Dear friends. I’m sure you have heard the song ‘You Raise me up’. It is popular at both funerals and weddings around the world. In fact in 2004, the song was played more than 500,000 times on American radio alone. It is a song whose words and music speak of being raised up to a higher dignity with a new strength and hope. ‘You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains. You raise me up to walk on stormy seas. I am strong when I am on your shoulders. You raise me up to more than I can be’. One of the reasons why the song is so popular is that it touches something in us all – the need for our dignity to be raised up by someone when it is down and upheld by someone when it is threatened.
Today’s feast of the Ascension is about just that. It is about human dignity being raised up by God through Jesus who became human like us in all things but sin. And by becoming human, he united himself to every man, woman and child in history, conferring on all of us a new dignity that has been raised up to a level we could not have imagined – to be the sons and daughters of God and to be raised up to the status of being brothers and sisters of Jesus. This is truly amazing! It is a truth that our faith does not allow us to forget, which makes the mystery of the Ascension all the more important – how Jesus has returned to the Father and has raised us up with him.
Throughout the course of human history, this divine dignity of the human person has often been denied. Instead of ‘You raise me up’ we had ‘I will pull you down’. There are several examples we could mention including the horrors of the Second World War when human dignity was ignored or abused with terrible consequences. However there are other examples closer to our own lives when we too can be guilty of pulling down instead of raising up. We all know what we are capable of – jealously, gossip, taking someone’s name and not seeing or celebrating the good in people. But when we choose, with God’s grace, to affirm the goodness, dignity and gifts of others, then their soul can sing of our influence and presence in their lives – ‘You raise me up’.
There are other examples too where the human dignity of others can be denied. On 25th May, we will be asked to vote in a referendum that proposes to remove the fundamental right to life of an unborn child of 3 months or younger. In 1983, the people of Ireland raised up the dignity of the unborn by recognising their right to life. By doing so, we did not raise them up by putting mothers down but simply insisted that the unborn cannot be targeted for deliberate destruction. To do so would be deny their dignity, their rights and their worth. The 8th amendment celebrates the human dignity of everyone and gives medical staff the freedom and duty to protect life and save life whenever possible. In the words of Bishop Denis in his pastoral letter, if we vote ‘Yes’ to repeal the 8th Amendment, ‘an unborn child up to twelve weeks of age will have no rights at all in Ireland’ (Pastoral Letter, 29th April 2018, p. 11). If we give people no rights, we give them no dignity. We do not raise them up but pull them down. On 25th May, when we take that pencil in our hands to vote, we have the power to either uphold rights or take them away, to raise up or pull down.
Finally, it is interesting to note where in the 8th Amendment to the Constitution, the unborn are given the name ‘na mbeo gan breith….the living without birth’. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of life. It is the Good News that God has raised all of us up, born and unborn, to stand on mountains, to walk on stormy seas and has raised us up to more than we can be.