Who loves the body? Who wants the resurrection?

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Homily at Miraculous Medal Novena, April 8, 2013
1 Cor 15:12-20

Do we believe in the immortality of the soul, or the resurrection of the body?

It might seem that I am creating a trick question in putting it that way, since the answer is actually: “Both.” But it is actually a helpful question, because it reminds us that the two concepts are not exactly the same. And it is possible to believe in one without the other; or even to emphasize one to such a degree that we accidentally forget the other.

We stand this evening within the Easter Season—these 50 days every year when we celebrate the amazing truth of our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection in the flesh.

And, as it happens, today we also are celebrating the Annunciation—since March 25 fell during Holy Week this year, and so the celebration of this solemnity was transferred to the first day after the Easter Octave. So we are celebrating that day when the archangel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary with an announcement and invitation, and she said yes, and at that time and place the Word was made flesh. God the Son, born of the Father before all ages, took on our human nature, including our human body: a body that he will never discard, but which was raised on Easter Sunday and transformed, the first resurrection body; into which our Lord Jesus, the firstfruits of the Resurrection, will bring every person and indeed the entire universe.

Do people believe in the resurrection of the body? Do they want the resurrection of the body? Do they even like the body?

The Hellenistic or Greek culture of the 1st century did not want a resurrected body! They considered the body to be a prison, and they longed for the day when the soul could go free, forever free of the body. So they wanted the soul to be immortal; but they didn’t want a resurrected body, which just seemed pointless and abhorrent. This was one of the reasons why the Gospel seemed like foolishness to the Greeks.

And I think our current American culture also doesn’t want a resurrected body—because it also doesn’t like the body. What? How can that be true? Isn’t our culture obsessed with the body? I would say that our culture has a split between two views of the body. While the body is young and strong and beautiful, then it is obsessed with it: then it promotes flaunting and exploiting this body, if it is yours, for your own pride and gain; then it promotes devouring this body, if it is someone else’s, to satisfy your own lusts and desires. But once the body is no longer young and strong and beautiful—then it wants to hide it and shove it aside and be rid of it. And, all too often, to burn it and scatter the ashes. At base, I believe our culture does not love the body, and does not want a resurrected body.

But God loves the body.

God loves the body so much that he made us human beings in his Image and Likeness—the only creatures in the universe who consist of both an intellectual or rational soul and a physical body. And the body is part of that Image of God: not that God in the divine nature has a body, for he does not; but that, as Pope John Paul II helped us to understand with his teaching on the Theology of the Body, God has written into our bodies the capacity for deep interpersonal giving and receiving, and union, and the creation of life, especially in the faithful lifelong loving marriage of husband and wife—which at its best can be a sort of picture of the Holy Trinity.

And God loves the body so much that God the Son took on a human body himself, as part of human nature; and gave that body in perfect sacrifice to the Father for our salvation; and raised that body on the third day.

And God loves the body so much that already a second human person has received the fullness of the power and life of the resurrection: the Blessed Virgin Mary, when she was assumed body and soul into heaven.

And God loves the body so much that on the Last Day, when our Lord Jesus Christ comes again, he will raise every one of us to new life. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality. …then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:51-55)

And indeed this will be part of the New Heavens and New Earth, as all of the universe will be transformed, free from sin and all its effects, with no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order will have passed away and all things made new. (Rev 21:1-5)

God loves the body!

Do we believe in the immortality of the soul? We do. We believe that, in the moment of death, our body and soul separate; our body remains here on earth while our soul does not cease to exist but rather goes on. Each of us receives in that moment our particular judgment, that is, our personal or individual judgment; and immediately we then begin to receive what our lives have deserved: the punishment of damnation, or the blessedness of heaven, or a final purification to make us ready for heaven. But all of this we receive in our separated soul, without our bodies.

This is all what has traditionally been referred to as the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. And it is very important; but it is not the end. For our separated soul awaits its reunion with its glorified body. And so we look forward to the day when Christ will return and, as the Catechism says (997), 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.

And then, in some way, our joy and blessing will be greater, for experiencing the beatitude of heaven in our transformed, resurrected bodies. Then we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2); then we shall know fully, as we are fully known (1 Cor 13:12); then from our flesh we shall see God, our eyes shall behold him. (Job 19:26-27)

“Behold, I am coming soon. I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” … The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let the hearer say, “Come.” … Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:12-13, 17, 20)

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