We hear this weekend of another encounter the apostles have with the Risen Lord. Jesus said to them, “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Each encounter with the resurrected Lord expresses at its core the fact that Christ still lives; He has conquered death. This victory is in union with our human nature. Jesus did not reject his human body once risen from the dead, but remains united with it, as evident when he said, “Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” He is not simply a pure spirit as if to imply the body is bad and needs to be removed to come to a higher state of being. Rather, His resurrected body teaches us the dignity of each human body and our need to respect the body at all times, living and deceased.
Our faith, as Pope Francis reminds us in his new apostolic exhortation, teaches that every living person, born and unborn, deserves our respect. Pope Francis wrote that each life “is always sacred and demands love for each persons, regardless of his or her stage of development.” This respect for the body is also to be given to those who have died. For in death, the Christian’s participation in the life of the Trinity is not ended but transformed through the Easter joy of the resurrection
The human person, body and soul, created in the image and likeness of God, has always been held in the highest esteem by the Church, including death. This is the body washed in baptism, anointed with the oil of salvation, and fed with the Eucharist. This is the body whose feet walked the path of faith, whose hands embraced others in love, whose heart beat with compassion for the poor and sorrowing. In the body, a person expresses one’s identity and self-consciousness, soul and spirit. The resurrection of the Lord (Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity) is what we anticipate as our reward for faithful discipleship, for we profess in the Creed, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.”
In light of the resurrection, it is understandable that the Church insists on the sacredness of the human body in death as in life. This reverence and respect in which the body is to be treated is affirmed in the funeral rites of the Church and why the Catholic teaching clearly stresses the preference for burial or entombment of the body (or cremated remains) in a cemetery or mausoleum. This place of final disposition serves as a place of remembrance, prayer, and mourning, not only for the family and friends but for the entire Christian community, as we await the resurrection of the dead.
As we continue to encounter the Risen Lord throughout this Easter season, may we recognize the precious value of the human body as a sacred gift from God, a gift that will be raised up and joined to our souls for all eternity.
In the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Father Andrew Heiman