A Meditation on the unique dignity of the Human Person and the glorious fact that our bodies will rise.

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)

21 Replies to “A Meditation on the unique dignity of the Human Person and the glorious fact that our bodies will rise.”

  1. our soul is practically our entire being; it does not matter about our bodies when we die as our soul will have left our body;at death; I think a lot of the above will happen but who cares as long as we save our soul for eternity

  2. Bryon,
    Yes, in this present life our soul is what needs to be saved. But the soul is what animates and forms the body; in other words, the soul is MEANT to have a body. Angels don’t have souls; they are considered only to be spirits. Our spirit is called a soul because it is a different type; it is meant for a body. So, to be fully human, you need your body and it is part of our nature.

  3. What a clear meditation on the resurrection of the body.

    I’ve often wondered about what eternal, abundant life will be like with our resurrected brains….finally realizing all the mysteries of Faith and not having our earthly pea brains clouded by the presence of sin.

  4. Thank you Msgr. “Uplifting!” …with a touch of Easter triumph! God’s glory, as one professor cites is all his work saving mankind!

  5. Msgr. Thank you for another clear presentation. God has gifted you greatly to be able to take difficult subjects and make them understandable. I look forward to reading your post each day. God bless you!

  6. Someone once asked the question: “But some man will say: How do the dead rise again? Or with what manner of body shall they come?” The writer was of course Paul, in 1 Cor 15, beginning at verse 35. Taking 35-58 as a whole, the way it was written and taught by the author, his answer is that there is one sort of body for earth and another for Heaven. Following Paul, we usually refer to the one as physical and the other as spiritual; two differing kinds.
    To say that flesh is corruptible is not a moral judgment but an observation: it’s what happens to any dead flesh in the passing of time. (Ec 3:19) The spirit bodies that heaven-dwellers will have (and have now, in the form of angels and God himself) are undying, so they cannot corrupt.
    There is no need for a physical body in the Heaven of Paul. And since he wrote under inspiration, it’s the Heaven of God, Jesus, Mary, Barnabas, and the others currently ‘up there’.

    1. St. Paul while emphasizing the glories ofour glorified body, does not it would seem deny continuity with our current bodies. Further, to speak of a spiritual body, does not mean there is nothing physical about it. Jesus, in his resurrected body, had flesh and bones, but it was a glorified, spiritual body. Thus, while we cannot speak fully from experience of what a glorified, spiritual body is we must avoid notions that deny either continuity with our current bodies or which turn the glorified body into something ghostly or merely nonmaterial for that is not what spiritual means in this context. It would seem that what Paul, and other scriptures describing the resurrection mean by spiritual body is a body which more perfectly reflects the glories of the soul which animates it and is his form

  7. I like the part where St. Paul says that we will meet Jesus in the air.

    In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas has two articles, that I know of, on something called aeviternity, 1, 10, 5 and 6. It is described as the mean between eternity and time. I think those guys back then felt compelled to posit an aeviternity to describe and explain bodily participation in eternity. I am not sure, but I think the phrase ‘in saecula saeculorum’ is meant to invoke the idea of aeviternity.

    In The Apocalypse Of Saint John, the Woman clothed with sun, i.e. the Virgin Mary, is described as already bodily in heaven. This is biblical evidence of the Assumption. Got that from listening to John Martignoni.

  8. too often we think only of the limitations of the body, or of its diseases, its weaknesses, its sinful tendencies

    It is a failure of the imagination. When they think of resurrected body, they think of their current bag of bones (with its present physical limitations, which in turn are subject to the physical laws of the present universe), just as when they think of eternal life, they think about how painfully boring it would be to live the same way we do now for millions of years. But there is something new, something better, awaiting us.

    In the New Jerusalem, not only is our spirit purified with the fullness of grace, but our bodies are glorified, and moreover, the world itself is glorified, such that the current physics, biology, and other laws of science will not necessarily apply.

    However, it is not just the pagans and moderns who have thought poorly of the body. Blessed Pope John Paul noted in his Theology of the Body that many theologians in history had tended to do that in preference to focusing on the spirit instead. We can see such ideas in the comments above.

    But the teaching of the Church from the beginning is clear — it is both spirit and body which make up the whole person; a body without a spirit, and a spirit without a body, do not and cannot constitute the person. Thus, the body is VERY important and necessary to our being.

  9. 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

    I would think that it is a problem of perspective. The world is temporal and exists in linear time. God and heaven are eternal and, thus, transcend time.

