The power of the Resurrection generates a new community, a new family where brothers and sisters will be measured by their capacity to do the will of God.
— Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, An Easter People
Easter message: We will not rise from the dead. Certainly, not the “we” we are now.
Christianity teaches that beings of this world, with our frailties, failings, foibles, and physical infirmities, will not emerge exactly the same in the resurrection. Rather, the risen shall be radically, supernaturally and unimaginably transformed, liberated from woe, sin and death. That’s salvation.
As Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
So the risen will be drastically different from our fallen, sinful, mortal selves. Think butterfly from caterpillar, gold necklace from mountain ore, Eve from Adam’s rib. Thank God we don’t have to spend eternity the way we are now.
We can have a foretaste of that miraculously altered state by living godly lives. Indeed, as extolled by the opening quotation from a 2012-reprinted book by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Christ’s resurrection imparts power that transforms people and communities to become more and more true to the divine will.
St. Paul’s Epistles speak of casting aside the old self to bring forth the new. “We know that our old self was crucified with him [Jesus Christ] so that the body of sin might be destroyed,” said the Letter to the Romans.
And the apostle credited with laying the foundations of Christian theology, admonished the Ephesians “to put away your former way of life, your old self … and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
And what is His image and intent? In a word: Love. The perfect love between the Father and the Son, Which is the Holy Spirit. The Trinity’s love for all creatures, which brings them into existence. God’s love for humankind, for which the Father sent His only begotten Son to become one of us and die for our redemption. And Christ’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.”
Scripture, biography and literature are replete with lives miraculously transformed, from St. Paul’s conversion from a Christian-hunting Pharisee, to the reform of thief Jean Valjean in the hit musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables. Souls are purged of hate and selfishness and filled with love and holiness.
Even death can be transformed from inevitable tragedy to boundless charity. In a fictional play by this columnist based on the death of Auschwitz martyr St. Maximillian Kolbe, a German capo or concentration camp orderly offers to take the place of the Polish priest, condemned to die by starvation. The saint declines and asks the capo to save one of the nine other inmates in the “hunger bunker” instead.
After those prisoners have said what they would do if they live, Kolbe asks the capo to do the same. Upon hearing that the German would help their families and friends if he returned to camp, the inmates let him go back. They have embraced the cruel death they had sought to escape; it is now a loving and meaningful sacrifice. So it is with every life transformed by the love, grace and power of the Risen Christ.
Oneness with the One and True
Along with turning self-centeredness into selfless love, the risen life is also suffused with the divine consciousness as the soul sees God face to face and communes with Him.
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians declares: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” And our Lord Himself promises in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
This “beatific vision” is foreshadowed in deep prayer and contemplation. Like Jesus, many saints are blessed with close communion with the Creator, not just in private devotion, but in everyday life, seeing God and His will in everyone and everything. “Contemplative in action,” as Jesuits put it.
American thinker Ken Wilber, who integrates scientific, social and spiritual knowledge, cites Christian and other mystics like St. Teresa of Avila and Ralph Waldo Emerson communing with the Oversoul. And even atheist philosophers feel a longing for the supernatural, as historian Peter Watson notes (see February 19 column).
In an early papal address, Francis stressed the paramount importance of God-centered spirituality: “There is much we can do to benefit the poor, the needy and those who suffer, and to favor justice, promote reconciliation and build peace. But before all else we need to keep alive in our work the thirst of the absolute, and to counter … a vision which reduces human beings to what they produce and what they consume: this is one of the most insidious temptations of our time.”
My spirit into Thy hands
If the selfless and the spiritual are two intimations of immortality, linking souls to God’s heart and mind, suffering is the third ‘s’ to sample heaven after earth.
No, the risen will not be in torment, unless they reject the Almighty and cast themselves into godless hell. Rather, the pains of this world, from discord, deprivation and destruction to disease, disability and death, lead us to call on God for succor and entrust ourselves to His omnipotence.
“Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” was how our dying Savior intoned the very human and holy urge to place one’s being and life entirely in divine hands—as all the resurrected must. No ifs, buts or maybes: As faculties fail and lifelessness looms, we have no recourse but to hope that God will catch our souls.
Thus, while not everyone has selfless charity and inspired spirituality, all humanity inevitably face “disease, diminishment and death,” as hospital chaplain Jesuit Fr. Jordan Orbe phrased it. When that happens, make the pain sacred, he counseled in his Good Friday retreat. And surrender your soul as Jesus did.
A 2011 global survey commissioned by Reuters news agency found that half the world believed in the afterlife. Those with charity unrestrained by self, faith that bonds with God, and hope in His cradling arms can feel even now what rising from death is like. Amen.