Saint Joseph: A vision in a dream

By Dr. Alan Fimister 
Assistant Professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary

While preaching to the crowds on the day of Pentecost, St. Peter quoted the prophet Joel: “I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”  

There is a striking inversion of expectations in this prophecy because, in human experience, it is old men whose hopes for this world are past and who, according to nature, have the disinterested clarity to see visions and young men, with their lives ahead of them and little understanding of suffering or failure, who dream dreams. Like his namesake of the Old Testament, St. Joseph was a dreamer and he has in devotional tradition overwhelmingly been portrayed as an old man. Certainly, there is no mention made of him as still living in the Gospels after Jesus’s discovery in the temple at the age of 12. By the time of Our Lord’s public ministry, his life seems to be in the past. On the Cross, the Saviour entrusts his mother to the Beloved Disciple, which he would not have done if Joseph lived.   

Not only does St. Joseph share a name and a propensity for prophetic dreams with the great patriarch of Genesis, but he is also compelled by injustice to sojourn in Egypt. The patriarch, however, seems to have been a silver-tonged man of affairs more prone to speak too much than too little. St. Joseph does not speak once in all the New Testament. His cares must have been enormous. He was the heir to the throne of David living the life of a humble carpenter; betrothed to the very tabernacle of God and deterred by holy fear from contracting his marriage to her; driven by the indifferent bureaucracy of imperial power to a perilous journey with his heavily pregnant wife; able from poverty only to fulfill the minimum of his ritual duty; driven by the bloodthirsty envy of a tyrant to take his family into exile and compelled by a prudent suspicion of the tyrant’s heirs to live away from his home for the rest of his life.  And yet St. Joseph dreamed dreams. He endured the glory and the burden of guarding the Redeemer in obscurity. For three days, he suffered the trauma of seemingly failing in that greatest of all responsibilities and then he died without seeing the glory of his foster child’s miracles and preaching.  

Joseph the Patriarch was a young man, the second youngest of his brethren. St. Joseph was an old man, and yet, he dreamed dreams. They say if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Perhaps, in order for those who have travelled far and who might imagine they have learned much, to hear God’s plans it is necessary, before all things, like St. Joseph, to remain silent.  I once knew two Franciscan novices. One had studied much before he entered the order and was quick to share his learning. His brothers had no objection and were pleased to hear his observations. The other was a simpler man who had walked a quieter path and seldom volunteered his views. When he did speak, it was most often under obedience, but when he did, an awed and reverent silence descended upon the brethren and every word was weighed with care by the other friars. As St. Jerome said of the Prophet Obadiah, whose book is shortest in the Old Testament, “his prophecy is shortest of any in number of words but yields to none in the sublimity of its mysteries.”  

Every event in our lives is willed or permitted by God. Often we complain that God is not answering our prayers, but all that we have known, every moment of our lives, is his answer. Too often we cannot hear him because we are telling him our plans. “Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing,” Mary tells her 12-year-old son in the Temple in Jerusalem. “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?” he replied. Like the astounded doctors of the law in the Temple, we each must learn that sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening is, as the Lord Himself has told us, the one thing necessary. Like St. Joseph, we must (as Luke tells us three times he did in chapter two of his Gospel) ‘wonder’ at the words and actions of Christ.  

St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the most ancient of all the fathers of the Church, tells us that God “has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, who is his Word issuing from the silence and who won the complete approval of him who sent him.” And in another place that “the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her childbearing, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God.” St. Joseph was present for all three of those mysteries. The first he acknowledged by his faithful protection of the Virgin Mother, the second he accomplished in the poverty of the stable in Bethlehem and the last he beheld as he greeted his foster son triumphant over sin and death in the shattered gates of Hell.  

These are dark times in the land and the sea. Like St. Joseph, the model of artisans and the chaste guardian of the virgin, we must seek the Lord sorrowing, but with wonder and in docile silence. The grace of Christ purifies the visions of the young and enkindles the dreams of the old. “The world grows old, but the Church is ever young. She can, in any time, at her Lord’s will, ‘inherit the Gentiles, and inhabit the desolate cities.’” 

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.”