The Advent of mercy

We are about to begin the season of Advent, when we prepare to welcome Jesus with the joy of those who have been rescued from their sins. We are also one week away from the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Together, these two liturgical events remind us that with his birth, Jesus Christ showed us the “face of mercy.”

Pope Francis in establishing the Holy Year desires it to be “a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God…a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened, and thus, testimony to it be ever more effective.” It is a time to strengthen our faith in the Father’s personal tenderness for each one of us.

Before Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, no one had seen the face of God directly. But, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia, “Christ confers on the whole of the Old Testament tradition about God’s mercy a definitive meaning. Not only does He speak of it and explain it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all He Himself makes it incarnate and personifies it.” The Holy Trinity, in its three persons, is mercy; and that is why it is so important for every human being to encounter them and have a relationship with them.

In that relationship, mercy and truth are inseparable companions. Mercy always presupposes that there is sin and brokenness that needs the healing of the Father’s compassion, forgiveness and love. His mercy, while never condemning, never condones sin or leaves a person in sin. The light of the truth reveals sin, and in his mercy, he heals the wounds caused by sin with his tenderness and love.

Responding to God’s outpouring of mercy is also important as we learn from Jesus’ command, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36).

Jubilees do not happen often. The last jubilee was 15 years ago, and the next ordinary one won’t occur until 2025, so this opportunity to receive the mercy of God and to help bring it to others is rare. Do not ignore this grace offered by God through his Church.

During this jubilee year, there are several archdiocesan events where you can experience God’s mercy, and the truth of what St. John the Evangelist wrote, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:17).

The Year of Mercy will begin on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and will last until Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King. I invite you to attend the 5:30 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral to open the Year of Mercy in the archdiocese.

During the year, five penance services will be held in various locations, confessors who speak both English and Spanish available. There will also be five pilgrimage sites with Holy Doors where an indulgence can be obtained, after satisfying the appropriate conditions. Pilgrims will be able to participate in a special “pilgrimage passport” that will encourage them to visit all five sites.

On Jan. 23, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn will host an English-language conference on the jubilee, called Mercy Chose Me. Speakers will present on the meaning and importance of the Year of Mercy, the beautiful witness of Julia Greeley – Denver’s “Angel of Charity” – and on how to live a spirituality of mercy. Opportunities to participate in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy will also be presented.

Opportunities for the Hispanic community to participate in the jubilee year will include a special focus on mercy at the annual Youth and Charismatic Congresses, and the designation of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish as one of the pilgrimage sites. Additional events are being planned as well.

Although he wrote his encyclical on mercy in 1980, St. John Paul II’s words seem like they were written yesterday. The Father of mercies, he said, is particularly close to us, especially when we are suffering. “And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God,” he added (DM, 2).

Pope Francis’ decision to declare the Jubilee Year of Mercy shows that he is carefully attuned to this need for mercy. His heart, like the heart of the Good Shepherd, desires that every person experience the mercy of Jesus, fall in love with Jesus and stay in love with him.

Lately I have been reading St. Faustina Kowalska’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, and in it she recalls a message that Jesus gave her that speaks to this longing. I am Love and Mercy itself,” Jesus said. “When a soul approaches me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls” (#1074).  I encourage you to read her diary throughout the Year of Mercy, praying with three or four pages a day.

May everyone in the archdiocese experience the freedom and joy found in God’s infinite mercy in a new and profound way during this year.

The latest information on Year of Mercy events can be found at: www.archden.org/mercy.

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.”