Every Sunday we profess in the Creed our belief in the Resurrection of the Body. We say this glibly, not realizing how it goes against the popular conception we have regarding what makes the human being special. We see the body as a mere receptacle that houses the person’s soul, which is what truly makes a person human. The body, therefore, in our popular way of seeing, is not that important. It is the soul that is eternal. This is further seen by the increasing use of cremation after the death of a loved one. It was forbidden by the Church for so long because many enemies of the Church sought to emphasize by its use that there is no resurrection of the body, considering it a rebuke to this belief. The Church allows cremation with two requirements: that the ashes be interred in holy ground (a cemetery) and that the cremation not be intended as a means to disprove the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body.
For, the witness of the Bible states clearly, as does our Creed that we recite every Sunday: that we believe in the Resurrection of the Body. This comes from Jewish belief and from the historical fact that the tomb of Christ was empty and that the witnesses to the Resurrected Lord could touch Him and even probe the nail marks on His body.
The Resurrection was a real event that raised Jesus, Body and Soul, from the dead. It was not a resuscitation! That would mean that the body of Jesus was exactly the same as the body He had in His incarnate Self. But we know that His glorified body had powers that He never had before. He could walk through walls as He did when His disciples were huddled in hiding. He could assume different shapes and faces since His intimate friends could not, at first, recognize Him. He bore the wounds of His crucifixion but they no longer bled and we may assume no longer caused pain. Our glorified bodies will have similar powers, and probably more.
So, therefore, when we imagine a loved one’s soul going to God at death, it is a salutary but incomplete vision of our final end. Our souls are embodied and that is who we are: soul and body. The idea of the soul divorced from our bodies is probably a product of Greek Philosophy. We must admit this is an easier doctrine to believe in than that our bodies that decompose in our graves or are incinerated in cremation will somehow be reconstituted. Yet, sometimes God asks of us a deeper faith that is harder to imagine. For instance, it is easier to believe that the Eucharist is a sign or symbol of Christ than that it is actually and really Christ Himself. How can Christ be in millions of places at the same time? How can Christ be there when all we see is a thin white wafer called a host? Yet that is actually the teaching of the Church. It is not a symbol of Christ. It is Christ!
This is not just a difficulty that God asks us to bear. Both the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body and the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist are delightfully rich beliefs meant not only for our edification but to give us the great joy of realizing how much God loves us; so much so that He would elevate us by His presence, and that the totality of who we are is to be redeemed and given an eternal home in God.
But when do we get our glorified bodies? Is it at death itself, or after our judgement, or at the end of time? This is a great mystery that I cannot hope to solve; but what I can say is, once we pass into the next world, words like ‘when’ (which are temporal terms) no longer have any reality since there is no more time or space in the next life. These limitations we leave behind. We cannot imagine what that means since our whole lives have been spent in time. So, once again, it is a matter of trust in God’s Word. We believe that it will happen as the Lord has revealed to us. But the ‘how’ of it has not yet been revealed.
We must be humble enough to abide in faith and trust. This is true wisdom.
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Cor. 2:9