Scripture Readings: Second Book of Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14; Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians 2:16-3:5; Gospel According to Saint Luke 20:27-38
November is traditionally the month in the Catholic Church to recount and pray for the Faithful Departed, those who have gone before us, “with the sign of faith and rest in the sleep of peace,” words from the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. Each November 2nd, on All Souls Days, is especailly dedicated to praying for the deceased.
Appropriately, this Sunday’s Mass readings revolve around the topic of the resurrection of the body. This of course is one of the great mysteries of life and of faith, namely, what happens after death. For the Christian and Catholic, this is one of the tenants of our belief in the possibility of eternal life in God’s Kingdom. But how exactly will it come to be?
Some of the most beautiful words on the subject in Sacred Scripture, written by Saint Paul, have this to say:
“If we believe that Jesus died and rose, God will bring forth with him from the dead those who have fallen asleep believing in him (First Thessalonians, chapter 4, verse 14).
And in another place, wiring to the Church of Corinth, Saint Paul is emphatic, that:
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too” (First Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 13 and 14).
Christians believe wholeheartedly in the resurrection of the body, but precisely how it will come to be and look, is a mystery. This means that some questions remain unanswered, but that should not be cause for doubt or frustration, but in fact an opportunity for going deeper into the bigger mystery of God and the work of salvation of the human race which God intends.
Already in the time of the Maccabees, some two centuries before the birth of Christ, there existed among some of the Jewish people a strong sense of life beyond the grave, what we would now call a belief in bodily resurrection. “The King of the world will raise us up to live again forever,” we hear in the first lesson for Mass today, proclaimed by one of the seven Maccabean brothers.
If we compare the Maccabean contention, of life beyond this one, with the Gospel text today, we see further evidence of belief in the resurrection. Jesus is clear to state, though, that life in heaven will be different from what we have and experience on earth in this life. Jesus says that in the life to come people will not marry, but be more like the angels, no longer subject to death.
Of course angels have no bodies and if no marriage or other “usual” aspects of life as we know it will be in heaven, then surely our resurrected bodies will possess some notable differences in heaven.
Regarding the mystery of the resurrection of the body, we live with the reality that all the aspects of life after death remain unknown in precise details. Should that frighten us? Hopefully not. Analogously, we do not know precisely how those we love will become in the future, how long they will live, what might become of their talents and abilities as we know them now.
Or how about ourselves as well? Will be become more peaceful or more crabby as the years go on? Will our communities, families or spouses eventually show us to the door or truly embrace us with all our eccentricities? We don’t really know, do we? Likewise what exactly the resurrected body and life beyond the grave will be like we don’t know for sure. But we go on believing, hoping and loving God and others.
Mystery remains with all the doctrines of the Church, from the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, his Cross and Resurrection, the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, etc. You name it, it is mystery and not a problem to be solved, unlike a daily crossword puzzle. It’s all more complex than that. We do not know how mysteries of the faith take place, but that they exist and are professed as matters of faith that we adhere to and boldly proclaim by our words and deeds.
As “children of the resurrection,” in the phrase of Jesus, we believe we will exist for all eternity with our earthly identity and personality somehow still present. The same for those who have gone before us in faith, all of our loved ones and ancestors of old.
In the resurrected life and state of being, we will show all our bonds of love and faith in our resurrected body, however that may look. The bonds between us will be closer and more intimate than anything we enjoyed on earth. This fact we believe along with all its unresolved mystery. In the words of Jesus, “God is not the God of the dead but of the living.” What awaits us is the possibility of being fully and truly alive, for “all are alive for Christ” (both quotes from Gospel According to Saint Luke, chapter 20, verse 38).
In the Christian heritage, belief in the eventual resurrection of the body should provide the needed momentum to keep doing good works in this life, which we carry out at this time with our physical bodies here and now.
That being said, it also needs to be pointed out that our belief in resurrected life is not blind adherence to mysterious doctrinal facts. What we are to possess is confidence in a Person, our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Gospel According to Saint John, chapter 11, verse 25). It is Christ to whom we go and from who we receive our life.