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Retreat on the Credo
Faith in the Resurrection of the Body
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The eleventh article of the Apostles' Creed is a declaration of our faith in what will take place on the last day; and so we say, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." As we take a closer scrutiny at this mystery it may be useful to note that we are hearing say more than that we shall live on beyond the grave. Our souls are spiritual by nature and therefore cannot naturally die. The only way the human soul could go out of existence would be for God to annihilate it, that is reduce it to the nothingness from which it came. And we know that God will never annihilate the human spirit.
Declaring therefore that we believe in the resurrection of the body says more than believing that our souls are immortal. We further profess that our bodies will one day be immortal too.
What happens to us when we die? A number of things happen. Our time of probation or testing our loyalty to God comes to an end. What a consoling thought! But our time of merit will also end. The moment we die we can neither merit nor demerit before God. Not even Christ Himself once He took on our human nature and died could any longer merit. Merit stops with death. We earn now; we get our wage when we die. Immediately on death we are judged on our eternal destiny, whether we shall be saved or lost. And at least once in a while we should remind ourselves that part of our faith is that not everyone will be saved. Right after this particular judgment the soul that is separated from the body goes to heaven, hell or purgatory. Our bodies stay behind and immediately they begin to disintegrate. Depending on the person's age, state of health just before death and the suddenness of death, there may be, as the Church tells us, several hours before actual death actually sets in. We commonly teach in theology up to four hours. Real death follows apparent death more rapidly in people who die older and have been long enduring sickness or disease.
The moment we die the body begins to decay, unless as in some rare instances with some saints, God miraculously preserves their bodies incorrupt.
Why does our body separate from the soul? Faith tells us this is the penalty for sin. The account given in the first book of the Bible, in the book of Genesis and the reference to death as a punishment for sin occurs no less than three times in rapid sequence. First after creating Adam, "The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man thus: From every tree in the garden you may eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat; for the day you eat it, you must die." Then after Eve was made and the devil tempted her to eat the forbidden fruit, she told the devil - a fatal mistake: never argue with the devil; she did - she told him, "Of the fruit of all the trees in the garden we may eat; but of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, You shall not eat, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" The devil lied to Eve. "No, you shall not die," he told her. She believed the devil instead of God. What a commentary on so many people. Then she tempted Adam, and he ate too. Then after our first parents both sinned and were driven out of the garden of Eden, the Lord told Adam, "Dust you are and unto dust you shall return." Third reference to death as a penalty of sin. This is the final verdict on the human race: Why do we die? because we are sinners.
Why does God keep hidden from us the exact time of our death? He has many reasons. Most of them we don't know. One surely is that in this way we are inspired to more wholesome honor and respect for God not only as our Maker but as the One Who has mastery over our lives and calls us in death. God is our Lord twice over: except for Him none of us would exist and only because of Him do we all die.
Moreover, by not knowing when we shall die, we are better able to prepare ourselves and keep ourselves ever ready for death. How shrewd God is. Finally, God is merciful; He spares us the dread we naturally have when we think of death. No matter what our chronological age, we are all the same. This fear is more easily moderated because we do not know the day and the hour.
We believe that our bodies will remain in the earth until the day of final judgment, when God will raise them back to life and reunite them forever to the souls from which they were temporarily separated. Of course this reunion of body with soul is naturally impossible; but with God all things are possible. The same Lord Who is the Creator of our body and soul by the same infinite power will rejoin what because of sin He allowed to be separated.
In the first century the speculating Corinthians must have posed the same question to St. Paul. "Someone may ask, 'How are dead people raised and what sort of body do they have when they come back? These are stupid questions. Whatever you sow in the ground has to die before it is given new life. And the thing that you sow is not what is going to come; you sow a bare grain of wheat or something like that, and then God gives it the sort of body that He has chosen: each sort of seed gets its own sort of body." Even as we hear these words of St. Paul, let's remember that God is all-powerful. If He can raise a new plant out of small seed put into the ground, how much more can He restore a human body and reunite it with the soul, seeing how much more noble is our body compared with a lowly plant and seeing how strong is the natural desire of our souls for union with the body.
