Bishop Richard Moth’s Homily for St John’s Day Mass at Wonersh
Tuesday 9 February 2021
There might be a temptation on this St. John’s Day to fall into anecdote and reminiscence. Opportunities for that abound at lunch and the homily at Mass is meant for better purposes. Let us, then, be open to the Word that we have heard and to the One who gives Himself to us on his altar, for here is Calvary and here, also, is the Tomb, the place of Resurrection.
The dignity of the baptised person is a wonderful fact – and the life of every Christian is bound up in the love that exists in the Trinity. It is a life of pilgrimage on which we are called to deepen our relationship with Father, Son and Spirit, that the love we experience in God will flow out to others, calling them into that same relationship that finds its expression most fully in the life of the Church.
For some of us, the Lord has a particular call – to share in His eternal Priesthood and for 130 years this Seminary has been the place of formation in the Christian Life that has, for many who have come through its doors, led to the gift of Priesthood. A Seminary is a place of beginnings, of nourishment, of discovery. It is a place where the seed of priestly vocation is planted and given space to put down roots in the heart of the one who responds to the call. It is a place of aspiration and Hope. The path that we take here is one of discernment, depth of prayer, growth in knowledge and in the understanding of ourselves and others, that we might be ready for all the Lord calls us to do.
Here at St. John’s, this journey is marked by the foundation of this Seminary in the Sulpician Tradition, as envisaged by the first Rector, Francis Bourne and Bishop John Butt, our founder. Formation takes place in a context of a very close relationship between staff and students. Staff and students take the journey of formation together. I wound venture to suggest that this Sulpician spirit has been found in new ways in more recent times. It is certainly more evidence than would have been the case when I and Fr. Rector were here as students – and this is a blessing for the community and for the Dioceses that the seminary serves.
For those called to Priesthood, it means a life “united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him, denying oneself, prompted by love of Him.” The priest is a “steward of the mysteries of God in the Holy Eucharist and the other liturgical rites, a life devoted to sacred office of teaching – not for any gain, but moved only be zeal for souls.” – as the renewal of promises at the Mass of Christ expresses it.
St. John, in today’s Gospel, explains who he has written: to ensure that the truth of the Resurrection is known. John’s faith is simply expressed: “He saw and he believed.” There is no questioning in his response. He holds this truth in his heart and he proclaims it in simple and straightforward terms. John proclaims the Word made Flesh, he proclaims the Resurrection of Christ. He knows that the world will not always believe – we see this in the Prologue to his Gospel – but he must proclaim the message, that others may know Christ. John was a young man, with the straightforward, no-nonsense zeal that has no place for cynicism – we do well to learn from John in this respect.
He has, as he writes in his letter, only one Subject. Aside from Christ, there is nothing worth talking about! So it must be for us. Today’s world may be secular and consumerist in so many ways – the world of John’s day wasn’t so different – but there is so much that is good and open to the gift of faith. With the prophet in today’s first reading, we are called to be bearers of Good News – Good News that is welcomed. Because the human person is made for God, even in those who do not recognise it, there is an unrealised joy in hearing the message.
This Seminary community exists in this world – it is not isolated from it – and in this place the Lord invites us to answer fundamental questions: Am I a John for the age in which I live? Is the Lord my one Subject, the one relationship that matters above all else? Is the Lord calling me to preach His Incarnation and Resurrection, to be His priest – and not a priest of my own invention or image – that the world may encounter Him in the miracle of the Eucharist?
If the answers to these questions is ‘Yes’, what better foundation can there be for a life of priestly service – and what gifts will come to the Church and to a world that needs to hear the message that John proclaimed: “I have written these things that, reading them, you too may believe as well.”
May I end of a personal note. Thank you for inviting me to celebrate St. John’s Day with you. It is difficult to express the privilege that this is for me. In this celebration, we offer the greatest thanks possible in this life – the Eucharist – for all who have been formed for priesthood in this house. We give thanks, too, for those for whom the experience of this house has led them to different paths in the Lord’s service. We remember past members of this house who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith after lives of devoted service.
As this day of celebration continues, we continue to pray for our present community – in thanksgiving for all that that you bring to this house, for the confidence with which you are facing a time of change and for the giftedness that you will take to new places in the months ahead.