In a Feb. 25 letter, Pope Francis asked for families to pray for the upcoming
Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is being convened this fall
at the Vatican to discuss the pastoral challenges to the family in the context
of evangelization. He also asked for prayers for the World
Meeting of Families, which is set for September 2015 in Philadelphia.
Below is the full text of the letter.
With this letter, I wish, as it were, to come into your homes to speak about an
event which will take place at the Vatican this coming October. It is the
Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is being convened
to discuss the theme of “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of
evangelization.” Indeed, in our day the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel
by confronting the new and urgent pastoral needs facing the family.
This important meeting will involve all the People of God – bishops, priests,
consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular Churches of the
entire world – all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the
meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer. Such
support on your part, dear families, is especially significant and more
necessary than ever. This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to
you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the
challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the
role of the family in the life of the Church. I ask you, therefore, to pray
intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the synodal
Fathers and guide them in their important task. As you know, this Extraordinary
Synodal Assembly will be followed a year later by the Ordinary Assembly, which
will also have the family as its theme. In that context, there will also be the
World Meeting of Families due to take place in Philadelphia in September 2015.
May we all, then, pray together so that through these events the Church will
undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means
to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that
comes from the Gospel.
I am writing this letter to you on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in
the Temple. The evangelist Luke tells us that the Blessed Mother and St.
Joseph, in keeping with the Law of Moses, took the Baby Jesus to the temple to
offer him to the Lord, and that an elderly man and woman, Simeon and Anna,
moved by the Holy Spirit, went to meet them and acknowledged Jesus as the
Messiah (cf. Luke 2:22-38). Simeon took him in his arms and thanked God that he
had finally “seen” salvation. Anna, despite her advanced age, found new vigor
and began to speak to everyone about the Baby. It is a beautiful image: two
young parents and two elderly people, brought together by Jesus. He is the one
who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of
that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and
sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments:
meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of
mutual support. … Nevertheless, if there is no love then there is no joy, and
authentic love comes to us from Jesus. He offers us his word, which illuminates
our path; he gives us the Bread of Life which sustains us on our journey.
Dear families, your prayer for the Synod of Bishops will be a precious treasure
which enriches the Church. I thank you, and I ask you to pray also for me, so
that I may serve the People of God in truth and in love. May the protection of
the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph always accompany all of you and help you to
walk united in love and in caring for one another. I willingly invoke on every
family the blessing of the Lord.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”