I have a bone to pick with Catholic preachers. Too often focus is given to Heaven as our goal in life. While there is a truth to that, it is not “the final expression”. Rather, the final expression of Christian life will not be eternity in Heaven but rather eternity in our resurrected bodies in a new heavens and a new earth in which sin and death no longer hold sway in the world.
But not only is this avoided, it is actually preached against by many preachers. I myself have heard a variety of different attitudes: some believe we will become angels while others believe that we will be “resurrected to heaven”. I have heard it all. And I am fed up. It is time that Catholics take seriously the Resurrection of the Body.
Why do Catholics believe in the resurrection of the body? We believe in it because Christ Himself was raised from the dead. In Him – the perfect union of God and man – we see what our humanity is called to be. In the Resurrected Christ we see a humanity that is transformed. There is something difficult to grasp about Him – hence why many do not recognize Him or struggle to continue to recognize Him (John 20:14, John 21:13, Luke 24:13-35, etc). But there is something glorious about the resurrected body and we will have this same body (cf: 1 Cor 15:42-44, 53).
This idea is not only in scripture. Look to the creeds of the Church! Do we not proclaim “I believe in the resurrection of the body”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls this the “culmination” of the Christian Creed! In short – the full life of man will be expressed not just in the living of our souls in all eternity, but rather in the raised body united with the soul. Anything short of this is heresy and reeks of Gnosticism.
Why is the resurrection of the body so important? Well, we must remember the fundamental fact of Genesis 1-2: God created the whole cosmos and He “saw that it was good”. This includes the material as well as the spiritual. For God to not redeem that which is material means that something of what He has created ultimately isn’t worth saving. But the Christian message – through the fact of Christ’s Resurrection – goes flat up against such a worldview. It says that the entirety of humanity and creation is worthy of saving and it says this through Christ’s resurrection.
So then what happens in the interim? The separation of the soul from the body is not the final word, it is not the final action. It is an interim reality that is unnatural and is to be remedied in the general resurrection. Thus heaven as we understand it – as the place where Christ reigns and where our soul will dwell – is only a temporary solution. A new reality will occur when Christ comes again. Why would God destroy the earth that He has created? He will not, He will bring it to the perfection.
What does this all mean for us?
First, look to Jesus in John’s Gospel. When He encounters Thomas His identity is based in His wounds. Jesus is strange and mysterious to the apostles – but they are able to recognize the wounds as His glory, as the proof that He is Who He says to be.
This speaks to us with regards to the wounds of sin. In confession we encounter the healing mercy of Jesus Christ that removes the effect of sin on our souls. We may too bear the wounds of our sin – but they will no longer be signs of our weakness, but rather they will mediate the glory of Christ to the world. My sins will become the basis of Christ’s glory for the mercy and love of God is so powerful that it can even be glorified in that which is not God: in sin. This does not give us license to sin, but rather demonstrates that God’s glory does not depend on us and that, indeed, He is powerful enough to manifest His glory in the most broken of human vessels. Our wounds will be our identity.
Secondly, this means that we do not go around the world to save souls. We are not our souls. That is a Gnostic reduction and contrary to the entirety of the Christian tradition. We are here to save persons: a person in the realm of Christian revelation is a totality of body and soul. So we need to get away from the idea of “saving souls”. While the intention is right, it does not speak to the fullness of the glory of God’s redemptive activity and we are watering down the effect of God’s love and mercy. We are here to save persons, persons who are embodied.
Thirdly: our bodies are a good thing and the created order is good. While it may be the place where the effects of sin reign most supreme – this is where Paul would distinguish between flesh and body – it is ultimately good. In fact, the body and the material world is the place where we act, where our freedom is exercised. Thus the created world becomes a place that God works. Matter is good and we need not avoid it. Yet the fact that the major effect of original sin – concupiscence – and the fact that it dwells in the body must also give us a sober attitude towards the world. It means not avoiding and denying it completely, but it also means that we must constantly offer our bodies to the duties of the soul. The body is not the prominent element of man – though some such as Christopher West tend to make such an argument. It is secondary to the soul. But secondary does not mean it is not important. Anyways, the body is meant to submit itself to the soul: that is the proper order of things, just as the humanity of Christ constantly submits itself – through His human will – to His divine nature. That is the order of things: the physical world is most itself when it is given to the glorification of God.
There are many other implications of this, but my desire was to just point out a few of the more salient features of this essential doctrine. We cannot deny the Resurrection of the Body. It is a fact. Next time you hear in your parish ideas that may deny or at least avoid the fact of the resurrection of the body, point your priest to the Catechism, specifically sections 988-1019. It is a great resource into this essential mystery of Christianity.