Saint of Silence

The past month has contained enough violence to snuff out all of our hope, yet we’re in Advent. We’re preparing to welcome the Savior of the World, though it is difficult to believe that this bloody rock even has a savior. After all, He speaks in a whisper, but our minds are crowded with violent news.

In times like these, it’s helpful to remember that there have been darker times in the Church’s history, and saints emerged from that darkness.  This Advent,  we propose a new look at St. Catherine Labouré,  the messenger of the Miraculous Medal and the “Saint of Silence.”

An utterly unremarkable person

St. Catherine “Zoe” Labouré (LAH-bor-AY) is extraordinary because of how completely ordinary she was.  She was born on a farm, and essentially spent her childhood helping with and eventually running the household. She wasn’t pretty, wasn’t intellectual, and was stubborn and prone to flashes of anger.

No one would have guessed that years later, Our Lady would give her visions of a sacramental she wanted Catherine to bring to the world.

Her one remarkable quality

St. Catherine Labouré, perhaps more than any other saint, had a calm but deep trust for Our Lord and his Mother. She was steadfast in a way that only the simple can be.

Catherine lived during a horrifying time. Although she was born after The Terror of the French Revolution, additional revolutions continued to crop up. Many common people associated the clergy with the noble elite, and so terrible sacrileges would often follow the revolutions. Among these sacrileges were the desecration of the remains of saints. St. Geneviéve, patroness of France, had her remains pulled out of her tomb and burned in the street.  St. Vincent de Paul’s remains, however, were saved, and have been saved during every great uprising that shook France.

St. Catherine Labouré was in the parade celebrating the translation of his relics to Notre Dame after a bout of hiding.

 

How God used that

On July 18, 1830, the eve of St. Vincent de Paul’s feast day, the novice director gave all the novices a piece of one of St. Vincent de Paul’s vestments. Catherine lay quietly in her bed, telling St. Vincent de Paul of the desire she had nurtured since she was little—the desire to see the Blessed Virgin.  She then tore her relic in half and ate one of the pieces. A thought came to her—she was sure she would see the Blessed Virgin that night.

She slept for two hours. She awoke when her guardian angel, disguised as a small but beautiful child, called her. He said, “Come to the chapel. The Blessed Virgin awaits you.”

Most of us would probably either stay in bed terrified or leap to our feet and run to the chapel. But St. Catherine Labouré was, again, “the saint of silence,” and she did neither. Instead, she dressed herself in her complicated novice habit and followed the angel to the chapel.

Every candle was lit. She later said that it looked like Christmas Mass. She followed the angel to the sanctuary and instinctively knelt next to the Director’s chair.

“Here is the Blessed Virgin,” the child said.

Catherine heard only a soft rustle of silk. She turned to the sound and saw Mary coming down the altar steps. Our Lady sat in the chair. Catherine put her hands, folded in prayer, on Our Lady’s lap and looked into her Mother’s eyes. It was the tenderest moment of her life.

“My child, the Good God wishes to charge you with a mission,” Our Lady said.

But instead of telling her about the Miraculous Medal then, Mary began to tell Catherine about her life. She warned her of the dangerous times ahead and told her how she should bear them. Catherine would know unerringly the Will of God.

“Tell with confidence all that passes within you; tell it with simplicity. Have confidence. Do not be afraid,” Mary said.

And this, not the Miraculous Medal, is the most unusual event of St. Catherine Labouré’s life.

 

Why it matters

In virtually every other apparition, Mary has suddenly appeared in the visionary’s sights. However, her appearance to St. Catherine was calm and gentle. The sun didn’t dance, water didn’t spring out of a rock—she simply announced herself with the softest whisper of silk.

No other seer has been granted the favor Our Lady gave to St. Catherine—two hours of her hands in Mary’s lap, having her life explained to her.

Mary would return to Catherine shortly before the first Sunday of Advent and show her the Miraculous Medal. The subsequent visions were made for the world, and didn’t hold the tenderness of this first apparition.

 

Why Catherine?

It’s not accurate to say Catherine was blessed with such intimacy with Our Lady because she was a favorite. That would go against the whole purpose of the visions, which was to bring us all into deeper devotion to the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady.

The Immaculate Conception states that the Virgin Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. She was fully human, just like Eve before the Fall, but didn’t have the effects of Original Sin in herself. She lived with a purity and an ability to love that we cannot comprehend.

When Mary appeared to St. Catherine, the Immaculate Conception wasn’t Church doctrine yet.

Mary she showed herself to St. Catherine surrounded by the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Mary revealed herself as being immaculately conceived to St. Catherine Laboure.

And what does the Immaculate Conception mean? It means that we have a Mother who loves us perfectly. St. Catherine Labouré is unique because she had an inkling of the love being offered, and she completely accepted it.

 

What we can learn

We live in scary times. So did St. Catherine Labouré. And yet, as she knelt with her hands in our Mother’s lap and looked into her eyes, Mary said this to her:

“The moment will come when the danger will be enormous; it will seem that all is lost…The cross will be treated with contempt, they will hurl it to the ground. Blood will flow, they will open again the side of Our Lord…My child, the whole world will be in sadness.”

Sound familiar?

And yet, Our Lady wasn’t done. She went on to say, “…At that moment, I will be with you; have confidence.”

So how do we experience that? We behave like St. Catherine. We don’t have to afraid, or restless with indignation, or even perfect. We just have to know on an untouchable level that we and everyone we encounter are perfectly loved.

That kind of knowledge isn’t rooted in platitudes or comboxes or podcasts or any of the other noise we use to fill our day. It’s rooted in a deep acceptance of something we don’t understand. It’s rooted in silence. That silence can lead to what our Holy Father has asked from us in this Year of Mercy: A revolution of tenderness.

 

 

 

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.”