Jesus made Pope Francis ‘Person of the Year’

On Dec. 11, the world learned that Time Magazine had named Pope Francis its “Person of the Year” for the speed with which he pulled the “papacy out of the palace and into the streets.” But if you read his first apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), it becomes clear that his acts of love are motivated by more than a desire to be in the streets.

The press focused on the huge change in the public’s perception of the Church and papacy, as is evidenced by the media’s fascination with him over the past seven months. But Pope Francis is not concerned with fame or with what the media thinks. Instead, he is focused on our hearts and what leads to their conversion.

The papal spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, reacted to the recognition from Time by saying, “As for the pope himself, he’s not someone who seeks fame and success, because he has put his life at the service of announcing the Gospel of the love of God for mankind.”

This message of God’s love for mankind is accompanied by the pope reminding us that sin has consequences, that it hurts us individually and at the communal level. The consequence of sin is unhappiness.  We all know this and we experience it every time violence, corruption and selfishness—some of the fruits of sin—disfigure our lives.

Here in the archdiocese, all we need to do is look to the Dec. 13 shooting at Arapahoe High School and the horrific mass shootings that have preceded it.  Evil really exists in the hearts of people, and only the love of Jesus Christ can change it.  As Catholics we must pray for an end to all sin and all violence, and proclaim the love of Jesus Christ to the world.

In the midst of a fallen, broken and confused world, Pope Francis proclaims in “Evangelii Gaudium” that what gives him joy is meeting, knowing and loving Jesus. He calls on each of us to personally encounter the merciful Christ, acknowledge our sinfulness and follow him.

“No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her,” the pope writes, “since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’ … Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace (EG, 3).’”

And then Pope Francis exclaims, “How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost!”

It is essential for each and every one of us to experience God’s forgiveness and mercy at the personal level, and we cannot stop there. In the Gospels we can see how the encounter with Jesus changed the lives of Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, the apostles, and so many others.  Once a person encounters Jesus’ personal love for them, they leave sin, turn to love and proclaim it to others. They become generous in their love.

So far, the press has focused on Pope Francis’ touching embrace of the sick and poor, his acts of charity, his words of acceptance for those who feel marginalized, while his call to conversion to Jesus Christ is left in the background. But the Holy Father is only able to live the Gospel because his heart was changed by personally meeting Jesus in prayer, in the sacraments, in the Scriptures, in the teaching of the Church, and in the poor. He sees the face of Jesus in every person he encounters. That is not something the press will cover, but it is crucial for us to discover, especially because his loving relationship with Jesus is what made possible all of the things Time praises him for in its “Person of the Year” announcement.

In “Evangelii Gaudium” the pope also speaks about how choosing to follow Christ has consequences. He explains that once we experience God’s loving goodness we trust him and decide to follow him. This should change how we live our personal lives, how we desire in our hearts to live the virtues and avoid sin, how we treat the less fortunate and how we use our skills and talents for the common good. In short, our faith in Jesus Christ and his personal love for me can change the world as we have seen by the lives of the saints.

There is much more to the pope’s exhortation than can be considered here, so I encourage every person in the archdiocese to read “Evangelii Gaudium.” The Gospel is not about fame; it is about humbly receiving the love of the God who has loved us first and proclaiming that love to the world.

My Christmas prayer for you is that as we approach the annual celebration of the in-breaking of God into human history, the revelation of the Father’s love for humanity, I urge each of one you to walk with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, to receive Jesus in your hearts in a new and more intimate way, to take a step toward the Father’s loving embrace so that you can bring the witness of his love and mercy to a world that is desperate for it.

May each one of us cry out with the angels and proclaim to the world: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”

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.”