Resurrection Means a Glorious Existence

FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS

In the Apostles Creed we say, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." I have never really understood what this means. Will we have the same body? Please explain.

This question prompts me to think back when I was at Washington Irving Junior High School and a friend of mine showed me a religious magazine from her church which showed the end of the world and resurrection of the dead. In "comic book" form, the magazine depicted people coming out of graves and tombs — a rather frightening scene to say the least, especially from a seventh grade viewpoint. As time has passed and my theological understanding has improved, I now hope more that when I rise from the dead, God makes a few adjustments or improvements to this body of mine before I spend the rest of eternity with it.

We do firmly believe in the resurrection of the body. With out recent celebration of Easter, we recalled that our Lord Jesus rose body and soul from the dead. The tomb was empty. However, Jesus had undergone a "change" through the resurrection: Jesus appeared to two of the apostles "completely changed in appearance" (Mk 16:12). When He appeared, at times the apostles thought they were seeing a ghost (Lk 24:37) or did not recognize Him at first (Jn 21:1, ff) until He revealed Himself. Nevertheless, Our Lord could be touched: the women embrace his feet (Mt 28:9), Jesus invited Thomas to probe the nail marks in the hand and the wound at the side (Jn 20:24, ff), and He told the other apostles to touch Him to see that He had "flesh and bones" unlike a ghost (Lk 24:39). Jesus could eat a meal (Lk 24:30, 24:42-43; Jn 21:12, f). Yet, He also appeared suddenly to the apostles (Mk 16:14; Lk 24:13, f), even behind locked doors (Jn 20:19, f), and He would vanish suddenly (Lk 24:31).

In all, Jesus was not some resuscitated corpse. These resurrection scenes are not script material for "Night of the Living Dead." Rather, through the resurrection, Jesus had undergone a radical transformation of both body and soul. He entered into a glorious existence, perfectly "humanized" and "divinized." The Catechism (No. 645) states, "He invites them in this way to recognize that He is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which He appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of His passion. Yet, at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time, but able to be present how and when He wills; for Christ's humanity can no longer be confined to earth and belongs henceforth only to the Father's divine realm."

Beginning with our baptism, we share in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and struggle to live life with Him as He wants it to be lived. Each time we receive Holy Communion, we remember the words of our Lord, "He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise Him up on the last day" (Jn 6:54). Saint Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians also reminds us, "Tell me, if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ Himself has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too" (I Cor 15:12-14). Therefore, we look forward to a body and soul existence with our Lord in Heaven.

Now to address some basic questions: What will this rising entail? When we die, we believe that our soul leaves the body and faces the particular judgment. The body is buried (or cremated). However, we as individuals are a union of body and soul. Therefore, at the end of time, the soul and body will be united again in a glorious, transformed and complete existence.

When is this "end of time"? This last day will be at the end of the world, when Christ comes again in glory.

What is this glorious body? Actually any answer lacks, since this matter exceeds not only our understanding, but also our imagination. Looking back to those resurrection scenes, the resurrected body will entail a glorified existence. Here the Scholastic theologians distinguished four gifts or properties of the resurrected body of the just: Impassibility (the incapability of suffering), meaning that we will no longer suffer physical evils such as sorrow, sickness or death; subtility, meaning that we will have a spiritualized nature in the sense of a spiritual body as did our Lord; agility, meaning that the body will obey the soul with the greatest ease and speed of movement; and clarity, meaning that this body will be free from any deformity and will be filled with beauty and radiance. These four gifts try to capture the glory which the soul enjoys in heaven and in which the body will now share.

St. Thomas Aquinas elaborated, "The soul which is enjoying God will cleave to Him most perfectly, and will in its own fashion share in His goodness to the highest degree; and thus will the body be perfectly within the soul's dominion and will share in what is the soul's very own characteristics so far as possible — in the perspicuity of sense knowledge, in the ordering of bodily appetite, and in the all-round perfection of nature; for a thing is the more perfect in nature the more its matter is dominated by its form… just as the soul of man will be elevated to the glory of heavenly spirits to see God in His essence…so also will his body be raised to the characteristics of heavenly bodies — it will be lightsome, incapable of suffering, without difficulty and labor in movement, and most perfectly perfected by its form. For this reason, the Apostle speaks of the bodies of the risen as heavenly, referring not to their nature, but to their glory" (Contra Gentiles, 4:86).

The resurrection of the body is a mystery of faith, something we limited human beings cannot fully grasp. However, this belief is bolstered through the assumption of our Blessed Mother. She, who fully lived the life of faith on this earth and in this time dimension, was taken body and soul into heaven at the end of her life. Therefore, may we look to her example and unite ourselves body and soul to the Lord in this life, looking to that glorious, transformed and complete life in the heavenly kingdom at the end of time.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Saunders, Rev. William. "Resurrection Means a Glorious Existence." Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.

THE AUTHOR

Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Sterling, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald




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