Respect for life means remembering God

In just three days, Catholics across the country will begin praying, fasting and going on pilgrimages as part of a united spiritual effort to loosen the grip of the culture of death on our beloved country.

This prayer campaign will have a powerful impact, even if it initially goes undetected. I think, for example, of the story of Abby Johnson, the former director of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas, who left her job, became pro-life and then later joined the Catholic Church.

The initial catalyst in her decision to leave Planned Parenthood was her experience of being physically present during an abortion. But she also credited the prayers of the 40 Days for Life campaign taking place at her clinic as an instrument in her decision.

As the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, Jan. 22, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is launching a novena campaign called Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage, in which I urge everyone throughout the archdiocese to participate.

The campaign will run from Jan. 18-26 and involves saying a prayer for nine consecutive days, making daily acts of reparation, and going on pilgrimage. Of course, the largest pilgrimage will be the National March for Life in Washington, D.C., which I will personally participate in along with some of the students of Bishop Machebeuf and Holy Family High schools. The organizers are also offering local suggestions for pilgrimages, such as prayer in front of Planned Parenthood clinics, visiting the Cathedral Basilica, and going to eucharistic adoration in a local Church.

Besides helping save unborn children and changing hearts, this effort is important because it helps restore the sense that every person’s dignity comes from being made in God’s image and likeness. It reinforces the love of God for the human person from the moment of his or her conception until natural death.

When a culture rejects God, it also inevitably rejects life and love—life becomes cheaper and more dispensable.

So when we participate in this time of prayer, penance and pilgrimage, we are also emphasizing the Christian belief that we are more than a complex assortment of chemical reactions and we come from God. The fact that we are made in God’s image and likeness means we are made for love, that our souls are immortal and made to be in communion with God, and that our intellects and wills have a spiritual capacity that the rest of physical creation lacks.

Sadly, this full understanding of human dignity is disappearing throughout America and the West.

The fruits of a society that has forgotten God are evident in the discussion we hear surrounding abortion “rights.” Those who support abortion call it a “women’s right,” but upon closer examination its claim to being a right is based only on the insistence that it is one. There is no transcendent truth or power to these claims, as there is with true rights, such as the rights to life and a dignified existence.

In 1994 Blessed Mother Teresa underscored the terrible consequences of disconnecting God from the idea of human dignity when she filed an amicus brief for two cases about abortion that were before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The “so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men,” she lamented. “It has shown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.

“Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government,” Mother Teresa insisted. “They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.”

In other words, these rights are not the product of whims or an exercise of power, rather, they have a divine foundation.

On the whole, American society has cast aside this truth in favor of rights that are determined by the trends of the moment.

We must work to resurrect the understanding that true rights are those that are derived from God and are in harmony with his will. One way we can do that is by participating in the Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage Novena.

Without God, cultures become ugly, and they open themselves up to the tyranny of what is most convenient or pleasurable.

This is not God’s design, which is inherently good, true and beautiful. God’s will is that every person be accepted, welcomed and loved by society. Let us work and pray so that our beloved country does not lose this gift.

9 Days for Life: Prayer, Penance, Pilgrimage

Join the U.S. bishops in the Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage Novena ( from Jan. 18-Jan. 26, which includes intercessions, reflections and suggested acts of reparation for each day. Acts of reparation are ways of atoning for a wrong. The following are examples from the novena.

Intercession: For elected leaders who oppose any restriction on the abortion license: May God allow them to grasp the brutal violence of abortion and the reality of post-abortion suffering experienced by countless women and men.
Our Father, 3 Hail Marys, Glory Be

Acts of Reparation (choose one):

• Go to confession—today, if possible or during this week.

• Fast from snacking today. Eat three meals only.

• Today, go visit an adoration chapel and spend an hour with Jesus.

Pilgrimage Sites
Suggested local pilgrimage sites include the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, 1530 Logan St. in Denver (open Mon.-Fri. 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sun. 6 a.m.-8 p.m.; west entrance always open) or the memorial to the unborn at Sacred Heart of Mary Parish cemetery, 6739 S. Boulder Road in Boulder (always open).

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.”