What is true charity?

The Christian struggle of encountering a homeless person on the street

Coming across a homeless person on the street can turn into a real battle for Christians. Not knowing how to respond or what to do, some feel guilty for not helping and others ignore the situation. A mixture of skepticism and the calling of Jesus to help the poor can cause a real discomfort that leads to the golden question: “Should I give money to the homeless person?”

Mike Sinnett, Director of Shelter Services for Catholic Charities of Denver, thinks there is a better way. He believes Christians can practice true charity in two ways: by acknowledging the person’s presence and dignity and connecting them to a place that will give them the opportunity to get back on their feet.

“One of the things we [Catholic Charities] talk about is that we try to see the face of Jesus in anybody that is in need,” Sinnet said. “The primary goal is to restore their dignity and get them out of the street, get them on a trajectory of recovery that allows them to go back into housing.”

Sinnett said the primary step is to recognize a person facing homelessness as a human being.

“One way you could respond is just to ask them their name and see if they have any immediate needs: Are they hungry or thirsty?” he pointed out. “You can recognize them by saying, ‘Hey, Joe, I’ll pray for you tonight and I hope God gives you the direction you need to get out of the street.’ Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”

Recognizing a homeless person’s dignity leads to step number two: offering real help.

A place of rebirth

Rather than giving people money, Sinnett recommends being a bridge to finding true help for them — help that can assist them with getting back on their feet. This is due to two reasons, he explained.

On the one hand, “We don’t understand where they are in their life journey: Are they on their way to recovery or are they continuing to slide down?” Sinner said. “We should try to offer resources to them because the professionals that take care of those experiencing homelessness understand better the needs and boundaries that are necessary in taking care of someone [struggling].”

On the other hand, there are many resources people don’t take advantage of and, to the surprise of many, one of the biggest challenges is finding ways to connect people experiencing homeless with the programs that offer resources for them, Sinnett explained. Helping a person find these services can go way farther than two dollars, for it can help them find a good job, overcome addictions and find a home.

Sinnett believes an important way Catholics can respond to Christ’s call is by understanding what Catholic Charities is about: “We are the charitable arm of the Archdiocese of Denver and our mission statements says that we extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to the poor and those in need,” he said.

Having someone know that you care enough to remember their name and that you’re going to pray for them that night is a pretty good encounter.”

More concretely, Samaritan House, a ministry operated by Catholic Charities, has helped people earn living wages and affordable housing since 1986.

It walks with people facing homelessness in a journey of around 120 days which helps them find a job, save money, secure sufficient food and clothing, and find an affordable home.

Answering the call

Other than helping people in need find these resources, he also encourages Catholics to help by giving of their time, talents or treasure with Catholic Charities and the Samaritan House, which are always in need of help.

“[You can always help], whether that’s by donating your time teaching a class at Samaritan House, working at the kitchen to serve the meals we serve each day, [or] maybe you’ve been blessed and you’ve got money you can send to Catholic Charities that we will put into services to those experiencing homelessness,” Sinnet stated. “You can also help with your talents — if you’re good at something in particular that could help us at CC, where we wouldn’t have to go out and hire someone to do that.”

The perfect opportunity to do exactly that will take place this Aug. 13-27, as the 32-year old Samaritan House will undergo improvements. During the two-week project to remodel the kitchen, Samaritan House will need assistance feeding the people it is caring for.

Catholic Charities is asking the community for support with time, talents or treasures — whether that be by serving meals, cleaning or donating to buy disposables.

“The beauty that we see is that those that actually walk through the doors of our shelters are not there to scam us. They’ve made a decision to get help,” Sinnett concluded. “They’ve made the decision that they’re done living the life that they were living and that they want to make a change. So, we invite them into a trajectory of recovery …. That person experiencing homelessness can be Jesus in disguise.”

Serve at Samaritan House

If you are interested in helping, visit samhousedenver.org or email shdvolunteers@ccdenver.org.

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.”