The Happiness of Heaven: chapter 5 “The Beauty and Glory of the Risen Body”

THE HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN.

BY REV. F. J. BOUDREAUX, S. J.

CHAPTER V.

THE BEAUTY AND GLORY OF THE  RISEN BODY.

WE have seen in the foregoing chapters that, in the Beatific Vision, the human soul sees, loves, and enjoys God, and that her essential happiness consists in that unfailing, blessed vision. But, although the blessedness she now enjoys is far greater than words can express, it is not yet integral or complete, and never will be, except when she is again clothed with her own body, beautified, and glorified after the likeness of her Saviour’s body.

 

However, although her happiness is not yet complete, you must not therefore imagine that the least shadow of sadness or unhappiness hangs over her. For, as we have seen, her will is now
totally conformed to God’s will. It follows that although she sees other joys and pleasures in store for her, and desires them, these desires do not in the least mar her exceeding happiness.
She wills the resurrection of her body as God wills it, and because He wills it, and because also her body is absolutely necessary to complete her human nature, which essentially consists of
both soul and body. We will begin our meditations on the resurrection of the body by first contemplating the beauty and splendor of the glorified body.

 

In order to form some idea of the perfect beauty and splendor of form which is in store for us, we must first look at some of the transformations which take place in the natural order. These will aid us, very materially, in arriving at a conception, more or less perfect, of the glorious transformation which the power of God will work in us at the resurrection.

When we examine the kingdoms of nature, we discover that the gross matter which surrounds us in shapeless masses, is susceptible of forms and organizations so perfect, refined, and beautiful, that we may, in some sense, call these forms glorified matter. It is, certainly, matter glorified far above inferior forms in the natural order. Let us take a few examples.

 

What is the diamond ? It is nothing more than crystallized carbon, or charcoal. There is nothing in the whole range of science which can be so easily and so positively proved as this. The famous diamond Koh-i-noor, or mountain of light, which now sparkles in the British crown, and which is worth more than half a million of dollars, could, in a few moments, be reduced to a thimbleful of worthless coal-dust. Yet, how great a difference, in appearance and value, between that precious gem and a thimbleful of coal-dust ! Again, what are other gems, such as the ruby, the sapphire, the topaz, the emerald, and others? They are nothing more than crystallized clay or sand, with a trifling quantity of metallic oxide or rust, which gives to each one its peculiar color. Yet, what a difference between these sparkling and costly jewels and the shapeless clod or sand which we trample under foot !

If we now look for a moment into the vegetable kingdom, we see this glorification of matter still more wonderfully displayed. Of what are all plants composed ? They are all composed of four elements of matter, which have no remarkable beauty of their own. In scientific language they are called carbon or charcoal, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. By the power and the laws of life these are transformed into that endless variety of beauty and color, odor and taste,
so striking in the vegetable world. Hence, the most beautiful flowers, and their exquisite perfumes, as well as the delicious fruits to which they give birth, are all made of the very same elements of matter as the hark, the wood, and the root of the tree that bears them. Yet, what a difference between the coarse tree and the delicate flower! What a difference, too, between the
tasteless bark or the wood of the tree, and the luscious fruit that hangs in clusters from its branches !

Now if, in the natural order, God can and does transform coarse and shapeless matter into forms so beautiful and so glorious, what shall we say of the beauty and perfection into which
He will change our vile bodies ! For all these transformations which we now witness belong to the natural order, and are the result of the laws which govern matter in this world of imperfection ; whereas our transformation in the resurrection depends on the immediate act of God’s almighty power. The difference, therefore, between our present corruptible body and the glorified body, will be greater by far than the difference we now see between charcoal and the diamond, or between the exquisitely shaped flower and the coarse shrub that bears it.

Having said this much to aid us in forming some idea of the glorified body, we will now proceed to examine one of its attributes, which St. Paul mentions, when he says : ” It is sown in dishonor, it shall rise in glory.”  Our bodies were indeed sown in dishonor, in the company of worms, and a prey to corruption. They had been honored by the presence of an immortal spirit, the very image of the living God. They had been honored by the Holy Ghost, who made them His temple. They had been honored, too, by the presence of Jesus Christ, who made  them His tabernacle, every time we received Him in Holy Communion. But death has struck them down ; the spirit has fled ; they lie cold and motionless, and corruption begins to assert its empire over them. Our nearest and dearest friends hasten to throw them into the dark and silent grave, where they return into their original dust. Then, indeed, our bodies are “sown in dishonor.” But when the fulness of time shall have come, these same dishonored bodies “shall
rise in glory.”

This word glory is one of great and manifold meanings in Holy Scripture. In this particular place and connection it means excellence and beauty, accompanied with a shining splendor. Wherefore, our bodies rising in glory, means, first, that they shall rise perfect in beauty and symmetry of form, and totally free from the defects and blemishes entailed by sin. This perfect
beauty of form is evidently involved in the promise of rising conformable to the glorious body of our Blessed Saviour, “who will reform the body of our lowness, made like the body of His glory, according to the operation whereby he is also able to subdue all things unto himself.” (Phil. iii. 21.)

