Monday, August 13, 2018

Our Bodies are destined for Heaven

Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady

In one of only two dogmas ever declared infallible by the pope, Venerable Pope Pius XII definitively taught a reality of faith that slowly became better understood after centuries of theological reflexion and liturgical celebration: “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” Though this dogma is the most recent, only defined and promulgated in the year 1950 (thus considered to be a modern dogma by Church standards), it is the oldest feast day of Our Lady, but we don't know how it first came to be celebrated. Its origin is lost in those days when Jerusalem was restored as a sacred city, at the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 285-337). For two centuries, every memory of Jesus was obliterated from the city, and the sites made holy by His life, death and Resurrection became pagan temples.

After building the holiest monument in Christendom, Church of the Holy Sepulchre (marking the place of both our Lord’s execution as well as His entombment) in 336, other sacred sites began to be restored and memories of the life of Our Lord began to be celebrated by the people of Jerusalem. One of the memories about His mother centered around the “Tomb of Mary,” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived. On the hill itself was the “Place of Dormition,” the spot of Mary's “falling asleep,” where she had died. The tomb of Mary was where she was buried but the tomb, like the Holy Sepulchre, is empty. Testimony of her Assumption. Today, we have two churches reputed to mark the spot, the Catholic Abbey Church of Dormition on Mount Zion and the Orthodox Shrine of the Tomb of the Theotokos at the foothill of Mount Olivet. Take your pick. But I’m partial to the Catholic shrine, not because it’s Catholic, but because of the testimony of tradition (Mount Zion).

All the feast days of the Blessed Virgin Mary mark the great mysteries of her life and her part in the work of redemption. But the feast we celebrate today is the crowning feast. A trophy, not one won by our Lady but by God Himself. The Assumption completes God's work in her since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God Himself should ever undergo corruption. The Assumption is God's crowning of His work as the Blessed Virgin ends her earthly life and enters eternity. The feast turns our eyes in that direction, where we hope to follow when our earthly life is over. The feast of the Assumption reminds us that our common human experiences are oriented in the same direction Mary took, eternal life in Heaven. This life, with all its ups and downs, is not the end of all. Today’s feast showcases the ultimate promise of our Lord that earthly experiences are not the end.

This feast teaches us that our bodies are ultimately destined for heaven — not just our souls. Our bodies will rise again to be reunited with our souls eternally. Hence this is the reason why the Church has always had great reverence for the human body, shown in a particular way by how she has cared for the bodies of deceased Christians by reverently burying them in anticipation of the resurrection on the last day. In the midst of a pagan culture that didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body — a culture that thought the Catholic claim that Jesus rose from the dead was absolutely absurd — and cremated their loved ones, the Christians buried their dead full-body style in anticipation of the resurrection of the body. They would mark their gravesites with Christian inscriptions like RIP, requiescat in pace, “the body is resting here in peace,” resting until the resurrection, or depositus in pace, “this body is placed here in peace.” So the first Christians used this expression and the word “deposit” to communicate that this body was being placed in the ground only for a certain length of time — until when? — until Our Lord Himself came with the withdrawal slip for the universal resurrection.

Unfortunately, today we live in a neo-pagan culture that, as with their pagan ancestors, is beginning to cremate their loved ones more and more. This is a culture that no longer, practically-speaking, believes in the resurrection of the body, and very often, even takes our Lord’s resurrection for granted. As St. Paul says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” In other words, if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, and if there is no resurrection from the dead, then let’s just throw the bodies into the nearest drain!

The devout Jewish women, who believed in the resurrection of the body, anointed Jesus’ in preparation for resurrection. If Jesus had been handled by pagan women, or if the Roman pagan soldiers had gotten hold of Him, He would most likely have been cremated. Imagine that! When the Lord would have been resurrected, everybody would have thought he were simply a ghost, and there would have been no way to prove otherwise, because there would have been no empty tomb and the urn in which he might have been placed after cremation, might just have been emptied in some other way. Likewise, if Our Lady had not been placed full-bodied in her tomb, but rather cremated, then the Tomb of Mary is a hoax, we might as well go home now. There’s nothing to celebrate. The bodily Assumption of Our Lady did not take place! The Church lied to you! 

In extreme circumstances, the Church permits cremation, as long as it is not an explicit denial of the resurrection of the body, but only “in extreme circumstances.” Cremation is always an exception. It is never the norm. Since the Church began to permit this “in extreme circumstances,” cremation seems to have become normative. This is simply because the person thought that the Church was absolutely fine with this now, or just preferred to be cremated, or simply to save some money — money that, strictly-speaking, most of the time, is not the money needed to put food on the table for example, but money they’d just rather hold onto, because, basically, they don’t see full-body burial for the real Christian value it is. My brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly those among our seniors who might think about these issues more than the younger ones would: if you’re thinking about being cremated for anything other than extreme circumstances, please reconsider. If you have the means, go and buy a plot. Show by your choice here that you choose the truth, that your body will be raised from the dead by the Lord, that you choose to die in the Lord and be buried in the Lord following His lead of being buried full-body style — and show to a world that accepts these truths less and less today, that you are a Christian in life and in death. If you have the means!

At every Mass, we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Here, we literally receive Our Lord’s risen body! Not a symbol of His body, but His real body and blood, risen from the dead. This is a real foretaste of heaven. Those who eat this body and drink this blood live in Him and He in them. This is the same flesh He took from the Blessed Mother, whose body now also reigns in heaven. Taking the Lord’s sacred body and blood within us, we may become more and more like Him. And if we wish to know how that looks like, Saint John Paul II tells us that “by looking at [Mary], the Christian learns to discover the value of his own body” (address, July 9, 1997). Mary, glorified in body and soul, show us who we are and what we are to become!

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