Messages from the holy souls

Compelling film reveals Church teaching on purgatory

Five years ago, while meditating before the Blessed Sacrament, filmmaker John Clote was praying for his recently deceased mother and thinking of others who had passed on when he felt an urge to pray for an acquaintance named Michael George who had died suddenly some 15 years earlier.

“I said to him, ‘Michael, if you need someone to be your friend, to pray for you, I’ll be happy to do that,’” he told the Denver Catholic Register by phone from Chicago.

“It was an offhand prayer,” he recalled about that noontime adoration visit.

Its result, however, was startling.

“I went back to my office … flipped open my computer to check email, and at the top email the subject line said, ‘Michael George would like to know if you would be his friend.’

“I got the message,” he asserted, explaining that the email that conveyed it was an invitation from a yearbook company.

The experience impelled him to make a film about purgatory.

Purgatory DVD

Now a Conventual Franciscan friar who plans to be ordained to the priesthood in two years, the veteran filmmaker’s DVD, “Purgatory: The Forgotten Church” was released in August.

The 85-minute film by Lightbridge film productions, a ministry of the Conventual Franciscans of St. Bonaventure Province in Chicago, is a polished, comprehensive look at a frequently misunderstood topic. It features interviews with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, author and holy souls advocate Susan Tassone, near-death experience expert Jeffrey Long, a Jesuit theologian, a rabbi and others.

“The film is for as wide an audience as possible,” Friar Clote said. “I wanted to do it not just for the person who has faith … but to reach out to people who may be questioning whether there’s anything after this life.”

Informative and compelling, “Purgatory: The Forgotten Church” starts by exploring near-death experiences, using them as a springboard to Catholic teaching.

“The magisterium only teaches three things about purgatory,” Friar Clote explained. “That after-death purification takes place and it’s real; that the purification involves suffering; and that the souls of those in purgatory can be aided greatly by the prayers and sacrifices of the living.”

Divine mercy

The souls in purgatory are “holy,” Cardinal George says in the film, because they can no longer sin. They are “poor,” he adds, because while they can pray for others, they can no longer pray for themselves so are dependent on the prayers of others.

The primary message of the film is divine mercy, Friar Clote said.

“Because purgatory is outside of space and time, we can pray for people who died 500 years ago or 100 years ago. … God can apply a prayer you say today for your great-great-great grandmother or grandfather and could have already applied it to their merit because he knew you were going to pray for them,” Friar Clote said. “That’s why it’s an expression of divine mercy.”

The communion of saints

The souls in purgatory have an uncanny ability to connect with those they know are praying for them in ways that those individuals find meaningful, the friar said.

“I’ve seen that repeated over and over again. Susan Tassone writes a lot of those stories in her books,” he said, adding that Tassone’s book “Praying with the Saints for the Holy Souls in Purgatory,” was a key resource for the film.

Many examples are in the DVD, which aims to reinvigorate the solidarity Catholic faithful have with deceased loved ones and remind them of their vital role in the communion of saints as the “Church militant” to pray for the “Church suffering” (the souls in purgatory) in union with the “Church triumphant” (the saints).

“It’s really to get people to pray,” Friar Clote said, adding that he hopes the film, which can be ordered online (cost $19.95, add $5 for shipping and handling; www.purgatoryforgottenchurch.com), will be used for youth and adult religious education as part of the new evangelization.

A new vocation

Friar Clote’s previous work includes the award-winning “Ocean of Mercy,” on St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Maximilian Kolbe and Blessed John Paul II.

A successful media executive, six years ago he entered the Conventual Franciscans to answer a call to priesthood he’d originally heard in his 20s but had put on the back burner as he focused on a career in broadcast journalism. However, he quickly grew fatigued by the sameness of the stories and the coarse environment.

“A lot of (journalism) doesn’t elevate our soul,” the 47-year-old writer/director said. “I saw our newsroom passing over great stories … because they had a faith element.”

Not only is his latest DVD inspiring—you can view a trailer online—but the website through which it’s ordered also offers the opportunity to enter names of the deceased to be remembered at a Mass by the Conventual Franciscans at no cost.

“If people feel a nudge to pray for a loved one or even someone they don’t know,” Friar Clote said, “they should be encouraged to do that in trust and faith.”

For a list of books on purgatory by Susan Tassone, visit www.susantassone.com.

 

 

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.”