By Fr. Thomas R. Harding, Th.D.
This homily has been posted with the direct and generous permission of the late Fr. Thomas Harding, Th.D. (1918-2005).
It is good at this time of the year to read the accounts of the Resurrection of the Lord in the four Gospels and in the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. He appeared over a period of 40 days and then ascended into Heaven. St. Matthew describes four apparitions, St. Mark six, St. Luke five, St. John seven and St. Paul six. That makes a total of twenty eight.
I like the account of St. Paul, 1 Cor. 15:1-12, he wrote: “For I delivered to you what I also received, that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead and that He appeared
- To Cephas
- After that to the Eleven
- Then He was seen by 500 brothers and sisters at one time, many of whom are with us still but some have fallen asleep
- After that He was seen by James
- Then by all of the Apostles
- And last of all He was seen by me as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the Apostles and am not worthy to be called an Apostle because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the Grace of God I am what I am and His Grace in me has not been in vain.”
He was chosen by God as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Jesus Christ raised other people from the dead in His lifetime. In the cases of His friend Lazarus, the Son of the widow of Naim and the daughter of Jairus, resurrection was a kind of resurgence or a return to the same kind of life which they had just left.
The Resurrection of Jesus is different. It is a breaking through to a new life in God, living in a glorified body which is no longer vulnerable or mortal. Jesus, who died and rose, now lives on for us in the Divine Sphere. As St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15:45 says: “Scripture has it that Adam, the first man, became a living soul, the last Adam, Jesus Christ has become a life-giving spirit.” For He promised that we too will rise.
Not only did God raise Jesus, the man from the dead, but He let Him be seen by many witnesses over a period of forty days and it is on the evidence of these witnesses that our Faith and our Church depend. The accounts of His appearances indicate that His Resurrection is that of an embodied Being, living now in a Glorified Body. In today’s Gospel it is encouraging to note that “They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and He took it and ate it in their presence.”
St. Paul describes a Christian as one who believes in the Resurrection of the flesh. St. John describes a Christian as one who believes that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. The two mysteries are related. The Resurrection is the Incarnation perpetuated but in flesh that is incorruptible, life-giving and universally extended to all.
Regarding the age-old questions of life, death and resurrection, I have often wondered just what happened at the moment of death. What happens to the soul? Is it asleep or awake? If asleep does it stay that way until the Angel Gabriel’s call and the sound of the trumpet of God on the last day? Does the soul then wake up to rejoin it’s body wherever it may be and then hurry off to the valley of Jehosaphat for the General Judgment?
I would like to think that when the soul leaves the body, it is awake and that it is fitted with a glorified body for after all, man is by nature a spirit informing a body, not a ghost or a disembodied spirit.
The Dutch Catechism reports that the departed soul is awake and this is logical because we pray to the Saints. On the question of the time when we are reunited to the body, the Dutch Catechism says we imagine Heaven to be a vast Assembly Hall, full of spiritual souls where only two places are bodily occupied, those of Jesus and May, for Jesus ascended into Heaven and Mary was assumed into Heaven. However, the Dutch Catechism does not reject the opinion that God can supply newly arriving souls with bodies.
Ladislaus Boros, S.J. has written a great deal about the questions of death, resurrection, the risen body and heaven. On the question as to when our resurrection takes place, he says we have to take into account two questions.
First, Revelation states that the resurrection is an event coming at the end of time (1 Thess. 4:16). Second, the severance of the soul from the body is utterly unnatural for the soul. The soul is meant to inform a body in order to function naturally. Is God supposed to hold back the soul artificially until the resurrection of the body at the end of time?
Ladislaus Boros, S.J. shows how Karl Rahner, S.J. tries to unite these two factors in an hypothesis which is very attractive, if not entirely satisfying. Rahner comes to the conclusion that the separation of the soul from the body in death is not a complete break from matter. On the contrary, at the moment of death there arises for the soul a new and essential closeness to matter. The human soul in death does not become A-COSMIC, that is, out of this world, but it becomes ALL-COSMIC, that is, everywhere present in the world and in the universe. We profess our faith in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus Christ descended to the dead to announce the Good News of Redemption to the souls of the just waiting there and then He ascended into heaven and brought them with Him.
Rahner says that the resurrection of the body may take place at the moment of death, but it is not yet perfect. The risen body needs the transformed, glorified universe as its sphere of being. We can experience our bodily resurrection in its full perfection when the world and the universe have entered into the state of glory at the end of time.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says that God by His Almighty Power can destroy the whole universe and immediately restore it in its state of Glory at the end of time. Thus the glorious transformation of the universe at the end of time would also be the final perfection of the resurrection of the body which already occurred at the moment of death.
Traditionally, Theology has listed the qualities of the Risen Body as splendour or radiance, subtlety or the ability to pass through walls, the doors being closed as Jesus did after the Resurrection, agility or the ability to travel instantaneously from one place to another in space and outer space, and impassability or being free from injury, suffering and death.
We will leave these questions with God for the time being, but it is interesting to think of the possibilities. Remember St. Augustine said: “We are Resurrection people. We are Alleluia people.” And St. Paul says: “We have not here a lasting city. Our conversation is in heaven.” And we profess our faith in the Apostles Creed: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and Life Everlasting.”
Praise and Thank the Lord!
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This homily is not to be copied, duplicated, modified nor distributed in any way.
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