Considering the Future: Our Risen Bodies in Paradise
By Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
Lilies, Alleluias, white vestments, Baptismal water. Combined together, these are sure signs that Easter--the festive commemoration of Christ's infallible triumph over sin and death--has arrrived.
Millions of pencils and hours of speech have been dedicated to exploring the mystery of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Christians the world over during this fifty-days season of joy are exhorted to remember that Easter is not just an historical event but it is also a prefiguring of what we will one day experience. As the Apostle to the Gentiles exclaims: "I wish to know Christ and the power flowing from His resurrection; likewise to know how to share in His sufferings by being formed into the pattern of His death. Thus do I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10-11).
Every Easter, a perennial query surfaces: if we will be so blessed to be counted among the Elect, what will our risen bodies be like? In attempting to answer this haunting question, Saint Thomas Aquinas and other theologians have long used, in formulating a reply, a brief passage from Saint Paul: "What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what rises is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength rises up. A natural body is put down and a spiritual body comes up" (1 Corinthians 15:42b-44).
Traditionally, four "properties" or "gifts" of the risen bodies of the just have been identified: impassability; subtility; agility; and clarity.
Professor Ludwig Ott, in his popular Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974), offered a helpful summary of these characteristics.
Impassability is the incapability of suffering "physical evils of all kinds, such as sorrow, sickness, death." So much of our lives we spend in combating headaches and heartaches. Not so in Paradise. Our risen bodies will be strong and supple; we will be unable to suffer the burdens we once encountered here on earth.
Subtility is, as the Angelic Doctor contends, "the power to penetrate." This property does not imply that somehow our risen bodies will become "spiritualized" but rather--like the risen Body of Jesus--that material substances will no longer deter or prevent our bodies from moving. "No entrance" signs will be of no consequence once we enter the pearly gates!
Agility is "the capability of the body to obey the soul with the greatest ease and speed of movement." We will move quickly from one place to another; the Law of Gravity will hold no sway over us in the next life. When considering how Christ appeared and disappeared after his resurrection (cf. John 20:19), we note the characteristic of agility.
Clarity is the fullness of celestial beauty and splendor. Our bodies will radiate with brilliance, much like the Body of Jesus at the Transfiguration. The degree of the radiance of the body will correspond to the level of the clarity of the soul, which in turn depends on the merits of the soul. St. Thomas, referring to Pope Saint Gregory the Great, gives us an analogy which assists us in knowing how clarity will be a gift of our risen bodies: "Thus in the glorified body the glory of the soul will be known, even as through a crystal is known the color of a body contained in a crystal vessel, . . . ." (Summa Theologica, Suppl. 85,1).
The physical resurrection of Jesus is a foreshadowing of our victory over the grave. Our risen bodies will then be like Christ's! This Easter, our hearts leap with anticipation, realizing what God has prepared for those who love Him.
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Resurrection; Resurrection of the Dead
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