The goal of Salvation: A new life in the Resurrection

“Are you saved?” This is something you might hear after the doorbell rings. “What does that even mean?” you might wonder, as you think of what to say in response. The door-to-door evangelist would tell you that Jesus died to forgive your sins and if you believe the truth of that statement, you will be saved. That is an important part of salvation but by no means the full account. To be saved is not simply to have your sins forgiven or to be given a ticket to heaven, because God wants more for you. Jesus gives the best explanation of salvation: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

Throughout Lent we have been journeying with Christ, taking up our Cross each day through prayer, penance, and almsgiving. The goal of Lent is similar to the goal of salvation: to have life. Lent arose originally as a time of intense preparation for baptism for those catechumens preparing to enter the Church. The rest of the faithful began joining in to prepare to renew their baptismal promises at Easter alongside of them. Lent is a time to embrace the Cross, to set aside our sins, so that we can enter into the life of Easter with peace and joy.

The Cross certainly marks a turning point, removing the obstacle of sin that placed an infinite distance between us and God. The Cross reconciles us so that, as Paul says, we become friends with God when once we were his enemies. St. Athanasius points out, however, that the Son of God came into the world for the Resurrection: “For by the sacrifice of His own body, He both put an end to the law which was against us, and made a new beginning of life for us, by the hope of Resurrection which He has given us” (On the Incarnation). In fact, the Resurrection initiates a whole new creation, raising us up from the life of the world to a life in the Spirit.

The Resurrection restored life not only to Jesus’ earthly body; it also marked the beginning of a new life for all those who believe in him and become members of his mystical body, the Church. The Resurrection goes beyond one moment in time, as Jesus says that he himself is the Resurrection. To those who believe, there is no more death, even if we still have to experience a temporary passage from this world to the next: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26). The Resurrection should give us confidence that death no longer has the last word. We should not fear it, because we know that the best is yet to come! 

The Resurrection of Christ, Andrea Mantegna, 1492-1493

But, what about the here and now? Jesus’ new life begins for us even now. We walk no longer in darkness but have the light of life. Jesus has laid out a path for us, showing what will truly give us joy and happiness. When Jesus said that he has overcome the world, he meant that he has given us a true freedom in him that delivers us from the anxiety of the world. He doesn’t promise us a perfect world, but rather union with him as we journey through it. If we put our hope in security or pleasure in the present, we will be miserable! The freedom of new life in Christ is knowing that we belong with Jesus, who is now sitting at the right hand of the Father as our king. It is knowing that our lives have meaning and purpose and that this cannot be taken away. ⊲

The Resurrection should give us joy, knowing that Jesus has won the victory over sin and death and has given his own life to us. The victory is not something that happened 2,000 years ago, as it is made present to us every Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. Jesus gives us his own living flesh to make the Resurrection real within us. The Eucharist makes us more than mortal: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever” (Jn 6:50). The Eucharist changes us from the inside out, giving us Christ’s own life and joy and even guaranteeing that our own flesh will live forever with him. Through the Eucharist, we can say with Paul that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me” (Gal 2:20). 

We know that we are celebrating Easter properly if we experience the joy of Jesus’s gift of life to us. After dying to ourselves during Lent, we should be ready to celebrate — not by going back to our old ways but by living differently with the new leaven that transforms everything that we do. A life in the Resurrection is centered on Christ, relying on him for everything and giving him glory in all that we do. Even if the world is falling apart around us, we are not living for this world (even as we do our part to bail it out!). Even if we are suffering, we should not fear, because, through the Resurrection, there is a place for us, forever. Our lives have a purpose that will bear fruit in eternal life. The devil wants to hold us back, trapping us with anxiety and fear, but Jesus says “have no fear!” (Mt 14:27). The Resurrection is our ultimate hope, knowing that Jesus has won the victory for us and that he is with us every step of the way. 

All of this brings us back to that quintessential question: “Are you saved?” As Catholics, we should be able to answer with a confident and resounding “Yes!” Jesus has given me his own life and I won’t let go of it! I may be a work in progress, but, Jesus, I trust in you! Help me to keep my eyes fixed on you and prevent me from falling into anxiety and a life that seeks comfort. Please transform me from the inside out and make me into your likeness. Help me to live differently right now and to have confidence in the place you have prepared for me in heaven. Above all, Jesus, please raise me up on the last day so that I can share in your resurrected life for all of eternity. Amen! 

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.”