* 1 Cor. xv.44.
Rising a spiritual body does not mean that the bodies of the just shall be changed into spirits. Our bodies, which are material by nature, must remain so forever. They must rise in conformity to the glorious body of Jesus Christ, "who will reform the body of our lowness made like to the body of His glory." And what kind of a body had Jesus Christ, when he arose triumphant over death and hell? It was certainly His own material body of real flesh and blood, and not a spirit. When he appeared to his apostles, as St. Luke tells us, "they, being troubled and affrighted, supposed that they saw a spirit. And He said to them, Why are you troubled, and why do these thoughts arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as you see me have."* Assuredly, here is a true body of flesh and blood and bone, and not a spiritual one -- in the sense that matter does or can become a spirit. It is the very same body in which He suffered such terrible tortures and agonies during his bitter passion.
* Luke xxiv.
So shall we rise on the last day, in our own material body of flesh and blood, with every organ and member glorified and made conformable to the body of Jesus Christ. According to the teachings of St. Thomas, our bodies shall rise of the same nature as they now are. For glory does not change or destroy nature, but perfects it.* Evidently, then, rising a spiritual body does not mean that our bodies are to be changed into spirits. What then does it mean? It means that, while retaining their essential material nature, they will be clothed with properties which naturally belong only to spirits, and not to bodies. These we shall now examine.
* Ponere enim corpus transire in spiritum est omnino impossibile. Non enim transeunt invicem nisi quae in materia communicant. Spiritualium autem et corporalium non potest esse communicatio in materia, cum substantiae spirituales sint omnino immaterialia. Impossibile est igitur quod corpus humanum transeat in substantiam spiritualem.... Similiter etiam impossibile est quod corpus hominis resurgentis sit quasi aereum et ventis simile. -- S. Thom., Cont. gent., lib.4, c.84.
1. In the first place, rising a spiritual body implies that the glorified body will no longer need food, drink, and sleep, to sustain life and strength, as it now does. The risen body will, therefore, in this respect, become like a spirit, which needs neither food nor drink. Eating is a necessity of the present life, and makes our bodies animal. This necessity will no longer exist after the resurrection. When we reflect upon this, it seems to us that nearly one half of human life, and of its energies, are expended upon this one thing of eating, providing, and preparing food. Fields must be sown, and crops must be raised; grain must be ground; cattle must be cared for almost as children; ships must cross and recross the ocean; and all this to prepare food and raiment for our vile bodies. What a slavery this is! The soul, that noble image of the living God, instead of giving her time to the developing of her faculties and the contemplating of God and His works, must provide and prepare food for the body. Rising a spiritual body will forever emancipate us from this slavery.
But although it is true that there shall be no more eating and drinking in heaven, as we now understand these two actions, you must not infer from this that the sense of taste shall not be gratified in the blessed. It most certainly will be, as well as every other sense of the human body, though not by the corruptible food of the present life. When the butterfly was a caterpillar, it devoured green leaves with pleasure and avidity. They were its very life. But now that it is changed into a beautiful butterfly, it lives on the honey and exquisite perfume of flowers. If you offer it those same leaves that it loved so much while a caterpillar, it scorns them, and refuses even to touch them; for they are now unable, in its transformed state, to give it any pleasure. So shall it be with us after the resurrection. Our tastes shall be so refined that we shall scorn the low animal pleasures which are fit only for our present corruptible bodies. What a difference there is between the coarse green leaf which is the food of the caterpillar, and the exquisite honey of the blushing rose, which is the food of the butterfly! There is a still greater difference between the creatures that now gratify our senses, and those that are reserved in heaven to gratify our glorified senses after the resurrection.
But there is still another slavery besides that of eating and drinking, from which we shall be delivered by rising a spiritual body. It is the slavery of sleep, which takes up nearly one-third of our lives. We all know by experience, that it takes only a few hours of heavy physical labor or assiduous mental application to exhaust all our mental energies and bodily strength. And, whether we like it or not, we must sleep six or seven hours, in order to regain our lost strength, and to be ourselves again. How many saints have grieved over this necessity of our nature! Often have they desired to spend the nights in the contemplation of God; but in spite of their endeavors, they were overpowered by sleep. The spirit, indeed, was willing, but the flesh was weak.
This imperative necessity of our animal bodies will be totally removed by rising a spiritual body. Spirits have no need of sleep; their energies are never exhausted by the manifold acts which they constantly perform. They live in the continual enjoyment of that supernatural strength wherewith they were clothed the moment the Vision of God flashed upon them. It is this wonderful strength which will be poured out, as it were, over our bodies, at the resurrection. For, as St. Paul says of our body: "It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power."* Hence, however intense may be the application of our mental faculties or of our physical powers in heaven, we shall ever remain strangers to the well-known feelings of fatigue and prostration. All our energies shall ever remain fresh and unimpaired, and their continual exercise shall be the never-failing source of the most exquisite enjoyment.
* 1 Cor. xv.43.
2. In the second place, rising a spiritual body implies vastly more than the mere emancipation from the necessities of nature. It means, besides, that the body will then be totally subject to the spirit, and consequently that concupiscence and other inordinate passions, which now war against the spirit, shall no longer exist. This is one of the most consoling of promises to persons who are endeavoring to lead a holy life. Their present corruptible body, in which "the law of sin" resides, is an enemy that is ever warring against the spirit. Often have they cried out with St. Paul: "Unhappy man that I am! who will deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, by Jesus Christ our Lord."*
* Rom. vii.24.
Yes, the fulness of grace has come at last, and the body of sin and death is no more. It is now changed into a spiritual body, which is not only totally subject to the spirit, but even aids and perfects it, in all its intellectual operations, as well as in its moral affections. The spiritual body is, therefore, no lounger a burden and a temptation; it is become like a spirit, which cannot be enslaved to inordinate animal passions or instincts.
What a blessedness is here promised to us! No more involuntary cravings after forbidden pleasures; no more of those involuntary thoughts and inclinations which are so humiliating to pure souls; no more danger of being turned away from God by the beauty of creatures; no more wandering of the mind from His presence. In a word, the spiritual body is totally subject to the spirit, and "the law of sin," which received its birth at the fall of our first parents, is totally destroyed.
3. Rising a spiritual body means, in the third place, that the matter of which the body is now composed will become so refined and delicately organized, as, in some sense, to approach the nature of a spirit, while retaining its essential material nature. Our body will therefore lose its material grossness, roughness of texture, and weight, and will be clothed with the attributes of agility and subtlety.
Agility implies the power of transporting ourselves from place to place with the rapidity of thought. In this world we can, in the twinkling of an eye, send our thoughts on the wings of electricity across a whole continent, or the vast expanse of the ocean; after the resurrection, we shall possess that power in our very bodies, because they shall rise spiritual bodies, entirely under the control of the soul.
Subtilty means that our risen bodies will be endowed with the power of penetrating all things, even the hardest substances, as easily as the sun's rays penetrate a clear crystal. This is the power which our blessed Lord possessed and exercised, when He arose from the dead, without removing the stone that covered the mouth of the sepulchre. He simply passed through it with his glorified body. Again, after eight days, when the Apostles were gathered together, "Jesus cometh, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said: Peace be to you."* This is a supernatural gift with which we shall be clothed, because we must rise conformable to the glorious body of Jesus Christ.
* John xx.26.
These, then, are some of the attributes of a spiritual body. They are evidently the natural properties of spirits. But God will clothe the bodies of his children with them, as a reward for their love of Him and the holy lives they have led in this world.