22 September 2012

Raised in Glory: like the stars, forever and ever.


What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.
It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory.
It is sown in weakness it is raised in power.
It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.
1 Cor 15:42-44

In which the Pilgrim dwells on the Resurrection at the End of Days in the New Heaven and Earth and the infinite potential of God's promises.

It is good to dwell on the Last Things—Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell—the Parousia (Christ's Second Coming), and the Resurrection. Meditating on and confession that we believe in  the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come  inspires in us Hope. "The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity." (CCC 1818) By keeping ever in our hearts and minds the resurrection of the body we shall endure to the end and be saved. (Mt 10:22)

But what shall it be like? What will happen when we've risen from the dead? How will it happen? "We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality." (1 Cor 15:51-53) We shall be changed: immortal and imperishable. Already we should be pretty excited—we'll never fear death, and if our bodies are imperishable, then they shall never lose anything of what they have; we'll never tire, never strain ourselves, suffer injury, but have perfect perdurable bodies. Imagine what you could accomplish for God with a body like that.

But I suspect that simply imagining ourselves with better versions of our current bodies is thinking too small, for St Paul promises that "Jesus Christ ... will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself." (Phil 3:20-21) and St John tells us "it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 Jn 3:2) How can the mind not begin to enter a stupor of wonder at the idea of bodies "like his glorious body" that we shall become "like him" ... we shall become like God. When Saint Paul uses the word "glorious" here, he does not simply mean "fantastic" or "wonderful" but rather he is fully referencing "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory" in other words the pleroma of God's presence and power. We received the briefest glimpse of this with Peter, James and John in the Transfiguration when Jesus' full glory was revealed. We shall share in that glory, in our very bodies.

Saint Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, in his treatise The Celestial Hierarchy, trying to figure out what it meant to "be like him" saw in the nine choirs of angels an ascending likeness to God from the Choir of Angels up to the Seraphim who dwell in closest proximity to the Godhead and "see him as he is."  Dionysius concluded "The [Choir of Seraphim], then, of the holy Angels possesses, more than all, the characteristic of fire" because if God was pure Divine Light, then the Seraphim who transmit the purifying light to us (see Is 6:6-7) can be likened unto fire which transmits earthly light and purifying heat. So perhaps we can get a notion of what our bodies raised in glory will be like by looking to the Seraphim and fire, for "by looking to the [Seraphim], and through them, as being deemed worthy of the Divine imitation in first operation, are conducted to the attainable likeness of God." (Chapter 13 §3) So maybe there's something there.

Indeed, the Prophet Daniel, presaging the resurrection of the dead, practically sang that "those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." (Dan 12:2-3) and God himself  likened angels, "the sons of God" as stars to Job (Job 38:7), and St John was shown the angels falling from heaven as though falling stars (Rev 12:4). So perhaps we shall be like seraphim, the stars of heaven.

But are we still falling short of the promise of God of what we shall be like? To be like the angels should exceed all our earthly hopes, and indeed to dwell before the Lord, as the seraphim do, would itself be eternal and perfect bliss. But St Peter says we can expect more from God's "precious and very great promises." God calls us not only to the glory of angels, but "to his own glory and excellence." It is not enough that we shall gaze upon him in the beatific vision, but that we shall "become partakers in the divine nature." (2 Pet 1:3-4)!

Apotheosis by the Holy Spirit
The Fathers and Doctors of the Church speak in boldest language about this revealed truth and the Catechism continues to boldly teaches what they taught:
The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature": "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." [St. Irenaeus] "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." [St. Athanasius] "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." [St. Thomas Aquinas] (CCC 460)
Now they are not teaching that we shall replace God or dissolve our identity into his—the created can never become the Creator and pantheism is false—but they are teaching us that when God will share His glory, it will exceed all understanding, all imagination. We can never think big enough when we meditate that, by virtue of Christ's sacrifice, will become true sons and daughters of God, inheritors to the fullness of his glory. We dare not dwell long on such thoughts, for what we can imagine will be the palest glimmer of the resplendent gift of self that God will make to us.

We know not the hour when this apotheosis, this deification of our bodies will take place. And the "how" yet "exceeds our imagination and understanding ... accessible only to faith." But even now, now!, we can experience this divine glory that we shall share in for "our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration in our bodies." (CCC 1000)
Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection. (ibid)
And as St Bernard, St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross, and St Terese of Liseux lived and taught, by pursuing virtue and despising sin, meditation and constant prayer, we predispose our spirits to be lifted up in contemplative prayer: the "communion in which the Holy Trinity conforms man, the image of God, 'to his likeness.'" (CCC 2713) Which means that as we learn to do be more like him through imitation of his son, by learning to love, so that God who is love recognizes the spirit made in the image and likeness of himself, and lifts that spirit up in contemplation. There we are pierced by darts of love, bonded in spiritual marriage to him who shall make the Church his Bride, and have a foretaste of the indescribable glory of the New Heaven and Earth and the life of the world to come. Amen.

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