Media missed synod’s testimonies of joy

In the days since the Synod on the Family ended, I have had some people tell me they are confused or worried about the results of the gathering. Many of them have listened to the secular media reports that openly advocate for the Church to change her teaching on marriage and human sexuality, but they did not read the actual documents.

Outside of the media spotlight, the synod heard beautiful testimonies from couples and bishops around the world who had experienced the truth of the Church’s teaching on marriage. But since those stories didn’t fit the media narrative, they didn’t make it into the newspapers or nightly newscasts.

The joy of the Gospel of Marriage is alive! This was especially clear in Pope Francis’ remarks at the conclusion of the synod. During the synod, he said, the testimonies provided moments of “consolation and grace and comfort.” The couples who spoke shared “the beauty and the joy of their married life,” and they bore witness to a journey “where the stronger feel compelled to help the less strong, where the more experienced are led to serve others, even through confrontations.”

The media never reported on the strong witness given to marriage and the stories of the joy that comes from living out of the Church’s teaching.

Still, the tone and content of some of the discussions worried some people.

The great Catholic writer and thinker G.K. Chesterton once wrote in his book “The Everlasting Man:” “Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”

Jesus knew the way out of the grave, and he assured St. Peter the “gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against” the Church (Mt 16:18). We live in particularly challenging times where secularism is rampant, but that makes it the perfect time to trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s promise to St. Peter. It is the perfect time to speak the truth of the Gospel with joy and to urge people to encounter Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis noted this, too, in his opening address to the synod. “I ask you to speak with frankness and listen with humility,” he told the synod fathers. “Do so with tranquility and peace, for the synod always takes cum Petro et sub Petro—with Peter and under Peter—and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee for all and the safeguard of the faith.”

And at the closing he declared, “And I have felt that what was set before our eyes was the good of the Church, of families, and the ‘supreme law’ the ‘good of souls.’ And this always (was the goal)—we have said it here, in the hall—without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of Marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, the openness to life.”

Pope Francis also addressed the way the discussions unfolded in his closing remarks. The synod, he said, was marked by moments of “profound consolation” and moments of “desolation, of tensions and temptation.”

For “traditionalists” and intellectuals, the Holy Father said the temptation was to become consumed with the letter of the law, while “progressives and liberals” risked buying into a “deceptive mercy” that binds wounds without “first curing and treating them.” He also noted the synod fathers face the temptation to “neglect the ‘depositum fidei’(deposit of faith), not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters (of it).”

These are real problems that have to be addressed, but it seems to me that an even greater temptation exists for the faithful: doubting the Holy Spirit and Christ’s promise to St. Peter. Pope Francis did not miss this either, citing the tendency of commentators and others to doubt the Holy Spirit, “the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church.”

“The Holy Spirit,” he reminded the synod fathers, “has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.”

The discussions of the synod over Communion for the divorced and remarried were certainly vigorous and took the spotlight off of the joy of the Gospel of Marriage and the struggles of families. On his flight back from the Holy Land last May, Pope Francis told journalists that the point of the synod was much broader than the lightning rod issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried, it will be about “both the rich reality of the family and the problems faced by families,” he said.

During the coming year, I ask you to pray that the joys of family life in light of the teaching of the Church are made known to the world, and the struggles of modern families are healed with authentic mercy, a mercy that conveys the truth with love.

Instead of being troubled by the intense debate, I urge you to remember St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians, who were experiencing divisions within their own community and struggling with understanding how their various gifts fit into the life of the Church.

St. Paul spoke to the Corinthians about a “more excellent way,” the way of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7-8). Our love for Christ and his Church is what should carry us through trying times. We must love and trust Christ even in the challenges of our times.

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.”