Deeper and Deeper

Parishioner Joseph Gulliford is in his sixth year at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh, which sadly is closing at the end of this academic year.

“Now I find fulfilment pouring my life out completely” is the last line to a song I wrote recently on the theme of Vocation.

No matter what our path or vocation is, these words testify that there is wholeness in living the life God is calling us to live for Him. It echoes some of Jesus’ most challenging words, “for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). The secret of finding our life lies not in the loose sense of ‘living life to the full’ by seizing every possible opportunity that comes to us, but in the paradox of denying ourselves and taking up our cross (as Jesus calls us to do in the previous verse).

This has been a big part of my story. I realised a few years ago, when I was speaking to a group of 13-year olds on a School placement, that the idea of giving up our very desires and dreams in order to do what God is asking of us sounds absurd to so many. I was trying to explain to them that living our lives for material things, like wealth or success, was ultimately selfish and would leave us unsatisfied and unfulfilled. This is not a popular thing to say these days, after all, how many of us are guilty of encouraging others, even ourselves, to go out and ‘seize the day’, to ‘live life to the full’ and to ‘chase your dreams’?

These are things we all say so often – for we just want people to be ‘happy’, right?

Don’t get me wrong, Jesus wants us to live life to the full, “abundantly” so (John 10:10), but we frequently forget that true happiness can only be found in Him and not in our own pursuits. Some might argue that they are happy as they are, so why the need to change anything? Why rock the boat? Perhaps in this case one is not able to glimpse what they are truly missing out on in following Jesus, and they do not accept the reality that they are in need of salvation from the Saviour. For what is at the root of being a Christian is acknowledging and accepting Christ as our Lord and Saviour. This is absolutely fundamental.

I am going to be ordained a Deacon in less than a few months’ time for which I sincerely ask for your prayers. My decision to pursue the road to Priesthood has been fraught with many obstacles over the years, yet what has remained firm and unshakeable has been the interior, sometimes hidden, conviction that God is calling me to do this. It didn’t make sense to me at first. At times, I found myself yoyoing between marriage and priesthood with remarkable rapidity. I always felt called to work in some way in the Church and to use my creative gifts for God, but I didn’t know quite how to do this in my late teens and early 20s. When I thought about various careers, I kept on coming back to the same conclusion: I am never going to be happy unless I serve God and His Church. When the Priesthood started to emerge as a genuine possibility, I always seemed to stumble over the commitment to celibacy; “If only I could get married and be a Priest”, I thought to myself.

Some of us think that things should change with regards to celibacy in the Priesthood and that married Priests should be allowed. I don’t want to get into this discussion in great detail here, but it is important to express that celibacy has an incredibly important place in the Church, especially in the Priesthood. It has never been meant as a restrictive thing though it can often appear to be to many today, but rather a life-giving thing. It was never intended to create problems, but to rather be a true icon of the unity of Christ to His Church, pointing to that heavenly state where we are all united to God but without the state of human marriage as we understand it now on this earth. This doesn’t make it easy, but this also doesn’t make it wrong or outdated.

In the song I mentioned earlier, I sing the following in the second verse: “I thought those wedding bells would come but I was wrong, my heart was stung. In deeper surrender, I find new fruit on Calvary”.

It is true to say that at one point in my early twenties, I was serious about getting married. I met a young woman who I knew I could spend the rest of my life with. During the time we were together I kept on experiencing a piercing unrest in my heart – this was something I struggled to understand and come to terms with, creating confusion and friction in our relationship. Despite my attempts to resist this compunction, I realised that my heart only found rest when embracing the call to the Priesthood.

In truth, I was happy to be with my girlfriend at the time and thoroughly enjoyed the thought of living my life together with her. There were also many projects I wanted to pursue that I thought I would not be able to explore sufficiently if I were to become a Priest. Still, I was not truly at peace deep down. It seemed a paradox for me to give her and these things up in order to be truly be happy. It was a huge risk. I was worried that I might later live with regret if I were to make the wrong choice. On the surface, it seemed like a crazy decision; in the eyes of the world, it was foolishness. Yet, when I finally decided to put myself forward for the Priesthood, with all the heartbreak it ensued, I discovered a deep and abundant peace. It was the sort of peace that, even though it seemed the world was crashing down around me, I was somehow content and mysteriously happy. It had to be God’s grace.

I had to take the plunge of surrender into the unknown in trust that God’s call for me was genuine and that He would provide for me. I had to let go of the reins of my own will and preferences for my life. Though I have had a few rocky days here and there, I have never looked back with regret but rather walk forward with increasing confidence day by day that this is God’s will for me. As I express in the chorus of my song: “deeper and deeper down I go, into a well I’ve never known, still Your love has carried me so well though in the dark I could not tell. And even when I couldn’t see, You had a marvellous plan for me. Jesus, I will dare to trust in You, for in Your heart is my vocation”.

My love for my girlfriend those years ago was real and the heartbreak that came from it left a real wound. Such is the road to the cross that none of us can escape – and it comes in many different forms. Still, rather than pursuing our own will and desires (that I was so tempted to do), we can find this “new fruit”, abundant new life and joy and peace, in surrender to God’s will. This involves lifting our very brokenness to Christ on the Cross at Calvary. It is also something that is an everyday challenge and choice.

Why is the Mass so important? It is at the Mass where Christ’s one-time sacrifice on the Cross is made present! Yes, we literally transcend time to experience His offering to us on the cross. It is His real flesh and blood that we receive. Jesus enables us to deal with the difficulties of our lives through uniting them to His own, so too does He raise us up with Him through His resurrection to be a new creation. If we do not risk following Him and doing His will, we will never experience salvation and healing through His cross and resurrection; we will never be truly happy! As it says in Psalm 16 – “my happiness lies in You alone”.

So, let us follow the words of Our Lady who said at the annunciation, when God invited her to bring Him into this world, “let it be done to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38). As I wrote at the end of my song, “let it be so, for this I know – outside Your will I’d hunger still. Now I find fulfilment pouring my life out completely”.

If you would like to listen to my song, ‘In Your Heart is My Vocation’, and support me by voting for my entry for the Vocations Music Award (UK and Ireland), please visit www.vocation-music-award.com/uk/contest/?contest=videos. Thank you! I am incredibly grateful for your support and prayers! Do also consider entering a song yourself or inviting someone else you know to do so! God bless!

Joseph Gulliford