynamic in the group,” Lugo said. “You want the guys in the group to all know each other.”

Because of this, it’s a little more difficult for men to get plugged in to an already existing group. Rather, men are encouraged to start their own group with other men they already have relationships with.

A typical Patriarch meeting begins in the book of Genesis and is generally as follows: there is an opening prayer based on a Psalm, a time for reflection focusing on a patriarch from Genesis, and a closing prayer and resolution where men state how they’re going to utilize the lesson learned back at home with their families.

The fruits of Patriarch can be seen in the ways the mens’ wives respond, Father Ignatius said.

“Wives make space in the schedule because they see the value of men having substantial spiritual fraternal time together, and that the men take more initiative in the spiritual leadership of the families,” he said.

“Whenever you gather men around the Word of God in a prayerful way, grace happens. It’s not just shared human wisdom, it’s shared divine wisdom that’s being applied and being aspired to growing as men, as husbands, as fathers.”

If you’re interested in starting a Patriarch group, be sure to visit patriarchmen.org.

Men For All Seasons

As one of the biggest parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver, it should come as no surprise that St. Thomas More has one of the most thriving parish men’s ministries. Started 10 years ago and still going strong today, Men For All Seasons draws up to 150 men each Friday that it meets during the school year.

Using engaging content and small group discussions, Men For All Seasons is an hour each week that men can come and engage in “spiritual exercise,” as Steve Bell calls it. Bell has been involved in the ministry from the beginning, and is one of 20 core team members who facilitate the program.

“[Men] spend a lot of time focusing on our work, we spend a lot of time focusing on our physical exercise; our point is that spiritual exercise should be as important to our lives as our work and our families and our physical exercise,” Bell explained. “Take an hour a week to exercise the spiritual side of your lives.”

At St. Thomas More Men For All Seasons ministry, nearly 150 men consecrated themselves to Mary after reading through Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory. (Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic)

Men For All Seasons has used That Man Is You, Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series and more as curriculum to feed the men who come. Recently, the group went through Father Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, which resulted in a first for the ministry: on the Feast of the Annunciation, 150 men consecrated themselves to Mary.

Paul Lum Lung and his wife, Colleen, have been facilitating Father Gaitley’s programs at St. Thomas More for the past five years, and as a member of the content committee, it was Lum Lung’s suggestion to lead the men through 33 Days to Morning Glory. Father Gaitley emphasizes the importance of being consecrated to Mary, and that struck a chord with Lum Lung.

“Marian consecration is basically consecration to Jesus,” he explained. “Mary, being his mother, knew Jesus best. By consecrating yourself to Mary, that’s going to enable her to lead you to Jesus.”

Men For All Seasons meets at 6:20 a.m. every Friday during the school year at St. Thomas More Parish.

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.”