Christian Spiritual Counseling: Care and Respect of the Body
For too long the body has become a second rate citizen to the soul in the nature of man. Is it not understood that without the body, there could be no soul? At the moment of conception, the creation of the body is fused with the touch of God to form human nature: both body and soul. We are not angels or pure spirit but matter and spirit; man. Religious counseling and sermons for too long has emphasized an exaggerated importance of the soul over the body.
It is true that the soul possesses the intellect and will and proceeds to the next eschatological state before the body, but this is not a natural transition, but due to sin, death is ripping apart our nature. In no way did God desire for body and soul to be separated.
So, the body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit, deserves more than just merely the title of a noble vessel for the soul, but an equal partner in human nature! Some will object and say, it is better for one to lose material things for spiritual gains. This is true. This, however, in no way means that the body is inferior. It merely means, due to this fallen temporal reality, spiritual things are the more important blessings that our soul and body should seek and practice. However, the soul and body have difficulty practicing these virtues due to the scars of sin. The temporal fallen nature of our body is at war with the soul and the soul is at war with the body. Ill formed wills lead the body into lustful sins and the body and its concupscient needs pressure the soul. In the eschatological reality, body and soul will be in harmony and such things will cease to exist.
The Resurrection Proved the Equality of the Body to the Soul as an Intergral Part of Human Nature
So in addition to proclaiming the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, where do I dare assert its equality to the soul in the partnership of human nature? The Resurrection shows that the body is as important as the soul in defining human nature. Christ’s body was reunited with his soul after his death. The body, however, was not limited to the temporal reality but possessed a glorified state that God originally designed and intended. Granted the divine nature of 2nd Person gave powers never seen to a temporal body such as Christ, but after Christ’s resurrection, his body became glorified. So glorified, that in certain instances, he was not even recognized by his own disciples.
This glorified body will be the perfect compliment to the soul and will refuse our human nature after death. As if Adam had never fallen, we will gain the sweet reward of living a good temporal life in the eschatological era where the body and soul are in perfect harmony.
This was even again asserted beyond the Resurrection. Christ, when he ascended into Heaven, Forty days after his Resurrection, did not merely spiritually ascend, but his soul in perfect union with his body, ascended into the Heavens and there remains with him to this day. So, as scripture says, those who die in Christ, will also rise in Christ and our same physical bodies will share in the eternal bliss of Heaven.
Some contend that the glorified body will be different in substance. I contend that is not true. I contend that the same body that lived and died on this earth will also rise. The same cells, the same organs will be revitalized in Christ but in a glorified form. I say this with confidence because Christ himself showed Thomas the wounds of his passion after his resurrection. It was indeed the same body but glorified.
There is much to be said about the theology of the body, Pope John Paul II wrote extensively on the subject in regards to the qualities of the glorified body and what it is capable of experiencing. I highly recommend reading this material but would like to delve into another direction; A direction with some pastoral counseling elements on death and dying and the happiness one experiences in heaven. Please keep in mind, these are merely theological speculations that can really never have any verification since death and heaven are the greatest mysteries. One can only with certainty exclaim that the next reality is beyond our reason and expectations of joy. Nevertheless, I will attempt to theorize on the moment of death and what our loved one’s experience at that moment.
From various testimonies regarding near death, many remark about the light and the love that is transmitted by God. I would like to talk more about the state of the body since this article deals primarily with how the body and soul will refuse in the next life. As death slowly pulls the soul from the confines of its mate and partner, the body, human nature experiences an unnatural state due to the sin of Adam. In this state, the union of body and soul, equal partners in human nature, are separated and torn apart. Yet in that moment of time, the soul says farewell to its friend and (hopefully) is welcomed by its creator. The union that so many mystics attempt to only taste but a few seconds in this world and yet still imperfectly is experienced by the soul in a moment of eternity. The Beatific Vision is given to the soul and the soul is filled with so much happiness and love that if it was a cup it would overflow with water. In fact the soul can experience no more happiness than it does or it would cease to exist. This alone would be substantial in itself for complete and utter happiness, but what of the body?
From a temporal reality, which we experience, there exists a linear mode where past, present and future confine our minds.In this mode of existence, the body of the deceased has been buried and it lays in the grave awaiting the general resurrection, serving its time for the sin of Adam. Yet, as stated earlier, the soul is not the only element of human nature. The body is not a shell as Plato would contend, but is an integral part of human nature. Where is the body’s reward? We know that reward will come but the body must wait, as Christ himself waited three days for his own body to reunite with the soul. This is experienced by all temporal creatures.
Yet, from a Thomistic thought process, how can something experience fulfillment if itself is not complete? If something does not fulfill its end then it is incomplete. How can human nature fulfill its end if separated, even if the soul banquets in the presence of the Most Holy Trinity? As I said, I am sure, if my theory to be explained is wrong, that the presence of God would suffice but I do believe there is more to this.
The problem lies in our conception of time. Unlike some modern theories that attempt to imprison God in time, the reality is God exists outside of the vacuum of time. He exists in the eternal now where past, present and future exist together. When the soul is joined with the divine, it too shares in but a glimpse of perfect eternity. How, I cannot explain, nor can I conjecture how existence will be like in such a vacuum of perfect bliss, but I will attempt to theorize one element.
As those we love pass away, we express our grief in tears. We hold their hand as they let go of their last breath and gently kiss their forehead and whisper goodbye. As their soul leaves the broken and aged body, they go to the light of Christ, to be welcomed by the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin, the Angels, the saints and loss relatives of the past. What if you were there too?
How can this be? Well, first lets leave this limited finite thinking process of time. Second, lets assume, the soul lives in a moment of eternity after its death with God where linear time no longer exists. If so, the soul, while imprinted with memories of how loved ones prayed for him at his funeral or how life on earth continued after his death, would exist in a perfect now with God that is void of time. In addition to the Beatific Vision, the refusing of his nature has already taken place and everyone or everything he has ever loved is with him. This is perfect happiness that is not limited by a tearing of one’s nature or worry of one’s loved ones who still struggling on earth.
What I am attempting to say is, while in the temporal reality, time has elapsed, the deceased has fast forwarded to a point where everything has been accomplished and his body has been restored to him in the eschatological life. While imprinted with what has happened, the deceased experiences only the ever present (due to union with God) and shares in a whole human nature and the love of his family with no separation anxiety of body and soul or family.
While I still completely contend that it is possible the soul could exist in a linear existence even after death awaiting the end of the world to occur, I do like the possibility of after death, awakening in the abode of Christ with one’s glorified body and all one’s family (past, present and future) gently welcoming one to Heaven.
Anything is possible, but in all reality, I am sure God has something even better planned.
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Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C