Heavenly Father’s Day

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension, Year A.

Although I have a German last-name, there’s actually very little I know about German history or culture. The most German thing about me, besides my last-name, is that I like bratwurst. But even then, I put ketchup on my bratwurst, which is pretty much a heresy. My favorite thing that I do know about German culture is when they celebrate Father’s Day. I didn’t know this until recently, but in Germany, Father’s Day is always celebrated forty days after Easter. 

Forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven, which we heard about in our first reading. If you do the math, since Jesus rose on a Sunday, this would put His ascension on the Thursday of the sixth week after Easter—in other words, this past Thursday. Many of you growing up probably remember going to Mass on Ascension Thursday. The Ascension is a Holy Day of Obligation, but in the United States many dioceses, including our own, move this feast day to this Sunday in order to make it more convenient for people to attend Mass. 

But on this past Thursday, the actual day of Jesus’ Ascension, Father’s Day—or “Vatertag” as it’s called—was celebrated in Germany. Like many countries in Europe, Germany still has public holidays which are connected with the religious holidays that originally inspired them. And in the Middle Ages, the Ascension began to be celebrated in Germany not only as a Feast of God the Son but a Feast of God the Father.  

This is my favorite thing about German culture, because if you think about it, there are no feast days in the Church’s liturgical calendar that specifically celebrate God the Father. At Christmas and Easter we celebrate God the Son; at Pentecost we celebrate God the Holy Spirit; on Trinity Sunday we celebrate all Three Divine Persons; but there isn’t a feast day specifically for God the Father.  

But if there were to be a feast day for God the Father, it would make sense for it to be the Ascension. There’s a certain logic to this, because although the Ascension is about something Jesus did, what Jesus was doing was returning to His Heavenly Father. Many of us go home and visit our earthly father on Father’s Day; when Jesus ascended into heaven, He was going home to His Heavenly Father. In the gospels, Jesus even speaks about His Ascension as His “going to the Father” (e.g. John 14:28, 16:28). 

But when Jesus ascended into heaven, He wasn’t just doing so as a Divine Person; He was also doing do as a human being. And that’s what’s most important for us about this feast day: the fact that Jesus brought our humanity, the same humanity that we share with Him, into the life of heaven.  

In a homily he gave in the fifth century, Pope St. Leo the Great said this about our feast day today: “At Easter, beloved brethren, it was the Lord’s resurrection which was the cause of our joy; our present rejoicing is on account of his ascension into heaven. With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father.” 

Although we are weaker and less intelligent than the angels, by ascending into heaven, and bringing our poor human nature with Him, Jesus made our human nature greater and more exalted than the angelic nature. It’s not merely a Divine Person who is seated at the right hand of the Father, as St. Paul says in our second reading, it’s a human being. And Jesus is no less human for also being Divine.

Sometimes we have a tendency to think this way: to think that Jesus is somehow less human because He is also Divine. But, actually, it’s quite the opposite: Jesus is not only just as human as we are, but we might even say that He is more human than us. To be human isn’t to be weak, to be prone to sin, or to be subject to death. That’s our humanity in its fallen state. But God never intended us for that state, and in the life of heaven we will no longer be in that state. To be human—to be fully and perfectly human—is to be like Jesus. Jesus is not just the measure of Divinity, He’s the measure of humanity. 

There could have been no greater way to show our high and exalted dignity as human beings than for Jesus to become human at the beginning of his earthly life and then, at the end of his earthly life, to bring our humanity into the life of heaven. It seems strange to have to say it, but in our own day an age it needs to be said, that it is good to be a human being. Jesus didn’t leave His humanity behind when He ascended into heaven; He took it with Him, body and soul. And He lifted up that humanity higher than the highest choir of angels and brought it to the very throne of God the Father. 

There’s a reason why the first principle of Catholic Social Teaching is the Dignity of the Human Person. Our Dignity as human beings comes not only from the fact that we are made in God’s image and likeness, but because Jesus took on our humanity in the Incarnation and brought our humanity into the life of heaven at the Ascension. From the moment of our baptism, our humanity is set apart and set on a trajectory for the life of heaven, the same trajectory that Jesus followed in His Ascension. To treat our own humanity, or the humanity of our neighbor, with anything less than the dignity that is our due because of this high and exalted destiny, is the greatest of tragedies.  

C.S. Lewis put it this way: “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” The Ascension reminds us of this important fact: the human being whom I treat well, or treat poorly, in this earthly life is the same human being who is made for the life of heaven. There are no ordinary people. There are no mere mortals. To be human is a precious and wonderful thing, never an accident, never an inconvenience, never a burden, never a waste of time or resources. This is what the Ascension reminds us of, and how different would we treat people if we always kept this in mind! Amen.