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I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

As Christians, we not only believe that the human soul is immortal, but also that the human body is to rise immortal from the grave. However, our souls are spiritual by nature and are therefore naturally immortal. Our souls will never die.

In God’s original plan, the bodies of human beings were not to have died. But one sin entered the world; the human body is destined to die when the soul leaves the body at what we call our death.

One of the great gifts of Christianity to human wisdom is its clear teaching that there is no such thing as reincarnation. We are conceived and born only once. When our souls leave our bodies, our destiny is determined for all eternity. However, there are three D’s that we should memorize. They are death, decay and delay. The delay is the time span from when our bodies die and begin to decay, and when they will rise again from the grave on what we casually call the Last Day.

In the short time at our disposal, we will ask and briefly answer a series of questions: How is the resurrection of the body reasonable? Will all human beings rise from the dead? Will each of us receive our own body? What are the qualities of the risen body? What are some implications for our spiritual life?

Our Faith is Rational

We certainly believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead. Already in the Old Testament, the prophet Job declared, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and on the last day I shall rise out of the earth, and I shall be clothed again with my skin, and in my flesh I shall see my God” (Job 19:25-26).

In the New Testament, the most explicit teaching on the bodily resurrection is in the writings of St. Paul. While urging the Christians to practice selfless love, he devotes no less than fifty-eight verses on the final resurrection of the body on the Day of Judgment. St. Paul’s logic is very simple. We are to practice charity in loving others not only in soul but also in body. The Lord will reward us both in spirit and in body when we rise from the grave.

St. Paul writes, “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, say 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” (I Corinthians 15: 37-38). We may therefore say that when our bodies are buried in the grave, they are like seed sown in the ground. Then, at harvest time, He will raise up from this buried seed the risen body of our glorified humanity.

The Fathers of the Church have many similar comparisons. The sun seems to die every day at nightfall, only to rise again in the morning. Trees loose their leaves in the autumn and then, as by a resurrection, the leaves return in the spring.

We Shall All Rise Again

Understandably, Sacred Scripture emphasizes the resurrection of the just, but without omitting reference to those who will not be saved. In context, Jesus foretells how He will come to judge the whole human race.

I tell you most solemnly, the hour will come—in fact, it is here already—when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live. For the Father, who is the source of life, has made the Son the source of life; and, because He is the Son of Man, has appointed Him supreme judge. Do not be surprised at this for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of His voice: those who did good will rise again to life; and those who did evil, to condemnation (John 5:25-29).

Does this mean that the whole human race will rise from the grave? Yes, because all of mankind except the Mother of God, has been conceived in sin and therefore had to die.

We Shall Receive Our Own Bodies

The unqualified teaching of divine revelation and the Church’s magisterium is that we shall all rise with our own bodies. Again, the prophet Job is very clear, “In my own flesh I shall see eyes shall behold Him” (Job 19:26-27).

We might say this is to be expected. After all, here on earth we are serving God with our own individual soul and body. This same soul and body is to be rewarded in eternity. Of course the body will be glorified, but that is only another word for being rewarded. Each individual person with his or her own distinctive body, united with each one’s unique soul, will receive the just recompense for having served God faithfully in this valley of tears.

Qualities of Our Risen Bodies

The most basic quality of our risen bodies will be their immortality. When our first parents sinned, they lost the gift of bodily immortality. Had there been no sin, no human being would have died.

Our salvation by Christ restored the supernatural life of our souls, which we receive at Baptism. The risen life of our bodies is delayed until the dawn of eternity, which we popularly call the Last Day, but which the Church prefers to calls the First Day.

As we know, not all those who rise from the dead will be saved. Nevertheless, they will also rise with an immortal body, which is destined for everlasting suffering.

The most graphic description of the risen body was given by St. Paul in writing to the Corinthians. The whole Christian eschatology is based on the Apostles revealed words.

Some may ask,
“How are dead people raised, and what sort of body do they have when they come back?” They 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, say 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.

Everything that is flesh is not the same flesh; there is human flesh, animal’s flesh, the flesh of birds and the flesh of fish. Then there are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the heavenly bodies have a beauty of their own and the earthly bodies a different one. The sun has its brightness, the moon a different brightness, and the stars a different brightness, and the stars differ in each other in brightness. It is the same with the resurrection of the dead; the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful’ when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.” (I Corinthians 15:35-44).

What St. Paul is revealing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is of the essence of our faith. Our bodies will be glorified. Not unlike the seeds of wheat sown in the ground, so our dead bodies are sown in the grave. But like the seed that then begins to grow rises in the earth as a field of grain, so will all the human bodies rise from the grave. The qualities of our risen, glorified bodies will be such as Christ briefly manifested to his chosen Apostles when he revealed Himself in his glorified state at His Transfiguration.

