Yesterday’s feast of the Assumption encourages a meditation on a distinctly human dignity, that of combining matter and spirit. More on that in a moment.
But we begin with an important understanding of every Marian feast, namely that we do not simply celebrate something about Mary herself, but also what God, who is mighty, does for her, and how, to a large degree we, will come to share in the blessings she receives.
Among those blessings is the blessing of being in God’s presence not only spiritually, but also bodily. For as Mary is taken up body and soul, so shall we one day be taken up, not in soul only, but in body too. The Catechism says of Mary’s Assumption: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection, and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians. (CCC # 966).
For now, we who die in the Lord, shall be present to him in our souls, but our bodies shall lie in the earth. Yet one day, in “That Great Gettin’ up Morning” scripture says,
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling 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. And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: Death is swallowed up in victory.(1 Cor 15:51-54)
Sadly today, many have slipped back into a kind of Gnostic dualism, or ancient Greek notion that the body is somehow undesirable, a kind of cage or prison from which the soul can one day fly free. Death in effect liberates us from the body.
Yet nothing could be less biblical than to think of the body in this way. From the standpoint of Biblical anthropology, we are our bodies, and for the soul and body to be apart is both mysterious and emblematic of an irregular and incomplete work. In this sense therefore, Paul looks to the day when our bodies too will share in the salvation and victory wrought by Jesus. In Romans 8, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sets forth a kind of two stage work on our behalf:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:22-25)
Thus St. Paul, and we as well, can clearly see that in our souls, many gifts have been given and are experienced, if we are faithful: a saving love, a joy, an increasing inner freedom, authority over our sins, a new mind and heart, an outpouring of many spiritual gifts, and an ever deepening renewal. Yet even all the while, our bodies decline and head toward inevitable death. Our bodies await (and groan) for the fruits of the resurrection that our souls can already enjoy.
Thus St. Paul looks eagerly to the day when our bodies too will share in the glory of resurrection and renewal. Then the full work of Christ’s death and resurrection will be accomplished. As Paul says elsewhere: For [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor 15:25-26)
Thus the concept of some moderns of resurrection without reference to the body is inconceivable to St. Paul and the biblical world. Christ did not come merely to save part of us, but the whole of us! As human beings we are our bodies, and no saving work would be complete by leaving the body in the dust.
Yet, despite this, many modern still sniff at the notion of our bodies being raised. With our Gnostic tendencies, most disregard the body as anything more than a tool, or a suit that I can cast aside, and somehow I am still I. Not so. You are your body. And Body and soul are knit wholly together. How the soul can be separated from the body at death is mysterious, but the Scriptures are clear, it is not ultimately to remain this way, and God will rejoin the two.
Yet again to many moderns this notion is not pleasing for too often we think only of the limitations of the body, or of its diseases, its weaknesses, its sinful tendencies. But of these anxieties scripture is also clear, the resurrected body will be freed of all this.
St. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit has this to say:
But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (1 Cor 15: 35-44)
Yes, our risen bodies will have splendor and, though truly and recognizably our bodies, they splendor they acquire will be as different as the mighty oak is from the little acorn that it began as. Elsewhere St. Paul says,
[Christ], by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Phil 3:21)
Praise the Lord, our very bodies will one day rise, gloriously transformed. And on the Feast of the Assumption we acknowledge that what is promised to us at the Last Trumpet, Mother Mary already shares.
We live in strange times where we paradoxically show a kind of obsession with our bodies, with health, nutrition, life spans, what can cause cancer etc. Yet, at the same time, many of us who are believers are often ambivalent or sketchy of the true glory of the body, which is to rise from death gloriously transformed.
Consider well that our bodies are an essential part of our unique glory. As human beings we have the special dignity of uniting two orders of creation: the spiritual (in our souls) and the material (in our bodies). Only we do this. Animals are only material. Angels are spiritual. But we are both, and this is unique and glorious.
As Mother Mary is taken up, we meditate on this special aspect of our glory, that in us God unites the two orders of creation. This is our dignity. Of none of the animals is it ever said that the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul (Gen 2:7). Only man, among the created things shares the very breath of God. We are material like the animals, but unlike them we are spiritual, sharing the very breath of God.
And, to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father” (Heb 1:5) as his Son shares in our nature? The Angels are magnificent Spirits but none of them can worship God in their spirit, and then take hold of his hand or worship him with a kiss as did Mary on Christmas Eve. None of them can receive the Lord bodily into themselves as we do in Holy Communion. For we are spiritual, like they are, yet unlike them we are also body. We are unique and have this glorious combination.
Yes, this is our dignity, to unite two orders of creation, the spiritual and the material. And as Mary is taken up, whole, entire, and beautiful beyond compare, we too can anticipate our glory of one day beholding and praising the Lord, whole and entire. It is biblically unthinkable that God who gave us this dignity would discard it in saving us.
Our Bodies will rise, gloriously transformed. Yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:26-27)