Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
So what do we do now?
By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
January 26, 2014

Christmas and New Year's Day are over. The tree and the outdoor lights have been taken down or should be, and now we deal with bloated balances on our credit cards after our Christmas purchases. We are now gathered at church on the second week of "Ordinary Time" with thirty-two more weeks of "ordinary time" ahead of us when we start the cycle all over again. So what do we do in between time as we fall back into our ordinary lives?

Last Sunday, the first week in Ordinary Time, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and the "heavens were opened" with a voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," and Jesus began his public ministry. (cf. Matthew 3: 13-17). At first John protested, "saying, 'I need to be baptized by you . . . But Jesus replied, 'Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness'." It was 'fitting' because God had decided long before the creation of the world and the first Adam who sinned against God that God's Son, the New Adam, would be born to right the relationship of men with God "to fulfill all righteousness" for our sake. Later at a chance meeting John the Baptist seeing Jesus whom he had baptized earlier declared, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," revealing that Jesus was cast in the figure of a sacrificial lamb celebrated on Passover. (John 1: 29). The blood of the lamb had once freed the Jews from tyranny. Now the blood of Jesus would free us from sin and death whom the prophet Jeremiah described as "a gentle lamb led to the slaughter." (Jeremiah 11: 19). Next Sunday Jesus, after the Baptist is imprisoned, leaves his home in Nazareth to live in Capernaum at Peter and Andrew's home, not an isolated hamlet like Nazareth but a bypass to other towns in the region and beyond. Jesus, the newborn, whom we had visited only three weeks ago reappears in Scripture as a grown man at the proper age for a rabbi learned in Mosaic law. Years before there was a hint of Jesus' vocation when at the age of twelve Jesus' family had lost him on one of their high holy days' trips to Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph later found Jesus in the temple discussing the law of God with other learned men. John the Baptist and prophet preceded Jesus' ministry in order to "make straight the way of the Lord," he proclaimed, and soon afterwards he would be arrested and beheaded by Herod, the son of Herod the First who had tried to kill Jesus as a child. (John 1: 23). John the Baptist's fate prefigured Jesus' fate. Jesus continued the Baptist' preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" just as Jesus' church today repeats Jesus' call for repentance to complete Jesus' mission among us. (Matthew 3: 20).

What else should we have in mind, these many 'ordinary' weeks before another Christmas?

Next week's gospel reading according to Matthew has Jesus in Capernaum, Peter and Andrew's hometown, a crossroad to other regions of the world where people "sit in darkness" "beyond the Jordan," we read. (Matthew 4: 12-23). What should we make of that? Probably not much if we are not familiar with the other gospels of Luke, Mark and John. Each adds, truly, something to our understanding of Christ's ministry and life. Without a familiarity of all four gospels we would reduce Jesus to some kind of idealized figure we may pray to who is unrelated to the real person of Jesus Christ. A vacuum tends to fill itself with all kinds of things. Perhaps, we would reduce every Sunday's gospel to some disjointed action like Jesus calling Andrew, Peter, James and John from their boats who drop everything to follow him which is recounted in next week's gospel reading. (ibid.). We are not told why they so immediately left their livelihood behind, and we are left sitting alone in Peter's and James' boats, unimpressed and unmoved while our fate languishes. The seeds of the word of God, however, are borne in all the gospels to fill out the life of Jesus to get us up and move us out of the ordinariness of our lives. The Apostle John who had read and knew the other three gospels for thirty years after they were written approached the life, teachings and works of Jesus Christ much differently. He filled in important aspects of Jesus' life the other gospels did not address. John began his gospel of Jesus' life not as a child but as an adult when he was baptized before his public ministry. John recalls in his gospel account how he and Andrew saw Jesus for the first time after Jesus his baptism. Imagine meeting Jesus for the first time as John tells the story as the Baptist points to Jesus suddenly passing by the River Jordan, saying, "Behold! the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". . . [he] ranks before me, for he was before me." (John 1: 29-30). Imagine the effect that had on the Baptist's disciples, Andrew and John. Then the following day Jesus' reappears and the Baptist standing by with Andrew and John repeats, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" (John 1: 35-36). John in his gospel then tells us that he and Andrew stopped whatever they were doing and followed Jesus probably in quick-time excited and not sure what they would say when they caught up with Jesus. Then Jesus surprises them. He turns around and asks, "What are you looking for?" Direct and to the point. Andrew and John must have been startled at the question and blurted out, "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Jesus answered, "Come and see." (John 1: 29 ff).

