A saint for everybody

All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, the faithful pay tribute to canonized saints—those believed to already be in heaven based on a life “lived in fidelity to God’s grace” (CCC, No. 828). While All Saints’ Day is traditionally recognized as a holy day of obligation, it is not this year since it falls on a Saturday, according to John Miller, director of the Office of Liturgy for the archdiocese. However, for those who wish to attend Mass, call the parish office, see the parish bulletin or website, or visit www.archden.org/parish-locator for details on All Saints’ Day Mass times.

Recently, a dear friend of mine asked me for advice. Her father had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, being a convert, she wasn’t sure which saint she should turn to in such a seemingly hopeless situation.

Raised Lutheran, she still had reservations about the possibility of saintly miracles in moments of crisis. What would her parents say if she showed up with a statue? And who to turn to, if there are so many? This is what she wrote: “One thing I’ve struggled with as a convert is how to pray for an intersession from a saint without venturing into superstition? I also worry about ‘picking the saint’—that seems so irrational! What if I ‘choose’ the wrong one? Should I make the effort to procure a relic? Would my Lutheran parents think I’m a lunatic voodoo practitioner if I come with one?”

To Catholics, the saints are a great treasure and most of us have favorite saints during particular moments of hardship. Yet pondering my friend’s conundrum led to further thoughts on the meaning of saints in our faith. Why do we love our saints so much? Their greatest value lies not in humbling us, in making us feel small and wanting in the presence of their sanctity. On the contrary, they make us richer, because their stories remind us of who we can be within the limits of our human frailties and diverse personalities.

Hildegard of Bingen and Therese of Lisieux are two of our greatest saints, yet their personalities and great accomplishments, their “saintliness” on the face of it, couldn’t be more at odds. The former was bold and audacious, a mover and shaker; the latter taught us about love and holiness in littleness and simplicity.

There is a saint for everybody. But a saint, truly understood, cannot be like a flavor of the month, curiously and superficially appealing, or a statue on a pedestal to worship from a distance. Similarly, a saint is much more than a handmaiden to be called upon for miracles. Granted, we all have our favorites—saints whose stories amaze us and whose promises of miracles comfort us. However, we can only know that we have found “our” saint when we find the opposite of comfort.

It is when we both recognize ourselves and we feel challenged to the c ore. It is when we see parts of ourselves mirrored in the saint, and we see those shared traits transformed and lifted towards a greater unity with God that we encounter the challenge we must face— to become the best we can be. Saints are an image of what God expects from each one of us; they represent humanity exalted. It is here that the saints’ true gift to us comes to light. They are our prodding companions on our own personal journey toward deeper faith and closeness to God.

No saint has given us as lucid an example as Augustine of Hippo of such a journey. In his “Confessions,” we recognize the truly human in the saint and the way in which God tries to reach all of us. In Augustine, we recognize human weakness in all its forms. We recognize a lifelong struggle to come to terms with those weaknesses and, finally, to surrender to God’s grace.

God rejoices in our attempts to overcome the human frailty that is holding us back and over our childlike, longing glances towards heaven. As Augustine writes in his “Confessions,” God created us for himself and our hearts are “restless” until they find peace in him. He is there, waiting, at the end of our own, so very human and so very exciting, journey.

And where, you may ask, does that leave my friend? I recommended she go with the real power: Christ and Mary. For sure, they would provide comfort and know what kind of miracle, be it physical or spiritual, was needed, better than anyone. And I advised her to find a saint later—one who could provide a good example for coping with life’s struggles in a more practical way. Indeed, the choices are many with about a thousand saints officially recognized by the Church. Who is your travel companion?

Tina McCormick is a volunteer with Catholic Voices USA.

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.”