We live in a fallen world. Now what?

Once, an editor of The Times newspaper asked G.K. Chesterton, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton, the great master of common sense and wit that he was, responded: “Dear Sir: I am. Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

“I am.” There is starting honesty and humility in recognizing that the world’s problems rest in the heart, and not ultimately in any of the great social, political, or economic forces on the outside. It is the problem within the heart that causes those exterior troubles, of course. There are certainly sinful structures in the world, which are structures that arise from and encourage sin, such as Communism, although they only have power because they tap into the darkness within us. The world is broken because we are broken. 

Chesterton, once again, points to the commonsense reality of our brokenness. He rightly recognizes that “certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” We can simply look around to recognize that we live in a fallen world. Due to the Fall, stemming from the sin of Adam and Eve, every human being following them has been born into the world without the gifts that God originally intended for us. He desired us to live without evil and suffering, sheltered within the protection of the Garden, but we had other plans. The Catechism speaks of how original sin impacts us: “It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin  — an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence” (CCC 405). Original sin explains why we all struggle to reach happiness and to be at peace with others. 

“Suffering and brokenness bring us to our own limitation and need for God. There is freedom in accepting this brokenness, so that we can face it and embrace healing in Christ.”

Original sin points to a lack of right relationship with God as the heart of what’s wrong with the world. It is a problem we all face, even as we want to blame others. In fact, owning up to our own brokenness and sin has been a problem from the very beginning. When God asks Adam why he ate the fruit, he blamed Eve, the helpmate that God had given him (implicitly blaming God). When God turned to Eve, she blamed the serpent for tricking her. There is truth to the fact that we do not sin in isolation from others. The trouble comes from wanting to blame the world’s problems on others, while acting like we are simply victims of forces outside of our control. 

Even if we recognize the source of evil as arising within the heart, we still have to face another question of why evil exists in the world. Like Adam, many times we blame God for allowing suffering to happen in our lives. If we are sick, lose work, or a loved one dies, we immediately ask God how he could have allowed it. God, however, did not intend this evil in his original plan, as suffering entered into the world because of sin. Sin is to blame for physical evil and death, not God. As a result of the Fall, God does allow physical evil to occur in the world, even as he uses it to bring about a greater good. Through physical difficulties, God shows us that the world is not our true home (and is not meant to be an earthly paradise any longer) and that we are made for something more. We cannot get too comfortable here on earth. Suffering reminds us of this and our need to trust in God. Even worse than physical evil, however, is moral evil which stems solely from our own free will. When we suffer, it can actually wake us up to the moral evil that lies hidden in our lives, calling us to conversion. 

Suffering and brokenness bring us to our own limitation and need for God. There is freedom in accepting this brokenness, so that we can face it and embrace healing in Christ. Thanks to my teenage son, Louis, I overheard Matthew West’s recent Christian hit, “Truth Be Told,” that points to the typical reaction to our own brokenness, “I’m fine.” With words spoken to God, West’s song accurately captures how we try to ignore what is really going on inside of us:

I say “I’m fine, yeah I’m fine, oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine,” but I’m not. I’m broken. And when it’s out of control I say “it’s under control” but it’s not, and you know it. I don’t know why it’s so hard to admit it, when being honest is the only way to fix it. There’s no failure, no fall, there’s no sin you don’t already know. So, let the truth be told.

In our fallen world, the problem begins with us and our frail state of sin and brokenness. During Lent, the Lord calls us to conversion – to turn away from our sin and toward him in a spirit of penance, opening ourselves to receive his grace.

Modern individualism tells us that we are fine simply relying on ourselves — that we can handle it and that we are weak if we turn to others for help. The Christian faith stands firmly against this, because we cannot ignore the brokenness within us, leaving it unaddressed and lurking to come out with a vengeance. We have to be truthful about who we are. We are broken, sinful people, who can experience healing and grace if we face the truth and allow it to be told. 

How do we tell this truth? During Lent, the Church calls us to conversion, through prayer and penance, and asks us to confess our sins. We “let the truth be told” when we come before God, acknowledge our sins, and ask for his forgiveness. Accepting our weakness calls us to turn to God for help, allowing him to remove the darkness within us and fill us with his own life and light. God does not just take away all of the world’s problems. Rather, he enters into them, first by taking them on himself by becoming man in Jesus, and then by entering into the broken center within us. God is not absent from the suffering world, even if he does not show himself visibly for all to see and dramatically solve things in a political way. God fixes the world one heart at a time in a way that is more powerful than the noise that surrounds us, preparing us to face it and do our part within it. 

If what’s wrong with the world is me, then the solution also starts with me. My inner brokenness can be healed by God (even if never perfectly in this life) so that I can become part of the solution. I can bring others to Christ for healing, inviting them to the Church and specifically to confession. Although people are often scared to confess their sins, it is actually a great relief and source of healing. It is a gift to be able to share this relief and healing with others. And, when enough people receive this gift, it will have an impact on the world more broadly. This Lent, we can embrace God’s solution, the healing that begins at the source of the problem: me. 

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.”