Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
Becoming Jesus, in the desert
By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
February 9, 2014

It is no coincidence that the precursor of the Christ, John the Baptist, began his ministry in a desert calling for repentance, and Jesus after he was baptized was driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit to endure the onslaught of Satan for forty days and forty nights. We should not wonder why the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert to be tempted and later to be persecuted by Satan's agents and delivered up to death. Our credo affirms that Jesus, "true God" and "true man . . . was crucified, died and was buried and rose again from the dead." The Christ who became Jesus enabled us also to become Jesus and resist this world of temptation and sin. Jesus' suffering and crucifixion was not a singular event occurring only on Good Friday but reoccurred every day of his life until his crucifixion and continues every day in his Church until the end of time. Every saint understands this phenomenon. Saint Paul the Apostle to the world understood and bore the life of the crucified Christ in his body. I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ lives in me and the life I live is not my own. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2: 20).

This is the gospel Paul preaches and teaches, that "Life is Christ and death is gain." (Philippians 1: 21).

Ridding ourselves of temptations will be a great boon in our lives in eternity. Jesus knew that before entering the desert that he would be subjected to death dealing with the 'wages of our sins' more than we can possibly appreciate. In Mark's gospel account when Jesus began to draw large crowds after he had feed the four thousand who had followed him Christ revealed to his Apostles his future death. When Jesus for the first time asked his Apostles, "Who do people say that I am?", Peter answered, "You are the Messiah." Jesus then told them, "the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days." First shocked the Apostles could not or would not accept Jesus' suffering no less his death. Peter actually rebuked Jesus for saying such a thing which drew Jesus' condemnation, "Get behind me, Satan." Jesus knew that his Apostles were still thinking as ordinary men and "not as God does," as we all do if we do not daily focus on our inheritance in heaven. (Mark 8: 27 ff). The Apostles had much to learn before they would become Jesus in the world as many Catholics who cling to their fears and passing unfulfilled lives in the world. Jesus would not relent, however. This would be his greatest challenge, not dying on the cross but softening the fearful hearts of his Apostles. Jesus did not relent, and in the end his Apostles' hearts were moved. They faced death without fear and passed through the world to happily gain everlasting life through him and with him and in him, finally understanding his invitation: Whoever, wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What would it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his life? ( Mark 8: 34-37).

It was all bound up in the Lord's relationship with his Apostles and those who followed, the bishops and priests of Jesus Christ with whom Jesus would entrust the keys of the kingdom of heaven to shepherd God's sons and daughters to life everlasting.

Christ's and the Church's mission can not be fully accomplished within the narrow confines of parish and diocesan buildings, facilities, programs and boundaries. Jesus could have settled in Peter's and Andrew's home and have filled his days with "good works and healing" in Capernaum, but he deliberately set out for other villages. After teaching in the town's synagogue Jesus' reputation spread quickly. " 'What is this? A new teaching'!", the people of Capernaum exclaimed. 'With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.' His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee." (Mark 1: 27-28). Anyone who wanted to see Jesus would know where to find him. Jesus did not have to look for others to teach and heal, but he choose to leave.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And he healed many who were sick . . . . [The following day early in the morning] he rose and went out to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him followed him, and on finding him, said, 'Everyone is looking for you.' And [Jesus] said, 'Let us go to other towns, that I may preach there also. For that is why I have come.' (Mark 1: 32-38).

Jesus was taught by his God-fearing loving mother and step-father what the priest Simeon had revealed to his parents, that he would be the cause of "the rise and fall of many in Israel," that he would be a healing "sign of contradiction" which he would emblazon on his cross for all to see, for all those who would follow him into the kingdom of heaven. (Luke 2: 34). For the rest of his days Jesus spread his gospel of 'good news' of man's salvation, journeying from village to village to encounter whomever he met in his wanderings first in Galilee then in Judah and Jerusalem. Jesus' last Apostle Paul explained why. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 14-17). The kingdom of God is as if a man [Jesus taught] should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come. (Mark 4: 26-29).

A person "planted, [another] watered, but God gave the growth" (1 Corinthians 3: 6), but "scattering the seed" remains the most important work of Jesus and his Church, sowing the seed of faith from one field to another and another. Jesus spread the word of God person by person often in the most unlikely places like Samaria, a place of reprobates who had separated from house of David, where Jesus met a woman at the well in the town, alone and in the heat of the day, and asked her for a cup of water and in turn offered her a never failing supply of "living water." She became Jesus' first disciple and 'apostle' in Samaria. What Jesus' Apostles 'in training' must have thought seeing the 'Master conversing with such a woman, an outcast to the Jews. (John 4: 4 ff).

Jesus knows no bounds. For the rest of his days ahead Jesus continued to journey throughout Galilee, Judah and Jerusalem. He admitted to one candidate who asked to join him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Matthew 8:20). Jesus was obsessed in planting the seeds of faith which his Apostles would reap after his death and the seeds of his Apostles which others after them would harvest in the continuous work of the Church. The parable of the sower and the seed was the first and most important parable Jesus would teach "to those who have ears to hear and ought to hear" who were willing to repent on the soil first tilled by John the Baptist and planted by the Christ Jesus Savior. (Mark 4: 3-9).

We can not repay the Lord for the gift of himself. Should I want to be sure of my union with Jesus I would take the advice of his beloved Apostle John, I would "conduct myself just as he did." (1 John 2: 6).

© 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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