    Let’s say that the world ends in the year 3012 and the resurrection of the body follows accordingly. From the perspective of the world, that is 1000 years from now and if we were to die today, our lifeless bodies would lie in the ground for 1000 years before being resurrected. But from the perspective of eternity, the resurrection is happening right now, there is no interval of 1000 years. God isn’t waiting, waiting, waiting for the specified time to arrive, He is doing it right now. He is the eternal New.

    Beyond the example of Mary having already entered into the eternal New Jerusalem, having enjoyed the benefit of the resurrection of the body immediately following the end of her worldly life, what should we make of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration? We they merely images of them, merely fictional depictions created by God to make it appear as if they were present? Or was it really them? Were Moses and Elijah really and truly and bodily present, in the eternity of God, were they present in their own glorified bodies?

    If that was really them, then they are already in the New Jerusalem; from their perspective, the resurrection of the body has already happened, even if from the world’s perspective it might not happen for thousands of years (or a few months if the Mayans are right).

    1. My understanding is that the traditional belief is that Moses was indeed dead but that Elijah is among the living yet, so they represented not only the Law and the Prophets, but the Living and the Dead.

      Elijah is said to be in some “Earthly Paradise” with Enoch, and during the reign of the Antichrist they will both return and be the two Witnesses who are martyred and resurrected after 3 1/2 days. (See http://haydock1859.tripod.com/id297.html.)

      Was Moses there bodily? Maybe not; I know some mystics have claimed that those saints who were raised and seen around Jerusalem after the death of Christ were not in their proper bodies, but some sort of temporary body made of air. Eh, maybe. It is also possible that the answer has something to do with the Devil and the Archangel Michael contending for the body of Moses in Jude 1:9.

  10. Msgr,
    You’ve touched my heart on two fronts; most certainly the resurrection of the body but also with dearest Jester Hairston.

    My grandfather was the founding pastor of Hollywood Methodist Church and Sunday dinners at my grandparent’s home were feasts for both body and soul. Often present were the greats of Hollywood, congregational members, but my favorite (in an era when integration was just a dream) was Jester. I would sit with him at my grandmother’s piano and the end result was the only 8-year-old Catholic kid in town who could play low-down gospel and spiritual accompaniments. Many remember him for his roles in movies and television but his skill as a compiler and arranger of spirituals is legendary. Sitting in his lap provided me with one of the most poignant examples of transcendent love ever encountered in my 70+ years.

    Our Lady has occupied the most potent and powerful seat in human history. Luther pointed out that the Magnificat was the most important piece of scripture because, when God reached out, she reached back at the Annunciation, on our behalf, and without question said, “Thy will be done”. At the end of her life, she fulfilled the counterpart of her Son’s resurrection with her Glorious Assumption. The cycle was complete and our promise of resurrection was fulfilled again, by her example; the ultimate completion of the Covenant.

    Thank you for posting the article and the video. May His rich blessing descend upon you and your parish.


  11. I guess I must be the opposite of a Gnostic. It seems like it’s our body that matters, not our soul >>> When our body goes to sleep every evening our soul is all that is left to function and it seems to be not aware of anything. Not aware of this world, nor aware of spirits either. So how will our soul be aware of anything when our body fully dies and is not yet resurrected? I’ve never been able to understand this, and have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation..

    1. When you are sleeping, the soul still animates the body. Your body is still living. The brain still functions, so the soul is not operating without the body at that point; it is operating through the body. Until death, what affects the soul affects the body and what affects the body affects the soul. Because we are still in our bodies, we need rest to keep energy. The soul animates the body, so the body has to be usable for actions on earth.
      With to regard to which is more important; in terms of salvation from this present life, the soul is more important. But as Bender pointed out, this does not mean rejecting the body in this life, as humans need the body and the body needs the soul. The body is also a temple of the Holy Spirit, and needs to be treated as such.

      1. thanks ben. what you say makes sense as far as it goes (the soul in a sense is tied to and limited by the body in life). however it says nothing about the soul’s activity after death. Jesus had a resurrected body, but we will not until the end of time. So are our souls, whatever that word means, thereby limited to inactivity til then? Where does scripture talk about souls being endowed with new powers after death apart from a resurrected body? It seems that once a soul loses a body, it is now limited because it no longer has means for connection and expression. What replaces that? It appears that the soul has no such powers on its own.
        not being adversarial, just wondering.

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