Not Able To Suffer Pain. Another name for the Absence of pain in the risen body is impassability. This means that the glorified body will not only be Immortal, because it will never die again, it will also Not be subject to pain. Why not? Because death and bodily pain are the consequences of sin. On the day of resurrection, our glorified bodies would experience the reward for patience endurance of bodily pain on earth. This reward is, to say the least, a painless eternity.

In this life, bodily pain is a sign of our bodily mortality. The key word is the word “sign”. In theological language in which a sign is something that is both sensibily perceptible and mentally intelligible. The pains we suffer in our bodies during our life on earth are the sensibly perceptible manifestations of the profound truth that we are to die. Our life of earth is a living death. God sends us bodily pain as a grace to constantly remind us that we are not to remain here on earth. We are destined for a heavenly eternity. However, we know that we shall not attain our destiny in heaven unless we have been willing to carry the cross, which means suffer pain, here on earth. Our bodily pain, therefore, is a constant exhortation to do the will of God, no matter how painful the price may be. Why? Because the pains we experience here on earth are already the consequence of sins committed by others or ourselves in the past. Our bodily pain, therefore, are meant to signify, that is to teach us, that even worse pain await us after our bodily death, unless we avoid sin in the present in order to avoid pain in the future.

Must we therefore say there is pain in the world because there is sin in the world? Yes. How this needs to be learned. When we say there is pain in the world because there is sin in the world, we believe that pain in not only consequence of sin in the past.

Pain is also the consequence of sin in the present. The relationship between sin and pain we may say is instantaneous. This is so true that, to sin is to experience pain. Why then do people sin? They sin because they want to do their own will even contrary to the will of God. Sinners do experience satisfaction in sinning. It is the satisfaction of doing one’s own will. But, as every sinner knows, along with the satisfaction that a sinner derives from doing his own will, is inevitable experience of something. This is Gods way of constantly reminding us that no matter how satisfied we may be in doing our own will when we sin, it is justice requires that we suffer pain. It is universal experience of everyone who chooses to resist the will of God.

We have one more reflection to make as we meditate on the painless condition of our risen bodies. Are each person’s sufferings here on earth the result of his own sins? Absolutely speaking all the pain in this world is due to the sin in the world. However, other people suffer for our sins; and we suffer for other peoples sins. This is the great lesson of the passion and death of Jesus Christ. As the all holy Son of God, He did not suffer for his own sins. He suffered for our sins. There is a litany of lessons, which this fact of our faith should teach us. Among these is the meaning of love. What is this meaning of love? Here on earth, love is mainly shown and mostly deeply practiced when it suffers for the person whom it loves. That is what Calvary teaches us. God, who is love, became man and proved His love for us by dying on the cross for us. The more deeply we understand love, the more clearly we understand suffering. True love is willing to experience pain for the one we love, like the one we love, with the one we love, and hardest of all, from the one we love.

One more observation before we go on. Here in this life we pay for our selfless love of others by suffering, not only in spirit but also in body. In the life to come we shall be rewarded for our patient and loving experience of pain by such enjoyment in our glorified bodies as we cannot even imagine this side of eternity.

Transfigured Bodies. The Church uses the word “transfigured” to describe our risen bodies after the last day. Why? Because, as we have seen, Christ promised our transfiguration in body after the example of His own Transfiguration before He underwent His passion. Transfiguration should always be associated with the crucifixion. Christ Transfiguration was to strengthen the faith of the Apostles in spite of His forthcoming Crucifixion. Our crucifixion here on earth is to be sustained by the hope of our transfiguration.

In this context it is worth quoting St. Ignatius in what he says about the cross, “There is no wood more suitable for constructing an altar of divine love than the wood of the holy cross.” He continues.

If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of the great holiness to which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of divine love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior uses to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ; that is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.
Another name for the transfiguration of our risen bodies is their brightness. Like the transfigured body of Christ, our bodies will shine like the sun. In the Savior’s own words, “Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father” (Matthew 13:43).

This transfigured brightness will not be equally glorious for all the risen bodies. It all depends on how generous we had carried the cross with Christ here on earth. As explained by St. Paul, “The sun has its brightness and the moon a different brightness, and the stars a different brightness and the stars differ from each other in brightness. It is the same with the resurrection from the dead.” (1 Corinthians 15:41-42).

Independent of the Material World. In the language of theology, the risen bodies are gifted with the power of agility. This is the quality that frees the glorified body from the material burden and now presses it down. Among other things, it will be able to move about with the greatest of ease and a swiftness that depends only on the human will. This is what the Apostle Paul meant our bodies are now sown in weakness, but on the last day they will be raised in power.

