“When the Time comes, you will Receive the Holy Spirit and you will be my Witnesses”
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. It is, in a sense an ending. It also marks the beginning of our mission as Church in the concrete circumstances of the world in which we live. Next Friday we vote in the referendum on the meaning of Marriage. In that context, I think it is worth drawing your attention to the conversation between Jesus and his disciples, as recorded by St. Luke in this Sunday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The disciples wondered, now that Jesus had risen, if He was going to “restore the kingdom to Israel“. In other words, was He going to intervene directly in the political affairs of the nation. As often happens, Jesus comes at the question from another angle. He simply tells them, “when the time comes, you will receive power from the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses“. That is precisely my message to you today.
Every citizen and long-term resident has a vested interest in how society defines and protects marriage and the family founded on marriage. As Christians, you HAVE received the Holy Spirit. You are called to exercise the gifts of wisdom and right judgement and to be witnesses to Jesus Christ. As citizens, you are the people with the vote and you have a responsibility to use it, for the common good. Nobody else can exercise that responsibility on your behalf.
I would hope that, over the past few months, you have thought carefully about this question and that you have also reflected on the content of the two statements issued by the Irish Catholic Bishops, one before Christmas and the other in March. If you have not read them, then I believe you should do so before Friday. You can get copies of them either here in the Church or online.
There are a few points that I would ask you to consider carefully in making your own decision before God.
- The Constitution is the document which underpins our whole legal system. To define marriage in the Constitution as a relationship between two people without distinction as to their sex, would be a major change. It would mean that family law could no longer give preference to a mother and father relationship as the form of parenthood best suited to the needs of children. It would make it increasingly difficult to speak in public about marriage being between a man and a woman. In the absence of any conscience clause, I would be concerned, for example, at what teachers might be expected to teach our children.
- I would ask you to consider carefully how a same sex union, however loving, can be said to be the same as marriage. It is true, of course, that all people are equal. Reason, however, points to the truth about human sexuality that makes the relationship of man and woman unique. This uniqueness has been recognised in every culture and has always been associated with the openness of marriage to the gift of life. That is why society has always sought to “guard with special care the institution of marriage“. Why would we suddenly want to change that now?
- During these past few months, many commentators have described same-sex marriage as a human right. I would ask you to take account of the fact that the European Court of Human Rights, which is not a religious organisation, issued a statement only last Summer making it clear that same-sex marriage is not a human right.
There is one final point that I want to make. It comes straight from our second reading  this Sunday. St. Paul encourages the people of Ephesus: “to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together“. We need to acknowledge that the issue of same sex-relationship is a reality for many in our society and, among them, families in our own parishes. We need to remember that we are “all called into one and the same hope“. This is a challenge for the Church, both now and for the years ahead.
As far as the referendum is concerned, however, I believe that the truth is quite clear. I also believe, quite honestly, that society can respond to the human rights of all who live together in committed relationships, without changing the meaning of marriage.
I encourage you to reflect carefully, to pray for wisdom from God’s Spirit and then to go out and vote on Friday.
Bishop of Elphin
 This presumes the use of the alternative reading from Ephesians Chapter 4.