June 19, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Resurrection of the body

John F. Fink(Nineteenth in a series of columns)

From the beginning of time, humans have been concerned about death and about what happens afterward.

The ancient Egyptians buried their pharaohs with all the things they thought they might need in the next life. Some ancient peoples buried wives and servants with their kings, believing that they would need them in the next life.

Religious teachings about life after death vary considerably depending upon whether one is a Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Christian or member of another religion.

Catholics believe in the resurrection of the body. It’s a belief that has been an essential ingredient of the Christian faith from its beginnings. We are called to believe not only that the immortal soul will live on after our death, but that even the mortal body will come to life again and be reunited with the soul.

St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).

St. Paul berated the Corinthians because some of them said that there was no resurrection of the dead. He wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14).

In Christ’s day, not all Jews believed in the resurrection of the body. Jesus definitely believed in, and taught, the resurrection of the body. He supported the Pharisees, who believed in life after death, in their dispute over this issue with the Sadducees, who did not believe in it.

How, skeptics ask, can a body that has decayed after death possibly be reunited with the soul?

Other than believing that we will possess a “spiritual body,” rather than a corruptible body, we don’t know how God will accomplish that. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “The manner of our resurrection exceeds our understanding and imagination and is accessible only to our faith” (p. 156).

The resurrection of the body will happen at the end of time, but our souls will enjoy their reward, or punishment, immediately after death. The Church calls this “the particular judgment” to distinguish it from the “last judgment.”

Jesus told us what the last judgment will be like. In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, he says that he will judge us according to how well we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, etc. It will display God’s justice in condemning sinners and rewarding those who are saved.

The souls of those who have lived a life of faith will be reunited with the souls of friends and relatives in heaven, where they will see God as he is, and enjoy supreme and eternal happiness.

That’s the promise of our Catholic faith. †

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