The sacred season of Lent has one ultimate purpose: to unite us to Christ our Lord. In order to accomplish this sublime end, we must die to self.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
20 February 2016
In our first reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:17—4:1), St. Paul warns us not to occupy our minds with earthly things. The Lenten perspective here is obvious: the importance of self-denial, self-mastery and a shift in focus away from the fleeting things of the world, such as material possessions, wealth and pleasure and all its many distractions, toward the lasting and eternal things of God. St. Paul reminds us: we are citizens of heaven.
The obvious paradox is this: in order to experience union with God, we must give up not a few “things” but become a new kind of person and live in a new way, which entails death to self and to the world with all its evanescent allurements. This is not something easy to do. But it must be done. God must become our every love, hope, and desire. As Christ our Lord said:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Mt 16:24-26)
The season of Lent is ordered toward finding new life in Christ. And there are indeed very great promises attached to this new life! St. Paul teaches that we await our Savior, who will “change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil. 3:21). He is here speaking of the second coming of Christ and the general resurrection of the dead. That is the great hope to which Lent directs us: the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, which foreshadows that moment at the end of history when we too shall be raised from the dead by Christ. The righteous who love Christ and have done the will of the Father will be raised to the resurrection of life; the wicked who have rejected God and love of neighbor will be raised to the resurrection of damnation (see Mt 25:31 ff.).
Let’s take a brief look at today’s gospel (Lk 9:28-36). Previously, Jesus had predicted his coming passion and death. In our gospel narrative, we learn that Jesus took Peter, John and James up the mountain to pray. In biblical language, going up a mountain was a way to draw nearer to God, like a point of contact between the heavens where God dwells and the earth, the dwelling place of men. Thus the disciples were likely expecting something significant.
And indeed they do witness something of great significance! While Jesus is praying, his face changes appearance, and his clothes become dazzling white. In Matthew’s gospel, we learn that Jesus’ face shone like the sun (17:2). In this moment, the supernatural breaks through in the natural world, and the disciples witness the divine nature shine out through the human nature of the transfigured Jesus. Peter, John and James witness Christ in his glory, which strengthens them against the coming scandal of the cross.
We can see, then, that one aspect of the Transfiguration event was for the sake of strengthening the disciples in the face of the looming evil of the crucifixion of Christ. The Transfiguration strengthens us also, right now, today. It reminds us that, provided we love Christ and die in a state of grace, death has no sting. The final word is not death but life. There is a new tomorrow on the horizon. That new day includes the general resurrection and the raising to life of our body into a glorified state, which will be reunited with our soul.
The good news is, those who love God are destined to live forever as fully human persons of body and soul, united to God in love for eternity. That reality is slated for your future, and it is indeed the fullness of life.
The General Resurrection
We profess our belief in the resurrection from the dead every Sunday at Mass when we recite the Nicene Creed. The Catechism (Nos. 997-1004) provides information based on Tradition, Scripture and the teaching of the Church on what we know will take place at the general resurrection. Following are some of the main points:
What is “rising”? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Who will rise? All the dead will rise, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (Jn 5:29; Dan 12:2).
How? Christ is raised with his own body: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself” (Lk 24:39); but he did not return to an earthly life. So, in him, “all of them will rise again with their own bodies which they now bear,” but Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body,” into a “spiritual body” (Lateran Council IV (1215): DS 801; Phil 3:21; 1 Cor 15:44.):
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel. . . . What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. . . . The dead will be raised imperishable. . . . For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality (1 Cor 15:35-37,42,52,53).
This “how” exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies:
Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God’s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 4,18,4-5:PG 7/1,1028-1029).
When? Definitively “at the last day,” “at the end of the world (Jn 6: 39-40,44,54; 11:24; LG 48 § 3). Indeed, the resurrection of the dead is closely associated with Christ’s Parousia:
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (Rom 6:23; cf. Gen 2:17).
St. Thomas of Aquinas on the properties of the glorified body
In the “Summa Theologica, Supplement to the Third Part,” St. Thomas Aquinas provides us with his theology on the five main properties of the glorified body each of the followers of Christ is to receive:
Identity: The glorified body we receive, raised from the dead, will be our body, not a foreign or alien one. We will recognize it as our own, we will also recognize others, and they will recognize us.
Quality: It will be at the height of its powers, fully possessing integrity and health. Our glorified body will be beautiful, powerful, and in a state of perfection. This relates to the fullness of life of the glorified state. It is not a diminished state, but a completed, elevated one.
Impassibility: this refers to unchangeability. Our glorified body will never diminish, age, fall ill or die. It is not susceptible to injury, sickness, death or decay. It might be thought of as a “spiritualized body,” although bear in mind it is a body, not simply a spirit.
Agility: this property refers to complete ease of movement. St. Thomas thought that we would move in a similar manner to that of the angels, in a spiritual way, at the speed of thought. Perhaps the whole universe will be our playground! Each place is made readily accessible by simply thinking about it. In any case, the normal constraints of time and space will not apply as they do now in the material world.
Clarity: this property refers to luminosity. We get a glimpse of this concept in the Transfiguration event, when the divine nature of Jesus shines out, illuminates, his human nature. His glory shines through and he becomes radiant like the sun, dazzling white. We can see that, also, this entails a type of transparency. The beauty of the spiritual soul, with its radiant holiness, as well as our share in the divine nature of God, are interior and invisible realities. Clarity of the glorified body refers to how these things will illuminate outward appearances from within. Divine light will radiate outward throughout the glorified body.
When we think about Christ’s promise of the resurrection from the dead, we are engaging the theological virtue of hope, which is a gift from God normally received at baptism and through faith in Christ. This gift enables us to trust in the promises of Christ and look forward to the fullness of life to come, which is defined as eternal communion with God and life everlasting.
God indeed has beautiful things in store for those who love him that are beyond the imagination. Although Lent is a challenge, the virtue of hope strengthens us by directing our thoughts to heavenly things and the absolutely certain and unwavering promises of God. With God’s grace and in combination with your own indispensable efforts, enter fully into the sacred season of Lent. It’s all about living forever the life of perfect happiness and love.
Praise be to God!
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Photo Credit: Sam X
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.