Today, I spoke to Dave about upcoming Holy Week, Easter, and the resurrection of Christ. I asked him if he believed in the resurrection. It’s a dogma of the faith. It gives us great hope for the future. Unfortunately, he shook his head “no.”
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
8 April 2019
On Mondays I visit folks at a local rehabilitation center and nursing home and bring Catholic residents there the Eucharist. One of my favorite people to see is a man I’ll name Dave, for the sake of anonymity. Although it sometimes takes him a few seconds to recognize me, once he does, he always gives me a warm smile and stretches out his hand for a careful shake. Dave has an inviting, peaceful disposition about him.
Dave doesn’t say much. He prefers to listen to the gospel proclamation, receive the Eucharist, and then bid me goodbye. Today, I spoke to him about upcoming Holy Week, Easter, and the resurrection of Christ. I asked him if he believed in the resurrection. It’s a dogma of the faith. And it gives us great hope for the future. Unfortunately, he shook his head “no.”
Actually, it’s not uncommon to find Christians who express doubts about the resurrection of their own body consequent to the second coming of Christ and the general judgment, what we call the “general resurrection.” After all, it’s quite fantastic, when we think about it, that our long-dead and decomposed body will one day be raised up again and reunited to our soul. Wow. Is it possible? Is it really in your future? Absolutely. God never fails to carry through with his promises. And it’s most certainly within the realm of his divine, unrestricted power.
If God immediately created our soul out of nothing at the moment of our conception and brought us into being as human persons, if Christ raised himself from the dead after his brutal crucifixion, he can and will do the same for us. Although it’s totally impossible for us to do, it’s not difficult at all for God.
It’s a matter of divine faith (dogma) that, on Christ’s return, all the dead will be raised. We recite this truth at every Sunday Eucharist when we profess the Nicene Creed. Those who died loving Christ and in a state of grace (the righteous) will be raised to the resurrection of life; whereas those who died rejecting him (the unrighteous) will be raised to the resurrection of damnation (see Mt 25:31 ff.). So, everybody gets a resurrected body.
Personally, I prefer to be raised to life, not damnation. Eternity is a long time.
The resurrection of the dead is mentioned several places in the New Testament. And, of course, the Jews in Jesus’ time believed in the resurrection (with the exception of the Sadducees as one notable group who denied it). The Catechism, based on Tradition, Scripture and magisterial teaching, has some wonderful information on the general resurrection (see Nos 997-1004):
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, too, affords us a body of teaching on what it may be like to enjoy our glorified bodies we are destined to receive in the future. In his theology, found in the Summa Theologica, he gives us five fascinating properties of the glorified body, which are ultimately based on the properties of the glorified body of our Lord Jesus Christ:
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.
Of course, I didn’t talk to Dave about all that exciting stuff. But I did explain a little about the general resurrection, when it will happen, and the importance of believing in it. I told him how exciting it is. That it’s in his future. That it’s not a question of “if” but “when.” I told him that if we die with Christ (meaning we’ve received the sacrament of baptism, we live our lives in and through and with him, having faith in him and die in a state of grace) we will be raised with him. That’s exciting news. Especially for a man stuck behind closed walls who spends his days in a wheelchair with a roommate who refuses to turn down the television.
After I talked to Dave about the beauty of the resurrection, I again asked him if he believed in it. He smiled, nodded “yes,” and stuck out his hand for another shake.
I told him I’d see him next Monday.
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.