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Desire, Experience, Conversion: An Interview with Father John Nepil

Fr. John and friends

Father Julian Carrón’s The Radiance in Your Eyes was recently featured on the Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast, co-hosted by Father John Nepil. (Check that episode out here.) In the interview below, Jen of the CL Newsletter speaks with Father John about his affection for Father Giussani and the movement of Communion and Liberation.

A native of Indianapolis, Father John lived in Chicago and has spent the last thirty years in Denver. He was away from the Catholic faith and then suddenly came back, right before senior year of high school, through a conversion experience. This summer he’ll be celebrating ten years in the priesthood, “the greatest gift EVER.” He spent nine years in seminary before being ordained a priest and served two years as chaplain at the University of Colorado in Boulder and two years at a parish in Aurora, Colorado. He has a PhD in Dogmatic Theology on Mary and the Church. He’s been teaching for two years at the Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

CL Newsletter: How were you introduced to CL?

Fr. John: My relationship with Giussani began with a friendship with Jonathan Ghaly and Father Joe Barstead. I found Giussani to be simultaneously thrilling and impossible. My head was breaking, but I was captivated by what he was doing.

Another avenue into the Movement of CL was through the works of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who was a lover of the movement. Balthasar’s book Engagement with God is dedicated to Giussani and the movement. Balthasar has been a seelsorger – a "soul warrior," chaplain. My relationship with the movement has been akin to Balthasar’s relationship to the Movement, almost familial. I’ve always felt the deepest affinity for members of the Movement.

There were two big awakenings to where the romance really happened with Giussani’s thought.

The first was stepping into CU Boulder as a priest and chaplain at age twenty-seven and asking the question: “What the hell are we doing?” With that question I returned to Giussani’s love of man’s freedom and project of rebuilding education around authentic humanity and freedom. I began to study him more seriously. The Religious Sense and The Risk of Education became essential to me, I began to see myself as an educator and looked to Giussani as the premier educator of the last century.

CLN: What stands out to you about CL as a movement and how does it impact you personally?

Fr. John: An image comes to mind of Giussani’s father telling him “don’t ever stop asking why.” That was something that formed me so powerfully and I feel the vitality of the questions.

[CL is ] the only movement that cares more about the questions than the answers. So much about following Christ is not about the answers, but to seek the face of Christ amidst the darkness, without a program. This is the kind of thing that will galvanize the Church in the brave new world to come: having the courage to stay in the questions. We never really "arrive" in the pilgrimage of Christ--family, suffering, vocation.

We know the answer is Christ, but sometimes he wants us to stay in the answers and awaken the questions.


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