I remember a guy named Wyatt McIntyre who I befriended through high school speech and debate. The two of us seemed were more interested in theological debate than others competing in the tournaments. He was a Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran – he read Martin Luther as you or I would read Benedict XVI. When I asked him to describe his belief, he said he was “A reformed Christian who believed in consubstantiation and bodily resurrection.” Being a Catholic, I guessed I believed in the resurrection of the body since I said it every Sunday at Mass, but I never really thought about it much. So I questioned him on this point and he was very insistent, to the point of saying that the Catholics were closer to the truth because we believed in our bodily resurrection, than evangelicals who denied this one doctrine. Yikes! I knew how different Catholics and Protestants viewed so many things; and when a Protestant put this single doctrine as more valuable than all the rest combined, it made me think.
Since we just celebrated Easter, I think it’s a good time to reflect on why our resurrection matters. It mattered for St. Paul: in 1 Corinthians 15:13-14, he says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ is not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Now I got what Wyatt was saying: without the resurrection of the dead, our Christian faith collapses.
Today, many Christians, and even some Catholics, want to leave their bodies, go to heaven, and remain there bodiless forever. If that is true, why did Christ become man? If our body doesn’t rise, it indicates that either our body is simply a tool for our soul, or Christ only saves part of us. He could have saved our souls. The incarnation only makes sense if Christ is going to save our bodies and if our bodies are something good (thus worth saving). The resurrection of the body proves both false doctrines wrong. Let’s look at why each of them is so dangerous and why they’re wrong.
The idea that our body is just a tool for our soul goes back to the ancient philosophers, but was revived in modern times by Descartes. If this is true, we are only our soul and we are not our body: our body is just the same as a hammer or a pair of shears. If this is true, we can’t actually relate to each other since the only way we can relate is through our bodies (generally through speech, gestures and touch); if our body is no longer ours, any communication between people is simply communication between their tools and not between them. But our communication is hampered even more because tools have an assigned meaning rather than an inherent meaning – human beings are inherently afraid of snakes but we are only afraid of guns because of the assigned meaning that a gun has (as a murderous weapon). If that is true, we have no way of knowing that the meaning we assign to anything through our body (the only tool which we have to communicate) is understood by the other in the same way we assign a meaning to it. We might as well be talking monotone on the phone to someone who only speaks Chinese (assuming we don’t speak any Chinese). Without the body being part of us, we end with the inability to know anything but our own thoughts (technically called solipsism). That’s loneliness!
In fact, the entire knowledge of the body is in direct opposition to this. The main point of St. John Paul II is that we communicate through our body which has an inherent meaning: “The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it.” (Theology of the Body, Waldstein Translation, 19:4 pg. 203) So many errors of modern society imply the opposite. One clear example: “homosexual marriage” which only makes sense if there is no inherent meaning to the body (see my separate blog on this).
More than once, I’ve sat in the confessional and heard someone say something to the effect of, “all my bodily desires are evil.” Almost nothing could be more false. Our bodily desires are good, although sometimes they get distorted: our good desires for companionship and reproduction can become desires for adultery. One of the key insights of St. Augustine was that whenever we choose evil, we choose it under the aspect of the good. In other words, I can only choose to be gluttonous by choosing what is good in the food (that it is enjoyable and nourishes me) and not under the aspect of excess and obesity. The example he gives is when he stole a pear tree then threw it in the garbage – he realized he was choosing the good of friendship (even with hooligans) when he did this. Our desires are good, because our body is good.
Jesus became man to save us, soul AND BODY. When he becomes man, he unites himself to all human flesh, and elevates our bodies to his divine nature in some way. Our bodies (and souls) are divinized. If Jesus wanted to save our souls alone, it would’ve been far easier for him just to appear in a vision than become incarnate. If Jesus were just to save our souls, it would indicate that there was a division between our soul and our body, when that’s not true.
The resurrection the body tells us that our bodies are ours, they’re good, and Jesus saved them; but the most important thing is that we have the opportunity to look forward to a bodily existence beyond the grave. We will not be a soul disconnected from body for all eternity, even if that is in heaven. Our resurrected bodies will have traits we can barely imagine in our current bodies, but they will still be our bodies. This is the amazing hope, beyond even heaven itself, we profess every Sunday: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”