Way back on the first Sunday of Lent – we heard the Gospel of Mark tell us that the Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, where he prayed and fasted and fought off temptations for 40 days.
Those forty days were a preparation period for Jesus’ public ministry of preaching and teaching – a ministry that came to an end when Jesus was lifted up on the cross to gain for us our salvation.
Today, we mark 40 days after Jesus resurrection when he is once again lifted up – not on the wood of the cross – but lifted up into the heavenly kingdom – to take his seat at the right hand of God.
As Jesus prepared 40 days for his own ministry – during these 40 days after the Resurrection he has been preparing his followers for their ministry –
“to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, gives us the most detailed account of this occurrence today in our readings.
There was Jesus, gathered with his disciples on the Mount of Olives – the same mountain on which he gathered with them on Palm Sunday before entering the gates of Jerusalem.
There, Jesus commissioned his disciples to be his witnesses – and that the Holy Spirit would give them the power and strength and courage for this mission.
Luke tells us that when Jesus was done speaking, “he was lifted up” into heaven. And then gives a very interesting detail. Jesus commissioned them, gave them their mission, ascended – and then they got right to work – right? No, the disciples stand there looking into the sky and it takes a couple of angels to get them going – to tell them to go get to work!
“It was not you who chose me – it was I who chose you.” Jesus has chosen each one of us to carry on his mission of proclaiming the love of God – do we get right to work – or do we drag our feet??
Several years ago in one of his daily homilies – Pope Frances spoke of how Christians are all too often just standing around on our journey of life—instead of moving forward to spread the Good News of the Gospel. And he actually had some very harsh words about this.
Pope Francis said that “Christians who stay still, who don’t go forward – are non-Christian Christians. . Those who don’t make the Beatitudes bloom in their lives, who don’t do works of mercy --- are like a mummy – all wrapped up in themselves and motionless when it comes to doing good.”
Pope Francis said we can all do well to examine our own lives and ask whether we, too, have lost our way or become stationary. He said to ask ourselves: How are we doing on our Christian journey? Are we standing still, making mistakes, turning here and there, stopping in front of things that we like --- or are we following Jesus the Good Shepherd – the True Vine – who wants us to bear fruit???
The Pope asks: have we let worldliness or vanity or stubbornness keep us from following Jesus as closely as we should? Or are we slowly turning into a mummy – becoming devoid of the new life Christ died to give us??
We do well to examine our lives in light of Pope Francis’ reflections – and as we journey toward Pentecost next week – to identify those mummified parts of us that need to be revived --- those stubborn parts of us that need to repent --- and those wayward parts of us that need to be brought back into the light of Christ ------------- so that we can be open to all of the Holy Spirit’s gifts ------- that we may be faithful in witnessing to the power of the Risen Lord: because that’s what we have been CHOSEN by Christ to do.
Let’s hope that no one needs to ask us: People of St. Patrick --- why are you standing there looking at the sky ------------ don’t you know there is work to be done in building the kingdom of God??????
Today, it may be helpful to be part of the young church – as the memories will be fresher in our minds –because I want all of us to recall a time in our childhood when either in P.E. class or just in the neighborhood -- teams were being chosen for a game of kickball, soccer, or some other game requiring two opposing sides.
Captains would first be chosen – and then everyone else would be in a line or huddle – waiting to hear their fate – as to which team they would be on.
All of us who were less than physically fit or not quite up to par on the skill level required for the game – would begin praying that we would NOT BE CHOSEN LAST. Because that was a clear sign that you were somewhat of a looser even before the game began.
But alas – someone always has to be last.
The worst part was that final pick which always came down to one kid who thought they weren’t too horrible ------ and the one who knew for darn sure they were horrible.
Guess, then, who was always picked last -- assuring the sole survivor of this childhood ritual was left to question why he or she even bothered to leave the house that day? Such fond memories. . .
Most of the time to be chosen – can make a person feel wanted or needed.
You realize that someone else sees something in you that they respect or value --- maybe something that you don’t even recognize in yourself.
Being chosen allows you to become part of something bigger than yourself – a team, a community, a partnership.
If asked how many of us CHOOSE to follow Christ –most of us would raise our hands – or at least we know that choice was made for us by our parents at the time of our Baptism.
Even a popular Christian song by Tom Booth – which we last sang at CONFIRMATION proclaims:
I will choose Christ.
I will choose love.
I choose to serve.
I give my heart, I give my life, I give my all to you. . .
However, what we have really chosen – is a response ----- if we are a Christian, then we respond by following, we respond by imitating, we respond by conforming ourselves into the image and likeness of Christ.
We make such response because -- WE DID NOT CHOOSE CHRIST – CHRIST CHOSE US!
Jesus, speaking today in St. John’s Gospel tells us this very thing: “It was not you who chose me – but I who chose you.”
Do not think for a moment that it was our choice to get into the band of disciples --- WE WERE CHOSEN by Christ, himself, to be a disciple.
And unlike in our childhood ritual of choosing teams – which may at times even extend itself into adulthood ------- no one was chosen first and most importantly no one was chosen last ----
Christ saw in each one of us something of value – most times something we did not even recognize in ourselves --- and Christ made sure to choose us.
And no matter how many times we mess up – and no matter how many times we may feel unworthy or not good enough for Christ –
Christ reminds us that we are all stars on his team --- and he would choose each one of us all over again.
Today, and in the few days that remain of the Easter season – let’s celebrate the fact that we have been chosen – and allow the Holy Spirit to fall upon us – so that we can faithfully continue to follow, imitate, and conform ourselves into the image and likeness of Christ.