Sunday, April 22, 2012
Risen in the Flesh
A man learned that he had cancer. As you can imagine, he was afraid and distraught. Before starting his treatment, he decided that he would take his mind off his sickness by renting a hotel room and watching re-runs of the Three Stooges. Since he was a kid, he had always enjoyed watching Moe poke Curly in the eyes or pull a fistful of hair from Larry's head. As it turned out, all the laughter somehow triggered his immune system to fight the cancerous tumor. By his next check-up, the doctors were unable to find a trace of cancer in his body.
While this is not a common occurrence, it does point to a truth that scientists are coming to realize more and more. Our emotional and spiritual health has an effect on the health of our bodies. Stress, frustration, anger and resentment eat away not only at our spirits but at our bodies increasing our blood pressure and shortening our lives. At the same time, happiness, optimism and laughter boosts our immune systems and helps us to live longer. God created us with both a body and a soul. Though they are distinct, they both effect each other. What is good for the body is also good for the soul. And what is good for the soul is also good for the body.
Today's second reading from the First Letter of John gives us some further insight into the truth of the unity of our bodies and souls. Like today, the early Christian community had to deal with a lot of bizarre philosophies that threatened the preaching of the gospel. One such idea was that the body was evil and only the soul was good. Because the body was evil, it did not matter what you did with it. You could get drunk, cheat on your husband or wife, even commit suicide. None of it was sinful because it did not affect your soul. As long as you knew and loved God, your body was yours to do with as you pleased.
Saint John immediately debunks this idea by clearly stating: "Those who say, 'I know him,' but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them." Any action which goes against God's word and commandment is a sin whether it is a sin of the body such as lust or drunkenness or a sin of the soul such as pride or anger. Both our bodies and our souls are good in God's eyes and destined for eternal life with him in heaven. So we must glorify God with our bodies. We must keep our bodies pure just as we seek to keep our souls pure.
Another proof of the goodness of our bodies is the fact that the Son of God took on a human body in the womb of Mary. If the body was evil, Jesus would never have taken on our flesh. It would have been incompatible with his absolute holiness and goodness. By becoming fully human, Jesus proves to us that our bodies are good and meant to give praise to God.
Today's gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke makes it plain that Jesus, now risen from the dead, still has a body. It is not a mortal body as we now have, but a resurrected one. We know that there has been some change in Jesus because the disciples have difficulty recognizing him. Unlike our bodies, Jesus' resurrected body is not limited by time and space. He can appear out of nowhere, even when the doors are locked.
At the same time, it is a real body. It is made of flesh and bones as he tells them, "Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." Furthermore, his body still bears the wounds from the crucifixion on his hands, feet and side. Though the disciples have difficulty recognizing him, they can tell that it must be Jesus because of the wounds. And, finally, Jesus was still able to eat as he demonstrated to them by consuming a piece of fish in their presence. After the resurrection, Jesus still has a body, but it is a glorified body.
What does this mean for us? It means that, thanks to Jesus' death and resurrection, we too will have a resurrected, glorified body. It is true that when we die our soul continues to live while our body is buried in the ground. Our soul goes either to heaven, purgatory or hell as we await the final judgment at the end of the world. At that time, when God's victory over sin and evil is finally and definitively established, we will be reunited with our bodies at the resurrection of the dead. This new body will not grow old or experience pain. It will live forever to praise the God of goodness who saved us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It also means that it is a good and holy thing to take care of our physical selves. A healthy diet, exercise and rest will benefit our souls as well as our bodies. When we are worn out or under stress, we can find it difficult to focus and to meditate. If we over-eat or drink to excess, it will be difficult for us to slow our minds down enough to pray. And when we indulge in sexual sins such as pornography or sex outside of marriage, shame builds up within us which causes us to shrink from the embrace of our loving God. Any sin we commit makes it impossible to the live with the abundance of joy and peace that God has planned for us. If we are still under the grip of any of these sins, we can go to God with confidence and seek his forgiveness by bringing our bodies to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God is merciful, and he wants us to experience both in our bodies and in our souls the gift of everlasting life.
Jesus is risen! He is alive so that we might have life, both our bodies and our souls. He is here among us as he opens our minds to the Scriptures. He will share a meal with us as he did with the apostles. The meal is his very self - the Eucharist - which is the body, soul and divinity of Jesus. With a renewed spirit and a sanctified body, let us continue to give him praise through a holy life as we look forward to our own resurrection.