By Deacon Rusty Baldwin

At Mass every Sunday we pray the creed; the Nicene Creed from the 4th century to be precise. And when we pray the Rosary, we pray the Apostles’ Creed, which, despite its name is believed to have been developed in the late 4th or early 5th centuries. Now, creeds are official, formal, and concise statements of what we believe. But they are not comprehensive. That is, they do not contain everything we believe, but rather our essential core beliefs. You may be surprised to learn that many Protestant denominations use the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, or sometimes even develop their own. For Catholics, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creed have become so ingrained in our memories that we likely pray them without thinking about them much. And that’s a shame because each statement in the creeds points to mysteries that invite us to explore our faith more deeply and can serve as fruitful sources for meditation during our prayer time. To use an ancient theological term, the creeds are symbols of faith that point to realities beyond themselves. Furthermore, much of Church history is bound up in the creeds – more than you might think – whether that be the events and people that led to what is in the creeds, or the events and people involved in defending the truths contained therein.

In any case, I would like to consider one statement in the Apostles’ Creed, that being, “I believe in … the resurrection of the body.” What does the resurrection of the body mean? According to the Catechism, paragraph 997, death is the separation of the soul and the body. The body decays, while the soul goes to meet God and awaits reunion with its glorified body. [At our resurrection, that is,] When our souls are reunited with [our] glorified bodies, God grants incorruptible life to them through the power of Our Lord’s Resurrection. In heaven, then, we will finally be like Our Lord intended us to be: fully human in body and soul, and by His grace and at His invitation, participating in His very divinity. And since the time of his Incarnation, Our Lord is also like us, eternally divine by nature and not by participation of course, but fully human: body and soul. As Dr. Peter Kreeft has said, “The Ascension of Our Lord was not the undoing of his Incarnation.” From the time Jesus took on our human nature and became Emmanuel – God with us – the second divine person of the Holy Trinity was both fully human and fully divine. And in his humanity, he has a human body and a human soul – for all eternity. But why will we have bodies in heaven after the resurrection? That seems strange and unnecessary to some, perhaps to most.

The short answer is because that’s how God made us. But to expand on this short answer a bit… we are incomplete without our bodies. You see, our bodies are not just containers that we discard at death. As St. Paul says, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Thus, to be a fully human person is to be a union of body and soul. It follows then that we are going to be in our bodies for a long time, for all eternity in fact, so we better get used to them. Thanks be to God we will receive glorified bodies like Our Lord’s that Peter, James and John saw at the Transfiguration, and all the Apostles saw after his Resurrection. And personally, I’m looking forward to it because, I definitely need to trade mine in for the new, eternal model!

But given our body is not some temporary extraneous extra; given being human means having both a body and a soul, it follows that the body must have a deeper meaning. And that is in fact the case. Our bodies are signs or symbols that are real in themselves, but also point to fuller, deeper realities beyond themselves; to something bigger than themselves. The icon of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus that was here last week was real in itself, and profoundly beautiful as well. But just about every aspect of it pointed to deeper realities, realities bigger than itself; the most profound being the persons of St. Joseph and Our Lord himself. A crucial point, and one that should not be passed over too quickly is that these deeper, more profound realities earthly signs point to are not less real than what we perceive with our senses, but more real. We are in the shadowlands, we are seeing things dimly, as through a mirror. The fact is, spiritual and heavenly realities are more substantial, more real than earthly ones, not less! They have more weight if you will. Our glorified bodies will be more real than what we have now, not less. That is why the earthly signs that point to the heavenly realities are treated with dignity, respect, and even as sacred, whether they be an icon, the holy vessels used at Mass, a treasured family photo, a memento from a beloved family member, the American flag, or our bodies.

This is part of what Pope St. John Paul II was teaching us in what has come to be known as the Theology of the Body. Now, you have probably at least heard the phrase “Theology of the Body” even if you don’t know anything about it. In the Theology of the Body, John Paul II reflects deeply on the Biblical account of what the body being made in the image and likeness of God means.

The very name, Theology of the Body, is evocative and suggests there is more to our body than meets the eye. You see, theology means the study of God and therefore, the Theology of the Body brings to light ways we can know God more intimately by understanding what our bodies, made in His image and likeness, reveal about God, about what it means to be male and female, about human sexuality, and the spousal character of our relationship to Him and even to our neighbor.

The Theology of the Body has been called a theological time-bomb and is much more than reflections on marriage and spousal love, though in that regard too, its implications are earth-shattering. Through the Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II reveals the entirety of God’s plan for us from the beginning. We are going to be exploring this time-bomb over the next couple of homilies in hopes of finding the trigger that makes this bomb go off!

What are the major tenets of the Theology of the Body? We already touched on one: that God reveals his mysteries through the human body which gives the body a sacramental character. Now a sacrament, according to an ancient definition, is a physical sign that makes visible what is invisible. It is in this way that the body is sacramental. In the context of the seven sacraments of our faith a sacrament is a visible sign, instituted by Christ, that confers grace. Not only is the ancient definition compatible with this, it also reveals God’s purpose for our bodies. Namely, our bodies are visible signs, created by God, that we are to use to confer His grace; that is, that we are to use to be a blessing – a blessing to everyone!! Our bodies, then, are physical signs that, by self-giving, loving acts, make visible the invisible purpose of God through our very lives!

A second major tenet of the Theology of the Body is the two-fold “inner secret” of God. First is one we are very familiar with – which is not to say we reflect on it enough – namely, that God is a Trinity of divine persons in an eternal exchange of love – a communion of love. And second, God has destined man to participate in this exchange of love! And we do that in the same way the Most Holy Trinity does. By mutually giving and receiving “the sincere gift of self.” Man can only realize who he is by loving as Christ loves. And in this unity or common union, his communion, we emulate and are a sign of the communion of love shared by the divine persons of the Most Holy Trinity!

Another tenet of the Theology of the Body is the complementarity of man as male and female. This is especially needed given the confusion and the demonic-inspired perversion of what it means to be a man and a woman today. Each sex, male and female, perfects, completes, and harmonizes with the other. Our sex is not a social construct. God created us immutably male or female; each with unique gifts to share with the other, not to be used in competition, manipulation, or domination.

And this complementarity and self-giving are most profoundly and completely expressed by spouses. The mutual and total self-giving of marital love in its fullness, faithfulness, fidelity, and fruitfulness, is attested to throughout the Bible in the Old Testament as an earthly image of God’s love for Israel, and in the New Testament as an image of Christ’s love for the Church. And John Paul II calls marriage and spousal love the “most fitting human image of the divine mystery.”

The “source and summit of the Christian life,” the Most Holy Eucharist is the preeminent Sacrament that makes visible what is invisible. Our Lord’s body, blood, soul, and divinity is both concealed and revealed in the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament. And God has placed, has hidden or concealed if you will in us, in our bodies, the sacred mystery of His love. It is up to us, to reveal that mystery of self-giving, self-sacrificing love. This will not cost us something; it will cost us everything. But remember, true love does not count the cost. Our free response to His love that dwells invisibly within us, must be to make that love visible to those who need it the most.

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