Pandemic takes us back to the “lesson of the desert”

BRIDGEPORT— The pandemic has been a time of spiritual difficulty for many in which we have been challenged to set aside what we thought was important and “embrace the things that really matter most– especially the spirit of surrender and trust in God’s love in the midst of so much pain and suffering, ” said Bishop Frank J. Caggiano in his online Mass for the second Sunday of Advent.

Reflecting on the account of John the Baptist preaching in the desert, the bishop said the work of discipleship is “ learning what to leave behind and learning what to value and to cling to wholly and completely.”

He began his homily in the Catholic Center chapel by noting that the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1:1-8) places us before the image of the enigmatic yet towering person we know as John the Baptist “who is both the last Old Testament prophet and the bridge to the coming of the Messiah.”

The description we have of John the Baptist indicates he was not conventional in dress, in the food he ate, or in his ministry, the bishop pointed out.
“To understand why John the Baptist is so important in the life of the Church, we need to ask a basic question about the place he chose to preach,” he said. “Why is it that John chose to appear in the desert?”

The bishop said that if John wanted to reach as many people as possible, he could easily have preached in the middle of Jerusalem but he chose the desert at a time when most people could not safely venture into it, and those who did could not easily find John in the barren wasteland.

“John the Baptist chose the desert for a particular reason—and that reason continues to challenge anyone who wishes to be a disciple of the Messiah. To go into the desert means there is much we leave behind and much we need to take with us—and making those choices is all the difference.”

The bishop said he was privileged to travel into the Judean desert on his last visit to the Holy Land, and that “even today, it calls for leaving behind comforts and anything we consider normal in our lives.”

On his pilgrimage he also learned quickly that it is fool-hearty to enter the desert alone. “You need the company of others and also the experience of those who have be there before you because all directions—north, south, east and west—are similar,” he said.

In a desert experience, “you quickly leave any sense that I can get through life alone. What you do bring is a spirt of trust, a spirit of surrender, a spirit of running into the arms of God,” he said.

By John going into the desert he is asking us to discover the road of discipleship–and that requires an ability to let go of what we want and trust in God, he said.
“The greater gift is to enter like little children who know the father will always be with us, who seek him out, follow his lead, and value him above our safety and comforts and all we know of our routine life.”

The bishop concluded his homily with a question and a challenge. “Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and please God we will have vaccines soon to be disturbed among the most vulnerable first and eventually for all of us, I ask you, Are we willing not to forget the lesson of the desert?”

The bishop’s Online Mass: The Bishop’s Sunday Mass is released online every Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and available for replay throughout the day. To view the Bishop’s Sunday Mass, recorded and published weekly, click this link or visit the YouTube Mass Playlist.

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