‘I Look Forward to the Resurrection of the Dead’
A human being is a composite of spirit (soul) and matter (body). This is a bedrock principle of the Christian faith. Christians are neither spiritualists nor materialists. Materialists emphasize the reality of matter (body) and minimize, even deny, the reality of spirit (soul). Spiritualists emphasize the reality of spirit (soul) and minimize, even deny, the reality of matter (body). Christians hold to the reality and the goodness of both spirit and matter.
There was (is) a heresy called “angelism,” which the Church condemned centuries ago. Angelism, like Spiritualism, tends to erase the difference between angels and human beings, at the expense of human beings! We should know with utter clarity that no angel ever was or will be a human being, and no human being ever was or will be an angel. Angels and humans are two entirely distinct entities in God’s creation.
By nature, angels are far superior to human beings. Nevertheless, there is at least one way in which human beings have it over angels. God never became an angel, but He did become a human! Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity with human soul and human flesh. He has always been God the Son and, about 2,000 years ago, He became man. From that point on and for all eternity, He is and shall ever be both divine and human. Jesus is in Heaven now, His Divine Personhood and Divine Nature permanently joined to His human nature. His human nature is His human body and human soul.
This should tell us something about the dignity of our own bodies. Our bodies are not something to be “shucked off” like a husk from an ear of corn. Even if disfigured by age or illness, or limited by disability, our bodies, as well as our souls are always good and important. They must be treated with the highest respect from the very first moment of conception until natural death….and even beyond death, unto the grave.
Death was not intended by God for any human being. It is not natural. It came about, not through God’s choosing, but through man’s. It is a consequence of the great chasm between God and man caused by the sin of Adam, the Original Sin. But death does not have the final word. The Word has the final word. The Word is Jesus and the Word has destroyed death by His resurrection.
The properties of Christ’s risen and glorified body are previews of the risen bodies of all those human beings who will be numbered among the Just. Every human being, whether numbered among the Just or the Unjust, will experience the resurrection of his or her body when Christ returns at the end of time. The condition of the resurrected bodies of the Just will correspond precisely with the state of their souls. For those who have died in God’s grace and friendship, their eternal glory will be manifested even in their bodies and they will possess magnificent properties.
These seven properties of the glorified body as named by St. Thomas Aquinas are:
Identity: The glorified body will possess its original identity in that it will be united to your soul. Your body will really be your body, but that does not mean it will look the same as it did during your life on this earth. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His Resurrection, He often had to make Himself known in some way, even to those who were His closest disciples. We see this in various post-Resurrection accounts in the Gospels, such as when He had to call Mary Magdalene by name before she could recognize Him at the tomb.
A question often asked is this: Will we be able to recognize our family members and friends in their glorified bodies? The answer is: Yes, God will see to that. We will see others and they will see us as we and they really are. Our bodies as they are in their present state do not adequately convey to others what and how we really are. In fact, we shall not, in the fullest sense, really know others or be known by them until we are all in our resurrected bodies.
Integrity: The glorified body will be integral (complete), regardless of how it was during its earthly life, or at the moment of its death, or after it has decomposed in the grave. Everyone in Heaven, regardless of the condition of his body while on earth, will have all his body parts. All will have perfect vision, hearing, mobility, etc. People die under all sorts of different circumstances. Many die of natural causes, but there are also those who die in ways that cause complete destruction of the body. This will be irrelevant at the time of the great resurrection. All glorified bodies will be entirely integral.
Quality: This is the property of the glorified body by which everyone in his glorified body will be as if in the prime of life. Although “marrying and giving in marriage” will not be part of our post-resurrection life, nevertheless we shall all be either male or female — the same gender God conferred on us at the moment of conception. Only in the post-resurrection life shall we adequately understand what it is to be masculine and feminine.
One of the great misunderstandings about gender derives from taking out of context something that St. Paul wrote. He wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3,28). Some think that Paul is telling us that gender is ultimately irrelevant. The context indicates otherwise. If you read the verse in context, Paul is talking about Baptism, the rite by which both males and females enter into Christ. What Paul is saying is that all human beings — regardless of ethnicity, social standing or gender — enter into Christ Jesus in the same way and under the same terms.