I smile every time I read that passage, and I think Jesus also smiled answering Andrew and John. Imagine approaching any stranger who asks you, "What do you want?" and you answer, "Where do you live?" But someone who really wants to know you may say, "Come and see." It may be more than what we are bargained for. "Never mind." Would that be our reply? Comparable in a small way, asking someone for directions and they reply, "Follow me." Have any of us had that experience when lost when driving? I have and I was grateful. Or asking a sales clerk at a hardware store, "Where do I find such and such, and the salesman says, "Follow me. I'll show you." Makes you want to keep shopping in that store. Makes you want to "go and see" the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." Now will we better understand why Peter, Andrew, James and John would in next Sunday's gospel leave everything behind to follow Jesus when he said, "Come follow me"?

(Mark 1:17). Mark in his gospel only briefly speaks of Jesus' baptism before launching into Jesus' ministry when he recruits his first disciples, Andrew, Peter, James and John, whom we now know Jesus had met earlier. They knew Jesus some days before his walk along the beach where they were fishing. They 'went and saw' and were together for at least several days in Cana where Jesus recruited two other disciples, Philip and Bartholomew, all of whom attended the famous wedding in Cana with Jesus. There they had witnessed first hand Jesus' kindness and gentile intervention at the wedding celebration when the bride and bridegroom had run out of wine. With so much wine on hand in large stone containers I would imagine that the bride and the groom may have had given their parting guests some extra wine to take home since Jesus had changed so much water into wine. ( Years later Jesus would feed a crowd of four and five thousand people who hadn't eaten in days and had many baskets of food left over.)

So next Sunday remember this when you hear the story of four fisherman dropping everything to follow Jesus – and you will understand how God operates.

Most people watch television news, many on a daily basis. Usually there is more discussion of the news than news reported. These news shows engage a number of guests and their take on the news and we are inevitably draw our own conclusions. There are some, however, who pay little or no attention and, of course, are the most surprised when certain public issues touch their lives weeks or months later. The 'good news' of the gospels of Jesus Christ, we may not hear if we do not open the bible and may be among those Jesus described, "He who has ears to hear let him hear . . . To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God" and those who choose to ignore the word of God Jesus said, "that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand." We run the risk not of knowing Jesus no matter how many gospel readings we hear at Mass because we may not know the relevance of Christ in our lives. That would apply if we are confused or bored by the sacred readings we hear. I don't know any Catholics who skip Mass and regularly who read and try to understand the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who skip mass or drop out altogether haven't read the gospels or other books of the Bible. The readings at daily and Sunday Mass are cited in our Church bulletin. We may read them before coming to Mass. If reading and discussing the Bible is not part of a family's routine we may expect that our children will find the Mass "boring" or irrelevant and a majority of them will leave the church by high school and certainly by college.

Having our children attend our parish school or religious education class alone – will not do the job.

You can't become an actor or a musician by simply watching a movie or going to a concert – you have get on a stage to find out what drama and music you have in you which God can help bring out. To "know God with your whole heart, your whole mind and whole strength" as Jesus said – we have to know him, and we can not know him sitting on the sidelines especially if we are Scripturally . . . illiterate.

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo


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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at (Fr. Bartolomeo passed away on September 18, 2018. His obituary can be found here.)


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