The quiet family revolution

As I write this column, a county clerk from Kentucky, Kim Davis, is behind bars for insisting that she should not be required to obey an unjust law that violates her Christian beliefs about marriage. At the same time, Catholics in the United States are preparing to celebrate and contemplate the family with Pope Francis during his first visit to our shores. While it may seem like a bad time for the family, I believe that a rebirth of the family is possible and is already happening.

Earlier this summer, Pope Francis spoke to a group of parents from Rome whose children would soon be receiving Confirmation and First Communion. He reminded them, “God calls men and women to be parents who believe in love, who believe in its beauty.” Then, he asked them a question, “Do you believe in the beauty of love? Do you believe in the greatness of love? Do you have faith in this?”

Love is more than having feelings of attraction, he explained, it involves daily acts of faith. It involves repeatedly laying down your will for the sake of your spouse and your family. And, he observed, your children notice how you love each other. They are constantly watching you “to see if it’s possible to be good, and to see if reciprocal love can overcome every difficulty.”

This same question is posed by the society that we live in – a society that is becoming more secular and less accepting of faith, even hostile to it, as is evidenced by the jailing of Kim Davis. Every one of us wants to know, ‘Can selfless love break through the difficulties of family life and the challenges of a secular society?’ Jesus’ Resurrection proves that God does overcome these difficulties. It tells us that if we allow his grace to transform us, then our families and our hearts will be filled with generous, joyful love.

In Philadelphia, the Church will be focused on the theme, “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” Becoming fully alive can only be done in and through Jesus Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. As I noted in my June 2014 pastoral letter, “Family: Become What You Are,” the family was created by God to reflect the communion of life and love that exists between the three persons of the Trinity. “When a husband and wife give of themselves and share love and truth with each other, they are able to reflect the image of the Holy Trinity”(“Family: Become What You Are,” p. 4). This communion becomes tangible in their children, who embody their parents’ separate loves becoming one, their two bodies becoming one flesh, and their cooperation with the Holy Spirit, who breathes a soul into their children.

During the World Meeting of Families, this message of reflecting the Holy Trinity will surely be repeated. And I expect Pope Francis will mention it as well. But something more important than speeches and ceremonies will happen in Philadelphia. During the gathering and the pope’s visit that will follow, tens of thousands of families will make known the beauty, truth, and goodness of Christ’s teachings on the family by their joyful presence at the World Meeting.

The media likes to repeat the narrative that no one is really living the Church’s teachings and that they are too demanding, but they often ignore or don’t know about the evidence that people are living them out and are experiencing great joy because of them. I see it often in the parishes I visit and in young families I meet. In Philadelphia, the vibrancy of families who are fully alive or striving to become so will be on display. This is a quiet revolution. It is one that doesn’t seek headlines but is definitely happening.

Over 400 people from the Archdiocese of Denver will be adding to this beautiful witness to the family at the World Meeting. My travels throughout the archdiocese have shown me that there are even more families in various stages of life that are experiencing the joy of God’s plan for the family. And the story is the same in other parts of the country, not to mention places like Africa and Asia where the Church is growing rapidly.

The stories of Kim Davis, the former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and others who have lost their jobs for witnessing to the truth about God’s design for marriage are a sobering reality that we must not ignore. But we must also not ignore the movement of grace, conversion and happiness that is happening beyond the headlines in our families. Let’s celebrate that gift and bear witness to the goodness of God’s plan for the family as a place filled with selfless acts of love that give birth to life and joy, most especially in the gift of children!

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

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.”