What desires emphasis is that we shall rise on the last day as the selfsame persons we were when we die. Certainly our risen bodies will be glorified: they will be different. They will be made immortal- never to die again, and impassible - never to suffer again, and agile in being totally at the command of the will. The glorified body will have a will that is united with the Infinite God. Do you know that the reluctance of our body to obey the will is because our wills are not perfectly united with God. None of that after the resurrection. And for those who like speed, the glorified body will move with the speed of light. That's pretty fast. Finally, our glorified bodies will be beautiful beyond conception, shining with a radiance of the sun. That is beautiful which appeals and draws on being seen.
All of this we believe, but we dare not forget that our risen bodies will be our bodies not someone else's or bodies that never existed before. After the last day we shall be we, not another person; we shall be ourselves, which means different and distinct and separate individuals, distinct and different from other people. But we shall be for all eternity identifiably, we. We'll have our names after the last day. And one of the great joys of heaven is, as St. John so eloquently describes in the book of Revelation, heaven is a society: we will meet people, we will be together; they will see us and we will see them; they will hear us and we will hear them; and because they and we will have bodies we will be able to touch them. Christ insisted that the doubting disciples touch Him. We shall be together with our families and loved ones; talk things over with Abraham and David. I've a lot of things to ask St. Augustine. All of this is as real as our faith.
Why will our bodies rise again? There are two main reasons given to us by now centuries of the Church's wisdom. One has to do with us and the other has to do with Christ. Why will our body rise again? It will rise again as partner with the soul in the performance of good works during our corporate, mutual stay on earth and therefore as deserving reward with the soul in heaven. Think of this partnership now in the present life. With our bodies we praise God by using our bodily lips to speak to Him, by folding our bodily hands to show our respect for Him, by bending our bodily knees, and with our mouth we make bodily sounds in sacred prayer and song - something the angels cannot do. With our bodies we make manifold sacrifices to God by giving up forbidden pleasures, and by giving up permissible pleasures, by our chastity and sobriety and by our hard work. With our bodies we offer up to God the sleep that we naturally crave and the comfort we naturally want. In our bodies we give to God the fatigue we experience through laboring in His service. In our bodies we resign ourselves to the will of God when He sends us sickness and pain. Oh the joy of suffering on earth! knowing as we do, because we have the faith, that all this suffering will be rewarded far beyond our wildest dreams.
Among the favorite passages of Margaret Mary that I like to quote: "What more do I need on earth?" she said. "I am happy beyond words: I have a body in which to suffer and a heart with which to love."
With our bodies we practice charity towards others in the thousand ways that love for our neighbor can be manifest. What consummate folly to forget for a moment that the effort we expend, the exertion that we make to serve others is all God's way of insuring that we will be happier than we would ever have been had we not exerted ourselves in this life. All of this every day and in every way our body is partner with the soul in serving the Good God.
Why do we rise in our bodies? That the body may receive along with the spirit its well-earned reward.
But there is a second and crowning reason why our bodies will rise from the grave. By our resurrection the victory of Christ over sin and death will be complete. His victory began with His resurrection, it will end with ours. He rose from the dead as the first-fruits of those who sleep. We shall rise from the dead. The redemption will be finished only with the final resurrection of all who will rise with Christ, like Christ, to be united with Christ in the heavenly company of the saints.
Risen Lord Jesus, You are the resurrection and the life. Deepen my faith in my own final resurrection from the dead; strengthen my hope of seeing You one day in body and soul in the society on high where every sorrow will cease and every tear will be wiped away. Help me to so serve You now in my mortal body that I may enjoy Your presence in a blissful and endless immortality. Amen.
Conference transcription from a retreat
Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica
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