You believe what?

Suddenly, Terry Polakovic found herself at a crossroads. Should she speak up to defend her beliefs before a group swapping contrary ideas, or silently disagree and let it slide?

The scene was a Super Bowl party. The group’s conversation was over same-sex marriage.

“They were all very much in favor of it,” Polakovic said.

After listening a while to the chatter, she jumped in the conversation.

“I spoke up and said, ‘Gay marriage is not natural.’ That is all I could think of to say, and the others quickly dismissed my comment,” Polakovic recalled. “I remember there was one guy in particular who was more hostile. He just looked at me and told me that it was not our place to judge the lifestyle of other people.”

Even as she was launching Endow (Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women) to help other Catholic women learn their faith, she felt ill-equipped.

“I was very embarrassed because it was the first time I had ever spoken up for my faith,” she said. “At that point in my life, I would just disagree in silence. However, that circumstance motivated me to learn much more about what the Church teaches regarding marriage, and how best to respond to the gay marriage issue.”

It’s a scenario many Catholics may relate to.

A discussion ensues at the office watercooler, or over drinks at a social gathering and then all eyes turn to “the Catholic,” the one who suddenly finds themselves appointed by the group as the spokesperson for the Church.

Faithful could be challenged about topics including a statement from the pope, use of artificial birth control, priest celibacy or praying before statues of saints.

It can be difficult to decide the right time and place to defend the faith, said Father Andreas Hoeck, academic dean and associate professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

“The first point would be discernment in the Holy Spirit,” he explained. “The Holy Spirit is going to help us to understand ‘When is it my time, what is my place and what am I supposed to do there? Am I going to defend the faith or rather go away?’”

“Jesus says if they don’t receive you then just shake the dust off your feet and leave that town.”

Church history has also produced a movement of apologetics, or defense of the faith using reason, that traces back to the first centuries.

“In the first centuries until the middle ages and after that have seen a movement of apologetics,” Father Hoeck explained. “People have written and spoken in defense of the faith. There is an organized system of literature and testimony for the faith.”

The outcome was ultimately the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the best resource a Catholic has for preparing for a defense, he said.

“So if a person reads the catechism and is very familiar with it, that’s one way of defending the faith, and preparing oneself for that defense,” Father Hoeck said.

John Christian, who teaches Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial, said he felt better prepared to defend his faith once he began an in-depth study.

His wife, who was non-denominational at the time, challenged his beliefs about Lent and practices including abstaining from meat on Fridays.

“Where in the Bible does it say to give up meat on Fridays?” he said his wife, Laurie, would ask. He didn’t know.

“Eventually, I started studying it on my own in secret and came to a surprise that all this Catholic stuff wasn’t just what some pope had made up,” Christian said.

He went to Mass and later convinced his wife to attend RCIA. They began a journey together where they learned the meaning and reasoning behind the practice of the faith.

“The problem for most Catholics is they don’t know their faith well enough,” said Christian, who’s taught RCIA for 15 years. “They know the ‘what’ but they don’t know the ‘why.’ Once I learned the reasons why, I said to myself, ‘I need to share this.’”

Sharing the faith can be done with words, best delivered in a non-confrontational and kind way, Christian said.

In the process, faithful can turn to the saints for an example and support.

Derek Barr, instructor for the Catholic Biblical School, said St. Paul is an example of perseverance.

“When Paul would speak out, he would personally suffer many persecutions,” Barr said. “He would not stand down; he would not waiver. He would only speak the truth and he paid dearly for that again and again and again.”

By their baptism, all faithful are called to defend their faith in another way—by witness, Father Hoeck said.

“Jesus calls each one of the baptized to give witness to our faith every single day of our lives, through acts of faith, hope and charity,” he said. “The actions, the deeds that we can show to the world, is a 24/7 demand. We’re never off the hook. We’re always called to give a good witness, which is the positive way of defending our faith.”

Gail, 53, and David Simonton of St. Thomas More Parish said they witness to their faith when sharing their decision to reverse a vasectomy. For nine years they were sterile until they came to understand Church teaching on the dignity of life and openness to it.

“We’ve made a 180-degree turn,” Gail said, who added, “We’re open to life. Period.”

Several miscarriages and adoptions later, neighbors and friends will ask about their decision to raise seven children.

“They think we’re totally crazy,” she said. But sharing their story can serve to witness to the faith. “I just always step out there and think to myself, ‘This is my chance to speak out about it.’”

Sharing personal testimony is the most positive way to defend the faith, Father Hoeck said, and can lead to martyrdom.

“Martyrdom is the supreme witness and defense of our faith,” he said. “To be a martyr means to be a witness. The Lord asked us to give witness to the Son of Man so he will testify in your favor at the end of (time).”

 

Principles of faith sharing
-Look for the positive behind the criticism. Rather than the arguments you are going to face, consider the value your critic is upholding. This has a disarming effect.

-Shed light, not heat. Be a keen listener to the other’s views and let chinks of light in on the subject, while holding your own views and staying calm.

-Show, don’t tell. Supplement your arguments with anecdotes of personal experience, stories, or hypothetical situations that help make your point.

-People will remember how you made them feel. It’s not simply about the lucidity of your arguments, but the effect your words have on others.

-Be positive. The Church is against many things because it is for so much more. Bring discussions back to the positive vision the Church has for people.

-It’s not about you. Good communication means putting your ego in the backseat. Critics are not failing to respect you but what you represent.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Bible are primary resources for growing in the faith and sharing it with others.

What to Say

Q: Homosexual people can live in stable, committed and loving relationships. It is discrimination to exclude them from this institution. Why shouldn’t they also be allowed to marry?
A: The Church rejects discrimination and prejudice against homosexual people. Church teaching says that sex is ordered to marriage and children, and that is why homosexual people, like everyone who is unmarried, are called to chastity as the best way of learning self-giving love.
This is not an issue about equality. To give everyone equal access to marriage would require the state to cease to recognize marriage altogether. This debate is about the purpose of marriage and why the state should promote it. Marriage, which can only be between a man and a woman, is a unique institution which deserves special protection.

Q: Why is the Church in favor of family planning but not artificial contraception?
A: Catholics are against artificial contraception because it suppresses fertility rather than regulates it. Not every sexual act will be fertile, but you shouldn’t separate sex from its meaning, which is for creating new life and deepening the self-giving love between a husband and wife. Natural family planning is natural, organic and respects the body and its cycles, rather than suppressing them.

Q: The Catholic Church has ignored and covered up clerical sex abuse of children by priests for decades and it’s still a dangerous place for children. Don’t you think requiring priests to be celibate inclines them to become abusers?
A: The appalling crime of clerical sex abuse of minors is a profound betrayal of the Gospel and the Church failed to grasp the extent of abuse. But in the last 10 years, the Church has gone further than any other institution to put in place vital reforms to ensure it doesn’t happen. The priesthood is not, nor has it ever been, exceptional in the number of abusers. There is no causal link between priestly celibacy and clerical sex abuse.

Q: Isn’t it a woman’s right to choose abortion? She should be able to make decisions for her own body.
A: This is not a matter of the rights of women versus other rights. There are others involved—men and unborn life. The rights of women are best protected by ensuring that pregnant women are supported in every way possible. The Church wants a society where all life is welcomed and valued. The Church also seeks to promote public awareness of the fragility and value of unborn life and to offer real choices to women frightened by unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.

Source: “How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice” by Austen Ivereigh

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.”