The Supreme Court’s minor mistakes have few systemic consequences. But when the Supremes make a big mistake, the error tends to seep throughout the entire political process, poisoning everything in its path.
That was what happened with the Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, which intensified the passions and accelerated the dynamics that led to the Civil War—and to 600,000 Americans killing each other. That was what happened when the Court got it wrong again in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 decision that declared segregated public facilities constitutional: three-and-a-half generations of American politics were distorted by a fierce struggle between segregationists and integrationists, with the Democratic Party held hostage to its fever-swamp wing.
And that is what happened with Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand across the country. Ever since, the abortion issue has been the most bitterly contested in our public life, and Roe has distorted everything from free speech to religious freedom to health care legislation (dental insurers are being queried by federal regulators as to whether their coverage includes abortion—dental insurers!). Those distortions confirm that the Court got it fundamentally wrong in 1973.
That forces that defend Roe v. Wade know the fragility of that “exercise in raw judicial power” (as Justice Byron White, dissenting from the Roe majority, put it) is why they defend it with such fury—and with arguments that are increasingly absurd. Those absurdities were on full display in late May when the U.S. House of Representatives took up the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. PRENDA’s purpose is to ban sex-selection abortions in the United States—which almost always means aborting unborn girls for the simple reason that they are girls.
This odious practice, a commonplace in Asia (where there are estimates of some 160 million “missing” females), is not, yet, widespread in the United States. But one sex-selection abortion is one too many, and the attitude to this war on little women within the billion-dollar abortion industry is chilling: a Planned Parenthood representative told the Huffington Post, prior to the House vote on PRENDA, that “No Planned Parenthood clinic will deny a woman an abortion based on her reasons for wanting one, except in states that explicitly prohibit sex-selection abortions.” As Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) put it in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, “In other words, Planned Parenthood is OK with exterminating a child in its huge network of clinics simply because she’s a girl.”
The arguments against PRENDA in the House were ludicrous. The proponents of Roe’s unlimited abortion license, which they had long defended on the grounds that ready access to abortion is essential to women’s equality, argued that lethal discrimination against (little) women just because they are girls must be legally permissible. Radical feminism is now consuming its own future, literally.
And why? To defend Roe v. Wade—and, ultimately, the sexual revolution for which Roe v. Wade was and is the ultimate technological buttress. Were PRENDA to become law, and were the Supreme Court to find that PRENDA passed constitutional muster, a thread would be pulled: and that thread might unravel the entire warped tapestry woven out of Roe v. Wade. The pro-Roe forces understand that. And if saving Roe, that alleged foundation of gender equality, requires the manifest absurdity of self-described feminists (female and male) defending lethal discrimination against the littlest of little girls, well, so be it.
The same take-no-prisoners dynamic was at work earlier this year in Planned Parenthood’s assault on Susan G. Komen For the Cure, which had dared to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for not offering the mammograms the Komen Foundation’s money was supposed to help provide. But rather than admitting its failure and promising to offer genuine preventive health services to women, Planned Parenthood, and its cultural and political allies, crushed Komen—the cleanest of squeaky-clean charities—like a grape.
And some wonder why these same forces are now arrayed against the Church for daring to defend religious freedom?
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”