Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Resurrection of the Body / The Incarnation / Human Beings

Q - At All Soul's Day Mass, I noticed Fr. Brian emphasize in the Creed the words "[we believe in] the resurrection of the body", which I must admit I don't know much about. In my catechesis, this wasn't really fleshed out, so to speak, and I remember previously believing that we'd be just spirits in heaven, without thinking much of it. I heard that the Church used to forbid cremation because it was previously understood to be a denigration of the body that God will resurrect on the last day. I was then taught that God can work miracles, so we can trust him to "put the ashes back together" or something. I also read recently of a new process, already being criticized by Catholics, that some medical schools use to dispose of cadavers. It involves dissolving the body's bodily tissues in lye and flushing them down a drain, which creeps me out. So, what do we need to know about the resurrection of the body, which we profess our belief in, weekly.

A - Good questions. It is good for us to wrestle with these things that we have little understanding of and I am happy to see you seek out clarification. I hope I might be able to help shed some light on this area of our faith.

The basics of the resurrection of the body are:
  • The principles of the resurrection of the body have their foundation in the Incarnation.
  • This is an important doctrine to understanding our human nature.
  • God values our bodies much more than we do.
  • We are meant to be with God in heaven - but as fully human, which necessarily means having both our bodies and souls present.
God became man. This is a completely mind-blowing doctrine. God - infinite, omnipotent, all-loving, etc. - became one of us. Why? Out of love. Christ reveals to us what it means to be human. Part of understanding what it means to be human is found in Christ teaching us that our bodies are important. The body is important because without it we are not fully human. Humanity is made up of souls and body. The body isn't just a vessel that captures the soul as if our souls need to be freed of them. Rather, it is part of what makes us human and helps reveal who God is and who we are. Thus, while reflecting on the Incarnation earlier this year, I wrote:

What is the truth? It is that each of us are created in the image and likeness of God. Big deal, you might think. But, it is. It is our identity. We are adopted into the family of God (the Trinity) and made partakers of the divine nature. This means we that our nature is caught up into God, by our participation in God's divine life. A new-found identity in Christ means we can no longer look at ourselves or others in the same way. This is why the John Paul the Great quoted the following verse more than any other from Vatican II:

Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. (Gaudium et Spes 22)

If we want to know who we are, who others are, and the answers to the other questions that have been planted deep within us, then we need to understand who Jesus is and who we are in light of Christ. When God became man in the Incarnation, He didn't lower His own divine nature, which is impossible - because God is unchangeable, rather He raise up our human nature higher.

The Incarnation teaches us, through the revelation of God, who we are to be. This being then informs what we are to do. In today's society we have reversed the order. We identify who we are with what we do. This is a lie. I am not who I am based upon what I do. I am who I am, based on my identity as a human made in the image and likeness of God and redeemed through Christ.
What does any of this have to do with the Resurrection of the Body? Well, once we know that our bodies have a special part to play in our lives both on this earth and in making us fully human - we can see that they to are part of Christ's plan of redemption, just as Christ's body was part of all of creations' redemption (e.g., Christ's suffering, dying resurrection). Part of the plan of redemption of our bodies is that once Christ comes again, our bodies are raised up and reunited with our souls forever in heaven. This is why Christian tradition treats the body with respect. To do such things as flush the body down the drain is sacrilegious because of the sacred purpose of it.

St. Paul tells us about the resurrected body:
There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another. The brightness of the sun is one kind, the brightness of the moon another, and the brightness of the stars another. For star differs from star in brightness. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one. 1 Cor 15:40-44
Based on the Scriptural evidence of the Resurrection of the body, the Church teaches us about this doctrine in the Catechism

997 What is "rising"? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection.

998 Who will rise? All the dead will rise, "those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment."

999 How? Christ is raised with his own body: "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself";but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, "all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear," but Christ "will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body," into a "spiritual body":

But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . . What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.

1000 This "how" exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies:

Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection.

1001 When? Definitively "at the last day," "at the end of the world."Indeed, the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ's Parousia:

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.


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