As we know from what we read about Christ risen body after Easter Sunday the glorified body can penetrate material things. Christ entered the room where the disciples were gathered without having to knock at the door and be allowed to come in. We may therefore say that the glorified body is not only not subject to the material world, the material world is subject to the glorified body. How? In many ways. We’ve already seen that the glorified body will not be subject to the material world in suffering pain. Moreover, the glorified will not be subject in spending time to move from one place to another. The glorified body will be able to move through space with the swiftness of thought. The glorified body will not be subject to the material world in order to sustain itself. There are some that cannot imagine heaven without eating! Christ, we know after His resurrection, He did eat in the presence of the Apostles to prove to them that it was really He. But we should not conclude from this that we will have to eat material food to sustain our bodies in their glorified state in heaven.

Beauty of the Glorified Body. Bodily beauty is one of the assured qualities of our glorified state. What should be emphasized is that the source of this bodily beauty will be the soul beholding the face of God. Over the centuries, the church has defined beauty as that which appeals on being seen. In the plan of God beauty is to be appealing to others; it is to attract others; it is to make us loveable to others. As God knows best, whatever our bodies need to be appealing, attractable and loveable to others will be provided to the glorified bodies after the last day.

One closing observation on the state of the glorified body may answer some questions that come to mind. How will our bodies after the last day compare with the bodies we had on earth? The most detailed answer in Christian tradition is given in three whole chapters of St. Augustine’s City of God. Only a few passages will be quoted here.

It is understood that no part of the body shall perish as to produce deformity of the body….
For all bodily beauty consists in the proportion of the parts; together, with a certain agreeableness of color. Where there is no proportion the eye is offended, either because there is something wanting, or too small, or too large. Consequently, there shall be no deformity resulting from want of proportion in that state in which all that is wrong is corrected, and all that is defective supplied from the resources which the Creator provides. All that is excessive will be removed without destroying the integrity of the substance.
In the resurrection of the flesh, the body shall be of that size which it either had attained of should have attained in the flower of its youth, and shall enjoy the beauty that arises form symmetry and proportion in all its members ( The City of God, III, 19-21).

There is more than passing value in reflecting on the qualities of the glorified body. It will help us to sustain our trials and sufferings in this world and assure us that our efforts are not in vain.

But more important than anything else, the promise of our glorious resurrection should strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ. St Paul tells us that Christ is the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made to live. But each in his own turn”. Jesus rose from the dead and we too are to rise from the grave provided we have believed in His coming.

What we believe is that there had been two Adams in human history. The first Adam; who is the natural father of the human race, who sinned and by his sin brought bodily death into the world. The Second Adam is Christ. He is the supernatural father of the human race. He willingly underwent bodily death so that by his crucifixion on Calvary He might redeem the human race from the guilt and punishment which the descendants of the first Adam inherited. The implication is that as descendants of the first Adam we must all die a bodily death. But, provided we believe in Christ, we shall rise glorious from the grave. St. Paul is therefore saying that Christ is our Redeemer twice over. He is our Redeemer by restoring us to the supernatural life that we lost through the sin of the first Adam. But He is also our Redeemer in restoring our bodies to their bodily life when, on the last day, our bodies will be reunited with the souls which they animated during our mortal life on earth. Moreover, St. Paul identifies Christ as the first of those who has risen from the dead. We too are destined to rise from the dead, but conditionally. Our glorious resurrection on the last day depends on our faith in Jesus Christ.

Over the years of my priesthood I have told the people that our life on earth is one prolonged Lenten season and Easter is the day of our resurrection from the dead. Here on earth we are to share in the Passion of our Lord. If we do, we shall join Him in our risen bodies and enjoy His company for all eternity.

Lent and Easter are therefore related as condition and consequence. The consequence we are all looking forward to is to rise glorious from the grave. The condition is that during our mortal life we have walked with Christ on His way to Calvary. The crucifixion of dying to our own self will here in time is the divinely ordained prelude to the glorification we may expect in eternity.

This is beautifully expressed in an Easter hymn in the Byzantine Liturgy. “Having seen the resurrection of Christ, we adore the holy Lord Jesus, Who alone is without sin. We worship Thy Cross, O Master, and sing and glorify Thy resurrection; for Thou art our God, we know no other beside Thee, we call upon Thy name. O come all ye faithful let us adore Christ’s holy resurrection; for, by the Cross, great joy is come into all the world. Ever praising the Lord, let us sing His resurrection; for enduring crucifixion, He overthrew death by His death.”

Remember this conference is on the article of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” We believe in our own glorious resurrection from the dead, but we also believe that Jesus Christ died on Calvary. If we die with Him, we shall also rise with Him on our own everlasting Easter Sunday.+

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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