Need a Mercy Year?

During a penance service March 13 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis called for an extraordinary jubilee “that is to have the mercy of God at its center.”

The mercy jubilee—which will run from Dec. 8, 2015 through Nov. 20, 2016—is to be lived in light of Christ’s directive, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).

For those unfamiliar with the passage in Luke’s Gospel, it comes right after “love your enemies” and right before “stop judging and you will not be judged.”

Pope Francis explained that the Holy Year of Mercy will be the catalyst for “spiritual conversion” so that the Church can journey together toward making clear “its mission of being a witness to mercy.”

“No one can be excluded from the mercy of God” the pontiff said. “Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness.

“The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.”

The announcement came on the second anniversary of his election to the pontificate, and during the “24 Hours for the Lord” confession and Eucharistic adoration event taking place in participating parishes around the world.

“[God] really is ‘rich in mercy,’” Pope Francis assured those present, noting that he “extends his mercy with abundance over those who turn to him with a sincere heart.”

To drive the point home, the Holy Father offered a reflection on Luke’s account of the sinful woman (7:36-50), in which he underlined two words: “love and judgment.”

The love comes from the sinful woman, “who humbles herself before the Lord,” the Pope stated. “But first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach.”

“Love and forgiveness are simultaneous,” he added. “God forgives her much, everything, because ‘she loved much.’”

“This woman has really met the Lord,” the Holy Father reflected. “In silence, she opened her heart to him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness.

“For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.”

On the other side of the spectrum there is Simon the Pharisee, who “cannot find the path of love.”

“He stands firm upon the threshold of formality,” explained the pontiff. “He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome him.

“In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who his guest is. He stopped at the surface; he was not able to look to the heart.”

“The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person,” Pope Francis said. He encouraged the faithful to “focus on the heart,” and on the person’s capacity of “generosity.”

Evangelist of mercy

The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization has been charged with organizing the Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin with the opening of St. Peter’s Holy Door on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

In a note accompanying the announcement, the council revealed that the day is also the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

It will conclude Nov. 20, 2016, with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, whom Pope Francis called the “living face of the Father’s mercy.”

During the Jubilee, the Sunday readings for Ordinary Time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, the one referred to as “the evangelist of mercy.”

The official and solemn announcement of the Holy Year will take place on Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls every year on the Sunday after Easter.

In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the Jubilee Year, which was celebrated every 50 years, was meant to restore equality among all of the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom.

The Catholic tradition of the Holy Year began with Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, which moved the emphasis on the year to an opportunity to deepen one’s faith and to live with a renewed commitment to Christian witness.

Until present, there have been 26 ordinary Holy Year celebrations, the last of which was the Jubilee of 2000, called by John Paul II.

The last extraordinary jubilee year was in 1993, also called by John Paul, marking 1950 years of redemption.

The initial rite of the jubilee is the opening of the Holy Door. This door is one which is only opened during the Holy Year and which remains closed during all other years.

This rite of the opening of the Holy Door illustrates symbolically the idea that, during the Jubilee, the faithful are offered an “extraordinary pathway” towards salvation.

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.”