You live in an age of miracles

The Gospel for this past Sunday began, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book.” Miracles and signs have not ceased since the time of Christ, in fact, on April 27 the Church celebrated the canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II – two men who have profoundly changed the lives of many and changed the course of history.

Two nights before the canonization, I was having dinner, and a priest approached me with a huge smile on his face and a look of pure joy in his eyes. He had noticed I was a bishop and wanted to tell me how happy he was that he was going to be able to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis at the canonization. He was actually ordained in 1957 by Pope John XXIII when he was the Archbishop of Venice. He showed me a black and white photo of his ordination and could not have been more overjoyed at the wonder of being able to celebrate the canonization.

My connection is with Pope John Paul II. I first had the chance to see him during a visit to Rome in 1983. Over the years, I was blessed to be able to meet him several times, first as a priest and later as a bishop. The most memorable time was World Youth Day in Denver when I assisted with three of the Masses he celebrated and the archdiocesan welcome ceremony.

When I arrived in Rome for the canonization, the air buzzed with the electricity of people from all over the world gathered for the celebration. I met a pilgrim group from Bergamo, the home of St. John XXIII, and ran into many Polish pilgrims. On Friday, I was surprised to learn that I was going to be concelebrating the canonization Mass. It was truly a blessing, and I was able to feel the closeness of Saint John Paul II as we celebrated the Eucharist.

For me, and for so many priests, sisters and laity, John Paul II was a spiritual father who drew me into the embrace of the Father, brought me closer to the Son and helped me know the love of the Holy Spirit. On the occasions when I was able to meet him, it was apparent that he was a true disciple of Jesus Christ, filled with Christ’s love and compassion. And in his declining years, he taught the world how to approach illness and death as a Christian.

Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles echoed a theme of the Gospel reading, speaking about how “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.”

This experience of awe at the signs and wonders being done is something that is not a thing of the past. We know from the investigations done for the causes of John XXIII and John Paul II that miracles have happened through their intercession, and they continue to happen today.

In the case of John XXIII, the miracle involved the cure and ongoing health of Sister Caterina Capitani of the Daughters of Charity. In 1954 she discovered that her spleen and pancreas were not functioning well and had caused ulcerous tumors to develop on the lining of her stomach.

She ended up having her pancreas, spleen and almost all of her stomach removed, and after several months of suffering and the development of a fistula in her abdomen, she was expected to die. The sisters of her order insisted that she pray to Pope John XXIII, and in 1966 when she seemed near death, she had a vision of the pontiff.

He told Sr. Caterina: “You prayed to me very much. … You have really taken this miracle from my heart. But don’t be afraid now, you are healed. … I will hold my hand on your wound, and you will be healed.”

The postulator of Pope John Paul II’s sainthood cause said that thousands of miracles were reported, but the official miracles involved the cure of a French sister Simon Pierre Normand from Parkinson’s disease and the cure of Floribeth Mora Diaz of Costa Rica from a brain aneurysm.

The healing of Mora Diaz, a Costa Rican mother of four children, is striking because she discovered in April 2011 that she had a brain aneurysm and was told she had one month to live. She could have gone to Cuba or Mexico for surgery if she had the money, but her family did not. All they could do was pray.

Over the next month she turned to John Paul II, to whom she had a strong devotion. On May 1, 2011 she watched his beatification on TV and then fell asleep. A few hours later, she heard John Paul II’s voice, “Rise! … Do not be afraid.” She was filled with peace, “a peace that assured me I was healed.”

As I concelebrated at the canonization Mass, I felt the presence of both of them and was aware of how true it is that we live in a time of signs and wonders. We only need to open the eyes of our hearts and minds and put our faith in Jesus Christ and his Church.

May this Easter season be one in which you experience the resurrection of Jesus in a personal way, and may you become aware of the signs he gives you and have faith in the Father’s providential love for you. He desires to perform wonders in your life through his Son and the intercession of the saints!

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.”