Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Matter Matters

I was sharing some thoughts about Easter and Christ's resurrection with a brother Jesuit yesterday and he said "Matter matters." It's true. The resurrection of Jesus and the promise of our own resurrection shows how much the material world matters to God.

Death is the separation of the soul from the body. The spiritual element of the human person, the soul, is what gives life to the material element, the body. However, would it not have been enough for Jesus, after his death, to return to the state he had before the incarnation, before he took flesh in his mother's womb and was born? Why didn't Jesus return to the pure spiritual state he had from all eternity? Part of the answer to that question must be that God loves matter.

It wasn't enough for God to create pure spiritual beings with which he could share his love. It wasn't enough for God to create the angelic spirits. God created a whole material world on which to lavish his love. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, humanity "occupies a unique place in creation" because it "unites the spiritual and material worlds" (#355). We are both spiritual like the angels and material like the rest of the created world. We are spirit and matter. This "unique" creation is meant to continue into eternity. We were not created to die and then exist forever as an immortal soul or spirit while our material bodies decayed and disappeared.

But the Greeks of the 1st Century thought differently. For them matter was evil and the spirit was good. The body was of no consequence and when it died the soul was finally freed to live a good existence unburdened by matter. This is why when St. Paul entered into dialogue with the people of Athens (see Acts 17: 22-34) and told them that the man Jesus had been raised from the dead, many of them "began to scoff." The thought of a body being raised from the dead was ridiculous to them and they laughed.

The resurrection of Christ reveals how important the body is to God. It was not in God's plan for his Son to return to a purely spiritual state but to rise body and soul from the dead. Then Jesus ascended body and soul to the heavenly realm. A living and material body now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven to show us our own future. Christ has blazed a trail for us. Where he has gone body and soul we will follow, if we follow the path he has given us for our life on earth.

Christ is risen! We will rise too! Alleluia!

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