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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. At the centre of the large stained-glass window here in Bride St Church in Wexford (see photo opposite), there is a striking image of Christ ascending into heaven. Beneath the image of Christ are his footprints if you look closely. The image communicates the sense of Christ returning to the Father after his earthly mission but it also communicates the truth that he has lifted us up with him.

Here is the faith of the Church. The Father sent down his Son to be with us, to save us as a fellow human beings and then to raise us up to a new dignity by sharing the life of God, lifting us up to a new identity as his sons and daughters. How did he do this? By treating people with dignity and respect, helping them to see a beauty that they could not see and a destiny they had lost sight of. Think of the Prodigal Son. His father's mercy lifted him out of filth to a new beginning of hope. All of Jesus' miracles, his parables, his works of mercy, his healings and actions all had one thing in common – they raised people up from sin, sadness and despair and lifted them to new hope and new horizons.

Think of how the saints did this too. Mother Teresa of Calcutta is often pictured lifting up a child in her arms. By her compassion and that of her sisters, they lifted people up from  degrading poverty to a new awareness that they mattered to someone. By her mercy and care for the poor, Mother Teresa gave countless people new hope and invited them to believe that they too are loved.

This is how love works. It raises us up, always. Listen to the words of a well known song: ‘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’. Or Jackie Wilson’s song ‘Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher’ that goes ‘Your love, lifting me higher, Than I've ever been lifted before’.

This is also what happens here at the Mass. Look at the gothic arches in this Church – they all point upwards, as does the roof and the spire. In many towns in Italy that are built on hills, the highest point on the hill is the church and the spire. The location of the church is to highlight that the highest place in our lives belongs to God alone and that Jesus is Lord. Everything else revolves around this truth.

At the start of the preface of the Mass the priest invites the people to ‘Lift up your hearts’ to the praise of God. Here we are invited to lift our hearts up to a higher love and a higher power. Shortly afterwards, the priest lifts up the consecrated host and chalice to the Father together with the offering of our whole lives, all we have and all we are. In this way, the whole liturgy directs us to our final destiny which St Paul clarifies in the second reading in today’s Mass; namely to be united to the mystery of God’s love forever, ‘the rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit’. Here is our destiny. Where Christ has ascended, he wants us to be with him. In his own words: ‘When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself’.

So, as we celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Ascension, the gift of God’s love lifts us up to believe and hope again. It lifts us out of sadness and fear and points us towards home. This is the love that changes lives in the present too. Every time we are selfish, harsh, judge and are cruel; every time we fail to have mercy, we drag each other down instead of raising them up. Be a person who lifts others up, to raise people beyond themselves because that is what Jesus did for us. In the words of the song ‘He raised us up to more that we could be’. He sure did.


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