Spiritual lit for the poolside

Summer is a time for absorbing—the sun’s rays, the laughter of friends at a barbecue and even a book as you lounge by the poolside. Father Jim Thermos, director of the Spirituality Year of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, encourages people to include spiritual reading in the poolside stack of books.

“Spiritual reading is important because it feeds the soul. The world pushes in on us, but when we do spiritual reading we become reminded again of our relationship with God,” he said.

Not all reading has to be spiritual. However, being sure to include a few spiritual texts can help us to keep our minds and hearts set on things that matter.

“That will naturally lead us to prayer, which is a relationship with our Lord,” Father Thermos said.

Father Thermos recommended the following books for summer reading. He chose a variety of topics and writing styles, in the hopes that everyone can find a title that will interest them.

Photo from Wikicommons.

Photo from Wikicommons.

On the Incarnation
by St. Athanasius

Public domain, available free online or through various publishers

Father Thermos said that this short text is the most theologically dense of the books he’s recommended, but thinks readers will find it worth the effort.

“It’s for someone who wants something to sink their teeth into. You don’t have to have a theology degree to read it,” he said.

St. Athanasius wrote On the Incarnation during the Arian heresy, when many people did not believe that Jesus was truly God and truly man. Instead, they viewed him as a man who had received the spirit of God very well.

“He wrote on why God came, on the Incarnation, in such a brilliant way that it couldn’t be disputed. That’s important for us today because the whole world wants to turn away from the true nature of Jesus as God and Man,” Father Thermos said.

He said that today, it can be easy to assume we “know the story”. St. Athanasius draws out the Trinity’s desire to save humanity.

“It’s refreshing because he’s so clear in his thought, and yet he’s able to speak in the most profound way of Jesus’ saving action,” Father Thermos said. “It’s 80 pages very well-spent.”

Photo from wikicommons.

Photo from wikicommons.

Joan of Arc
by Mark Twain

Public domain, available free online and through various publishers

Mark Twain himself said this was the best thing he ever wrote. Father Thermos said that dedication shines through the novel.

“He was fascinated with Joan of Arc because he thinks she was the most authentic person who ever lived,” Thermos said. “I think his view of the world was sort of jaded, and in his opinion, she was the only person in the world who didn’t do things for selfish reasons.”

Twain spent 12 years researching and writing the novel, even travelling to France to look through her court records. However, the result is not a dry historical tome.

“It’s several hundred pages, but the stories that he tells just have you laugh out loud,” Thermos said. “True to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, he’s a true storyteller.”

The book follows Joan from her childhood in a tiny village to her death at the hands of the English. Despite her complete lack of education, after a summons from the Lord, she convinced the king of France to let her lead his armies.

“It’s a completely unrealistic call in every respect,” Father Thermos said. “In the simplicity of one who trusts in God, she moved forward.”

Father Thermos said that he knew nothing of the history of the time, and yet did not find this to be a barrier to enjoying the story.

“It’s beautifully written, tragic, and you just don’t want it to end. By the end of it, Joan will be your friend” Father Thermos said.

Photo from Simon and Schuster.

Photo from Simon and Schuster.

Tattoos on the Heart
by Father Gregory Boyle

Simon & Schuster, $15.00

Father Boyle is a Jesuit from the suburbs. He was sent to projects of Los Angeles to serve gang members. This book is a collection of stories from this ministry.

“He’ll take a theme or a topic, like how God loves us unconditionally, then he’ll go on to describe how in his interaction with one of these young persons, they came to understand their dignity or God’s love for them,” Father Thermos said.

The book is gritty, at times using street language and vulgarity to communicate the nature of lives of the men in the stories.

“He shows their struggles, the fear and brokenness, and how he’s right there with them, not knowing what’s going to happen next. Sometimes the hero of the story will die because of the violent world in which they live, but it’s still laced with hope,” Father Thermos said.

Father Thermos said that this is one of the more emotional books on the list, but thinks his brother priests and anyone who works in ministry could learn from it.

“He’s a priest with his sleeves rolled up. I’m always interested because he’ll start to tell the story and I’ll realize I’d have no idea of what to do,” Father Thermos said. “It’s ironic, because the first book I said was On the Incarnation, and this is God’s incarnational love in action.”

Photo from Beacon Press.

Photo from Beacon Press.

Man’s Search for Meaning
by Victor Frankl

Beacon Press, $19.95

Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and a survivor of the Nazi death camps. His book is a treatise on the need for hope.

“He’s undergoing the hardship of being in a concentration camp, and he’s noticing that it’s not the strongest, or even the smartest, who are surviving in the concentration camp. The ones who are surviving are the ones who have found a reason to live,” Father Thermos said.

Frankl concludes that others died less from lack of food or medicine than from a lack of hope. Father Thermos said he often recommends the book to men in the Spirituality Year of the Seminary.

“It just keeps impacting them and how they understand how our life has to have meaning or it has nothing. We have to work to articulate that meaning, otherwise we’re working blindly,” Father Thermos said.

He said that Frankl’s Jewish faith allows the faith perspective to shine through.

“At the center of it is a belief in God,” he said. “He captures it—our search for meaning, our struggle and the remedy for our struggle, which leads us back to the Incarnation.”

Photo from Scepter Publishers.

Photo from Scepter Publishing.

In the School of the Holy Spirit
by Father Jacques Philippe

Scepter Publishing, $9.95

Father Thermos recommended this book as a way to be introduced to the person of the Holy Spirit.

“As the Holy Spirit dwells in us, he brings us many gifts. It’s an awareness—we have to be on the lookout for them, or we miss them,” Father Thermos said.

He said Father Philippe helps show that the greatest thing a Christian can do is be receptive to the divine.

“We like to think it’s doing things, but it’s receiving,” Father Thermos said.

He said that God has planned to pour his Holy Spirit, and for mankind to receive him, since the beginning.

“So this is Father Jacques Philippe explaining how to receive the Holy Spirit, how to receive it in peace and love, and how to receive it well,” Father Thermos said.

He said that this will ultimately lead people into deeper relationship with the Trinity.

“The Holy Spirit wants to bring us to the fullness of life, so that our joy may be complete,” Thermos said. “That’s the delight of welcoming the Holy Spirit as our guest, and joins us to Christ and puts us into deeper relationship with God the father.”

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.”