One of the persistent myths that have haunted human imagination is the myth of “the fountain of youth.” This will cease to be myth in the resurrected life. It shall be reality. We shall be forever young. Our glorified bodies will never age, nor wrinkle, nor break down, and they will never die!
All human beings are created equal in terms of their fundamental human dignity. Equality in dignity does not mean “sameness” in all other ways. Individuals are, obviously, diverse in many ways, including talents, abilities, physical properties, etc. If a parent, one need only look at one’s own children to see that. In Heaven, there shall be no inequality among human persons based on race, nationality or other merely human constructs.
But will there be distinctions of any sort? Yes, there will be distinctions, but these will be based on degrees of holiness. Holiness is not a human construct. It is a gift of grace. For example, of all God’s creatures, including the angels, Mary is first in the order of grace. Everybody in Heaven will be completely happy forever and as satisfied as he or she can possibly be. That said, even among those in Heaven there will still be varying degrees of glory according to the degree of merit which one has merited through his or her cooperation with God’s gifts of grace while on earth, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2010, 2025.
Agility: This is the property by which our glorified bodies, acting completely under the dominion of our souls, will have the ability to go effortlessly wherever we desire them to go — at the speed of thought. Jesus manifests this property at Emmaus, cf. Luke 24:30-36, and St. Paul teaches us about it (as well as about other properties of the glorified body) in his First Letter to the Corinthians Chapter 15. So, at the end of time, when God has transformed the created world, if you, in your glorified body, want to be on a beach, with the warm waves lapping up on your toes, at the moment you desire it, you would be there instantaneously. Or, if you want to see a particular family member, you would be able to be with that person face to face immediately. That, in a nutshell, is what is meant by Agility.
Subtlety: On Easter Sunday night, Jesus appeared to His Apostles, who were hiding out in the upper room in Jerusalem. In Chapter 20 of his Gospel, St. John notes that the door behind which the Apostles were hiding was locked. Then Jesus appears before them in His glorified body. He is not a ghost! Because of the property known as subtlety, Jesus was able to pass through the door of the upper room. Earlier that same day, He had passed through the sealed tomb in His risen, glorified body. Our glorified bodies, while physical and tangible, will be completely under the direction of our souls, free from restraint or impediment. This is Subtlety indeed!
Impassibility: Chapter 21, verse four of the Book of Revelation says that in Heaven, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” In our glorified bodies, there will never be pain, sickness, suffering, or death. There will be no natural or supernatural disasters. No cancer, heart disease, diabetes, violence, accidents — not even a stubbed toe! What there will be is unending joy — spiritual but also physical and sensual. We must not over-spiritualize. Remember the principle that human beings are a body-soul unity. Both body and soul are good and important. The reality in heaven is never-ending, uninterrupted happiness. There shall never be boredom in Heaven. We will go “from glory to glory” for eternity! “The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Then he said, ‘Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.’ – Revelation 21:5.
Clarity (sometimes referred to as Brilliance): In Chapter twelve, verse three, of the Book of Daniel, the prophet writes, “And those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” Indeed they shall shine, both spiritually and physically. The body, in its final state, shall correspond completely to the state of the soul. Jesus gave the Apostles Peter, James, and John a foretaste of this property even before His Resurrection, when, on Mount Tabor, he appeared with Moses and Elijah, and was transfigured in their sight. He does this to give them a hint not only of what He will be like after His Resurrection, but what they will be like after theirs! About this event, St. Matthew writes, “And He was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” – Matthew 17:2. We see this quality stunningly and powerfully explained in Chapters one and four of the Book of Revelation, both to describe Jesus and to describe the saints in glory. Regardless of how one’s physical appearance was or is on earth, the glorified bodies of everyone who arrive in Heaven will be magnificently beautiful beyond imagining, far surpassing in beauty and magnificence even the most beautiful people we have ever seen or known while they lived in this world. For at that time, “God will be all in all.” As Saint Paul says, “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard, nor has the heart of man conceived the good things that God has in store for those who love Him!” Holiness will be seen as beauty because, when all is said and done, true and lasting beauty is identical with holiness!
By James F. Gontis
Special to the Witness
(Mr. Gontis is the Director of the Diocesan Department of Religious Education.)