Who is Jesus Christ?

Alpha takes Christianity back to the basics

As Catholics, it’s so easy to get caught up in the doctrine and dogma and theology of the Church that we often forget the fundamental question of Christianity: Who is Jesus Christ?

Alpha seeks to remedy this. The easiest way to describe Alpha would be to call it an evangelization tool, but as its proponents will say, it’s much more than that. Aimed primarily at people who have no experience with Christianity or the Church, Alpha is an introduction to the Kerygma, a Greek word meaning “teaching” and used to describe the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, upon which the Christian faith and all of its tenets are founded.denv

Originally started in the Anglican church, Alpha is designed to be used across all Christian denominations. The program is currently used in several parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver, including St. Joseph’s Parish in Golden, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn, St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Denver and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver. The program is endorsed by the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries as one of three programs for parishes to utilize for evangelization efforts.

Alpha serves as a great starting point for those exploring the Church and many parishes have opted to use it as a supplement to RCIA, which assumes that a person has already taken the first step toward being a Christian—namely, entering and actively pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. While RCIA is intended more as a means of catechesis, Alpha is a simple introduction to the Christian faith that can spark deeper conversion, said Scott Elmer, director of evangelization and family life ministries. However, he noted that the two should not be dependent on one another.

“[Alpha] could help people to make a decision to give themselves to Christ and enter into RCIA, but it shouldn’t be bound by that,” he said.

St. Joseph’s Parish in Golden is currently conducting its second session of Alpha. Andrew McGown, director of faith formation for the parish, implemented the program last year, and some people enjoyed it so much the first time that they’re going through it again. 

“It’s a safe place to come and really informally get a taste of Christianity and build relationships, which are really at the heart of Alpha,” McGown told Denver Catholic.

A typical Alpha night starts off with a free meal, followed by a talk, done either live or in the form of a video, and is capped off with a small group discussion. The casual nature of the program is a big part of its allure, McGown said, and makes it easy to invite people to.

“It’s a totally different atmosphere than any other church program. The three proposition statements of Alpha are: no cost, no pressure and no follow-up,” McGown said. “It’s always free, we’re not going to pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do, and we’re not going to track you down and guilt you into coming back. It’s safe to try.”

While the program is designed with non-Christians in mind, McGown stressed that practicing Christians should not write the program off as being too basic or below them.

“The great things about Alpha is it’s not so focused on non-Christians that that someone who is coming to Mass couldn’t benefit from it,” he said. “It’s a revisiting of the Kerygma, the most basic proclamation of the Gospel, and we all need that.”

Mid-way through the program, Alpha participants go on a day-long retreat that’s meant to be an introduction to the Holy Spirit. This experience is often very powerful for those in Alpha, and is the “crux of the whole Alpha model,” McGown said. “It’s a chance to pray and be prayed over … and really experience God in a profound and personal way.”

Brandon Young, director of communications for Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish and a Catholic convert of two years, had such an experience on this retreat when he was in Alpha. Young had always had a relationship with God throughout his life, but he had never stepped foot inside a church before entering Alpha. At the time, the program was used as Immaculate Heart of Mary’s RCIA program, and Young entered because he felt like God was calling him to “step it up.”

He couldn’t have predicted the impact Alpha would have on him.

“Still, to this day, the most intense, personal encounter [with Christ] I’ve ever had in my entire life was part of Alpha,” Young said. “When we did the retreat, I felt the Holy Spirit enter me and Jesus talk to me so clearly that I couldn’t keep it together. It was overwhelming.

“After they were done praying over me, I left and went to the sanctuary and just wept. My heart had felt something it had never felt before.”

As a convert, Young said he can be critical of some cradle Catholics who are catechized really well, “but don’t know how to have a one-on-one relationship with Christ.”

[Alpha], for the first time, just let me focus on that, without any external influences,” he said. “It’s not Christianity 101, but it’s, ‘Who is Jesus, and how can I have a loving relationship with him?’ If we’re all called to be disciples, we need to understand Jesus.”

To learn more about Alpha, visit alpha.org. A new Alpha program starts at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish May 1.

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.”