As is customary, those recently ordained returned to the seminary to offer the morning mass and lead the community in praying the Morning Prayer of the Church. On the Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, newly ordained Fr Marcus Goulding and Fr Trevor Tibbertsma joined us, with Fr Trevor as principle celebrant and Fr Marcus giving the homily. We reproduce below, the full text of Fr. Marcus Goulding's homily on this occasion.
The Beheading of St John the Baptist (2017)
Corpus Christi College
Brothers, it’s a truly great and humbling privilege to be able to concelebrate and preach at Mass in this chapel where both Fr Trevor and I have worshipped for many years. Here in this chapel, the most essential aspect of our formation took place – the deepening of our intimacy with, and likeness to, Jesus Christ. Being ordained on the Nativity of St John the Baptist, we both placed on our ordination cards those memorable words of the Forerunner: He must increase; I must decrease. These words sum up quite perfectly the whole existence of the priest.
One of the quotes that I have found myself referring to repeatedly in my short time as a deacon and now as a priest, is the following passage from St John Paul II – I hope it’s familiar to you:
“If we take a close look at what contemporary men and women expect from priests, we will see that, in the end, they have but one great expectation: they are thirsting for Christ. Everything else – their economic, social, and political needs – can be met by any number of other people. From the priest they ask for Christ!” (John Paul II, Gift and Mystery, 85).
It is so tempting for us – especially for a newly ordained priest – to think that we make all the difference, that people want us, our personality, what we bring to the priesthood. Nothing could be further from the truth. People do not want you or me, nor do they need you or me. They want and need Christ and Christ alone. They crave His Word, His vision, His listening ear, His forgiveness, His Body and Blood, His love, His hope.
And so our task – especially in the seminary – is to use this time to become Christ morally, intellectually and spiritually, so that we are ready when we become Christ sacramentally. We must declare war on every part of us that will not submit to Christ and that threatens to separate us from Him. The principal agent of our transformation into Christ, other than the sacraments, is mental prayer, particularly the Holy Hour. Prayer – communion with God – does not change God, it changes us and transforms our hearts and minds into Christ.
As we are transformed into His likeness, we will come to speak His words, not our words, see with His eyes, not our eyes, listen with his ears, not our ears, offer His forgiveness, His Body and Blood, His love and His hope. We will be not merely alter Christus, other Christs, but ipse Christus, Christ himself. The spiritual effectiveness and fruitfulness of our life as priests directly corresponds to the degree to which we are transformed into Christ.
The ultimate mark of our likeness to Christ, however, is not the degree to which we are the vessels of his power; it is the degree to which we share His destiny – the Cross in this life, and the Resurrection in the next. Sharing Christ’s Cross, we will share His wounds and death. We will live them in our own lives when people object to our preaching His Word, or offering His forgiveness, or offering the Mass with reverence and devotion. But we will also share His wounds and death by taking on the sufferings of His Body the Church, His people. Their sufferings and wounds will become ours, and becoming ours, they will become Christ’s.
When at last that process of transformation is complete in us and the Cross has marked every part of our being, when we have finally died in totality to ourselves and this world, when we have definitely decreased and He has definitively increased, may we, please God, share also in the Lord’s Resurrection. Then, as we stand before the great judgment seat with all those to whom we have ministered, our Heavenly Father will recognise not us but His Son in us: “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
May St John the Baptist – whose definitive transformation into Christ we commemorate today – obtain for us that very same grace – our transformation not merely into other christs, but into Christ himself.
St John the Baptist, pray for us.
(Photo's courtesy of Jaycee Napoles)