Surrender to the loving embrace of God

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, has described the moment when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost as a “deeply moving experience of being loved by God. You can imagine the love of God as an ocean that overflowed and overwhelmed the apostles.”

We celebrated the solemnity of Pentecost on June 8—the event that St. John the Baptist prophesied would be “a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16).

It is important to realize that the experience of the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles with a rush of wind and tongues of fire 2,000 years ago was a historical event, but it is equally important to know that God desires to continue pouring out his Spirit today.

The Church needs the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit just as much now as it did then, and it needs the unique expression of each person’s gifts. In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul teaches the early Christians and us today that there is a variety of gifts of the Spirit “but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one” (1 Cor 12: 4, 7).

Every time I celebrate confirmation I spend some time beforehand asking the young people presenting themselves for the sacrament about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I take time for this because having a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit and an openness to his gifts are so important for being a Christian who is able to hear and respond to his promptings.

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. I encourage you to commit these gifts to memory and ask for these gifts. You received the seeds of them at your baptism and they were strengthened in you through your confirmation. But they must be cultivated by you seeking and listening for the Holy Spirit in personal prayer and by asking for an outpouring of his grace into your heart and soul.

Having a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit means living a life animated by love. St. Paul taught the early Christians to “earnestly desire the higher gifts,” but then told them about a “still more excellent way”—the one rooted in love. He lists the charisms of tongues, prophecy, faith and the willingness to sacrifice oneself and says, “if I have all of these things but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3).

The charisms of the Holy Spirit are gifts for the Church and they should be desired and used. Above all, though, I urge you to pursue the love of God, which is the strong foundation upon which the Holy Spirit lays the seven gifts.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux discovered this truth during her short life of 24 years. Although she did not want to write about it, her mother superior asked her to explain her spiritual philosophy, and the result was St. Thérèse’s now-famous explanation of her “Little Way.”

Her approach was to trust God like a child and to seek ways to love him through even the smallest acts. St. Thérèse demonstrated her way of life with her final words as she succumbed to tuberculosis. She declared, “My God … I love you!” For St. Thérèse, the love of God transformed death so that she was able to say, “I am not dying, I am entering life.”

My message to you in these weeks after Pentecost is the same as St. Paul’s was to the Corinthians, “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1). When you seek intimacy with Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit you will open yourself to the gifts of the Spirit and do so with the love of the Holy Trinity as your firm foundation. That love will impel you to share the Gospel with the world.

Jesus gave us the command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13: 34; John 15: 12). A simple cry of the heart could be, “Jesus, teach me to love as you love” or “Jesus, grant to me the grace to love as you love” or “Jesus, help me to love others as you love others.” These prayers can be made anytime and anywhere in the quiet of our hearts and most especially when we may be aggravated by someone.

When Pope Francis met with members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal on June 1, he told them, “Go forth into the streets and evangelize, proclaim the Gospel. Remember that the Church was born to go forth, that morning of Pentecost.”

God is waiting for you to open yourself up to the gifts he has for you, so that you can receive the mercy, reconciliation and love he has for you and share it with those in need. The Father will never impose his love on you and will only bestow his gifts if you desire them and cooperate with them. I urge you to not be afraid of the Holy Spirit but to open your hearts to him and surrender to his embrace. He only desires your peace, joy and happiness!

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.”