Here on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time we’re rapidly nearing the end of our liturgical year. A lot of times toward the end of a year there’s a looking back on the past, a kind of “year in review.” But what our Scriptures point us toward today is not the past but the future—we hear about the resurrection of the dead that we profess in our Creed. Of course, it all hinges on the Resurrection of Jesus. “The resurrection of Jesus is the culminating truth of the Christian faith, preached as an essential part of the Paschal Mystery from the very beginnings of Christianity… the risen Christ is the principle and source of our future resurrection…Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning…By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul.” [Ad resurgendum cum Christo 2]
Now, it’s hard enough to fathom what heaven might be like, and the resurrection of the body might make it even more difficult. Especially when we consider how as we get nearer to the end of life our bodies grow old and break down, it certainly might be a mystery to us as to why God would want to bring our bodies also to eternal glory. But we must remember that God chooses to dwell in a body. In Christ Jesus, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and ascended into heaven after His own three days in the tomb; and as God continues to dwell in the Person of Christ, so God also dwells in the Body of Christ, the Church, and in the Eucharist. And so we see that God, in His love for us, wills to bring us into relationship with Him completely, body and soul.
I think this ties in nicely with the Church’s special commemoration of the faithful departed during the month of November; and all of this is a time to recall some important things about death, burial, and eternity. In the Catechism, we see “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in faith and hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead is a corporal work of mercy; it honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.” [CCC 2300]
A recent Vatican instruction approved by Pope Francis reminds us that “By burying the bodies of the faithful, the Church confirms her faith in the resurrection of the body, and intends to show the great dignity of the human body as an integral part of the human person whose body forms part of their identity. She cannot, therefore, condone attitudes or permit rites that involve erroneous ideas about death, such as considering death as the definitive annihilation of the person, or the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration, or as the definitive liberation from the ‘prison’ of the body. Furthermore, burial in a cemetery or another sacred place adequately corresponds to the piety and respect owed to the bodies of the faithful departed who through Baptism have become temples of the Holy Spirit and in which ‘as instruments and vessels the Spirit has carried out so many good works.’” [Ad resurgendum cum Christo 3]
A lot of folks have questions about cremation, and this instruction was put out to help address this very issue. It states, “The Church continues to prefer the practice of burying the bodies of the deceased, because this shows a greater esteem towards the deceased. Nevertheless, cremation is not prohibited, ‘unless it was chosen for reasons contrary to Christian doctrine,’” that is, the resurrection of the body.  “When, for legitimate motives, cremation of the body has been chosen, the ashes of the faithful must be laid to rest in a sacred place... The reservation of the ashes of the departed in a sacred place ensures that they are not excluded from the prayers and remembrance of their family or the Christian community. It prevents the faithful departed from being forgotten, or their remains from being shown a lack of respect.”  “[T]he conservation of the ashes of the departed in a domestic residence is not permitted.  “[I]t is not permitted to scatter the ashes of the faithful departed in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way, nor may they be preserved in mementos, pieces of jewelry or other objects.  Cremation should follow the funeral liturgy, with internment of the remains afterward, though a funeral Mass may still be celebrated in the presence of cremated remains.
The Gospel leads us to another important teaching. Jesus says that “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead…can no longer die for they are like angels, and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” It’s significant that Jesus says they are LIKE angels and ARE children of God. On several occasions, I’ve heard or seen in obituaries that “heaven gained an angel,” or that the deceased “got their angel wings.” While this might seem like a consoling sentiment, it’s just not the case. While we certainly look to dwell with the angels in eternity, we don’t become angels but rather always remain a human person. Angels are a different order in God’s creation. Though certainly special beings, they were not created to be a union of body and soul as human beings are. The human beings in heaven are the saints.
Finally, the promise of the resurrection not only makes a difference for our future, but also for our present. We can live out our daily lives in anticipation of, and fidelity to, the mystery of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Surely the faith and hope in the resurrection exhibited by the mother and brothers in our 1st Reading did not just materialize overnight. The reason that they were imprisoned and tortured in the first place was because of their fidelity to God. As St. Paul writes, their love of God grounded them in faith. And with their belief in the resurrection, they were able to put their persecution in a different perspective, because they knew that what happened in this life was not the end of the story. Remembering the resurrection also calls us to place our hardships in a different perspective, as it did for them. It calls us to live hopefully on earth the joy and fulfillment and redemption that will fully be ours in heaven.
In all of this there is mystery, a mystery to be lived out in the here and now, even as we look to our final destiny. One of the prefaces for funeral Masses says, “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended.” It is a change that we can prepare for; it is a change that we should prepare for. And so this day, as we gather to celebrate the Eucharist – the living memorial of the Paschal Mystery – let us pray that the Lord strengthen us to be willing to enter more fully into the mystery of the resurrection of the body, ready to be brought to the fullness of life.
Link to full instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christohttp://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2016/10/25/161025c.html
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