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The Word Encountered
Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
John Kavanaugh, SJ

Glorified Bodies

A ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do.” (Lk 24:39)

Peter claims, in the Acts of the Apostles, that the servant Jesus has been glorified. Among other things, such a claim might be referring to the testimonies, recounting about the risen Lord, that the third Gospel drew upon.

While the disciples who had returned from the road to Emmaus were explaining how they recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread, Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. Frightened, they thought they were seeing a ghost, but Jesus told them to look at his wounds and even touch him. He knew they were having trouble believing what was before them. As if to convince them that he was somehow, albeit strangely, flesh and blood, he asked for something to eat in their presence.

Our first brothers and sisters in faith experienced Christ in his body so gloriously that even his wounds were lovely invitations to faith.
This, like other accounts of the risen Jesus, is amazingly wonderful. And despite the efforts of countless commentators and interpreters over the centuries to reduce these narratives to something neither quite so strange nor nearly so wonderful, one fact remains: The resurrection community that had experienced Jesus’ dying now experienced his risen presence. And it was, quite insistently, an embodied one.

This is a Jesus of sight and sound, of memories and relationships, of love and tenderness. He would take food and allow himself to be touched. Even his wounds could be examined. It was a recognizable and identifiable Jesus, a realization of his bodied existence. And yet he seemed to transcend the conditions of sheer organic materiality. He would appear out of nowhere, supposedly pass through walls and closed doors, walk on water, and reveal wounds startlingly different from the open sores of earthly trauma.

Often enough, we have come across claims that this cannot be literally true. But what if it were true? Either this is all bunkum, or there is some kind of bodied existence that is not the same as our sheer physical limitedness. It is a kind of existence that enters our world yet is not cramped by it.

Human destiny after death appears to have fascinated every human community. In fact, some of our most ancient encounters with our forebears are through their artifacts that portray the transition of death. Earliest oral traditions, sagas, and myths speak of the journey beyond our body’s door. Philosophers, even the early Greeks, seemed preoccupied with questions of immortality. Plato, not very friendly to the body in any case, thought that on some purely psychic or intellectual level we not only outlasted our bodies—we predated them too.

Many before Miguel Unamuno, of our own century, found this solution outrageous. After all, we are not just souls or psyches or minds. We—our identities, our selves—are living, breathing, embodied spirits, laced together with memories, sensations, commitments, gender, relationships, and intelligence.

Thomas Aquinas saw this problem in his own time, the thirteenth century. There is no way we could talk of personal immortality or our destiny if our bodies were not somehow part of the picture. If a disembodied soul survived our deaths, that might be nice, but it certainly would not be us. We are ensouled bodies. A separated soul may live on—but it would be drastically incomplete.

This is why Aquinas loved to dwell on the resurrection narratives. It suggested to him that we, like Jesus, would have a new bodied existence, truly related to our bodies in this world, but nonetheless freed from their organic disabilities. Thus he waxes eloquent in the Summa Contra Gentiles about the kind of bodies we might have in the next life: fully realized even if we died young, fully supple if we died old and frail, capable of every bodied joy, and gloriously transcendent of our every body-wound.

While the immortality of the soul was a proposition Aquinas held on the evidence of reason, the immortality of the body he affirmed on faith—faith in the Resurrection. We Christians believe in glorified bodies, resurrected bodies. These days we are receiving strange confirmations of such beliefs by the numerous accounts of near-death and out-of-body experiences. But our convictions go back to the testimony of our first brothers and sisters in faith, those who experienced Christ in his body, but so gloriously that even his wounds were lovely invitations to faith.

You can have your hunches about robbed tombs, Passover plots, mass hysteria, and orchestrated illusion. Paltry fare. As for me, Dante touches the mystery of the gospel witness as well as he does our own longing.

In Canto Fourteen of the Paradiso, the voice of Dante’s Solomon sings of our bodies’ destiny, embraced by heaven. Every promise of the body, the splendor of our organic life, shall be lustrous and strong. Nothing good of this wondrous world of sense and sentiment shall be lost. All will be gloriously preserved as Christ’s own body was:

  “Long as shall last the feast of Paradise,
Even so long,” it said,

   “Our love shall lace
This radiance round us for our festal guise.
And when we put completeness on afresh,
All the more gracious shall our person be,
Reclothed in the holy and glorious flesh.”

John Kavanaugh, SJ
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Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.
The Word Encountered: Meditations on the Sunday Scriptures
Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York (1996), pp. 55-57.
Art by Martin Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go
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