The human body was created perfect in the beginning. It was the masterpiece of God s power and wisdom in this world. But sin dishonored and disfigured it. It gave birth to a host of infirmities, which mar its original beauty, and in some cases change it even into a monster. Still, in spite of sin, it yet retains, in many individuals, much of its primitive comeliness. But
how perfect soever in form and feature any one may be, there is always some deficiency; some member, organ, or feature is slightly distorted, imperfect, or out of proportion with the rest.

On the resurrection day, all these defects and blemishes disappear, and the human body is again, far more than in the beginning, a masterpiece of God s creative power, wisdom, and love. For every member, organ, and feature will then be exquisitely shaped and proportioned, so as to harmonize into a perfect whole of surpassing beauty, without defect or deficiency of
any kind. Oh! with what rapturous delight will the soul reunite herself with that beautiful body, and make it her temple forever ! It was the companion of her sorrows and her joys in this world. But it was, too, a body of sin and death, and she had, perhaps more than once, sighed and prayed to be delivered from it. But now that it is purified, beautified, and glorified, she re-enters it with joy, because it is become the fit companion of a beatified spirit. The fond mother meeting her long-lost child, and, in the joy of her heart, pressing it to her bosom, is a faint image of the joy which the soul will experience in the reunion with her glorified body.

But this is not all. St. Thomas * maintains  that, besides rising in perfect beauty of form, all the just must rise in the bloom and vigor of youth ; otherwise our bodies would not, according to promise, rise conformable to the glorious body of Jesus Christ. From this doctrine it follows that all

* Respondeo dicendum, quod homo resurget absque omni defectu humanse naturae : quia siout Deus humanam naturam absque defectu instituit, ita sine defectu reparabit. Deficit autem humana natura dupliciter. Uno modo quia nondum perfectionem ultimam est consecuta. Alio modo, quia jam ab ultima perfectione recessit. Et prime modo deficit in pueris, secundo modo deficit in senibus. Et ideo, in utrisque reducetur humana natura per resurrectionem, ad statum ultimse perfections qui est in juvenili setate, ad quam terminatur motus augmenti qua incipit motus decrement. S. Thom. Suppl v. 81, art. I.

 

defect, or appearance of old age, as well as the infirmities and deficiencies of infancy, will be completely removed, and all the saints will enjoy the full perfection of human nature. What
consolation there is in all these glorious promises ! To be forever young and vigorous, forever blessed with perfect health of mind and body, to be forever beyond the reach of time, which
destroys all beauty here below ; to be clothed with a body that shall forever be a stranger to suffering : these are some of the joys in store for the children of God in the resurrection of the
body.

However, this is not all. Rising in glory means something more thar rising in mere beauty of form, bloom of youth, and the complete perfection of human nature. It also implies a radiant brilliancy wherewith the just will shine on the resurrection day This is one of the meanings of glory in the language of Scripture. Take the following as an instance out of many: “And when Aaron spoke to all the assembly of the children of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness : and, behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in a cloud.”  (Exod. xvi. 10)  That is,  a brilliant and dazzling splendor burst forth in the heavens. So, also, when Jesus was glorified in his transfiguration, “His face did shine as the sun, and his garments became white as snow.” Moreover, as a general rule, when celestial inhabitants appeared in this world, they were surrounded with a halo of brilliant light; as we read of the angels who appeared at the birth of Christ, and of those who appeared to the holy women that were going to embalm the body of Jesus. Hence it is that in the paintings of Christian art, the head, or the whole body of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin, and of the saints, is always surrounded by this halo of light.

This is the light, the brilliancy which is promised to the saints by our Blessed Lord himself, when He says: “Then shall the just shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Matt. xiii. 43.) Thus shall the soul that is now united to God, in the Beatific Vision, and al ready a partaker of the divine nature, communicate her own dazzling splendor to the body, and surround it with an aureola of glory, which will form a portion of her blessedness for ever more.

But, although all the just must rise in glory and in the perfection of human nature, you must not, therefore, infer that all shall rise in the same degree of beauty and splendor of form. For,
as the resurrection is a reward to the just, it follows that each one shall have a body glorified in proportion to his own individual merits. Any contrary doctrine would sound like heresy. If you were told, for instance, that the murderer who dies on the scaffold, after making an act of perfect contrition, will rise on the last day with a body as beautiful and glorious as that of the Blessed Virgin, or of the Apostles, martyrs, and holy virgins, your whole soul would revolt at such a doctrine. You would maintain, that if the resurrection is a reward to the just, the beauty of their bodies should bear some proportion to their merits. You would certainly be right in main taining this ; for it is the very doctrine taught by St. Paul, when he says : ” One is the glory of the sun, another the glory of the moon, and another the glory of the stars, for star differeth from star in glory : so also in the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor. xv. 41.) Each one,
therefore, shall rise in that particular degree of glory which he has deserved by the more or less holy life he has led in this world.

It will no longer be as it is in this world, where personal beauty is a free gift of God, but no reward. Hence we see personal beauty in pagans and infidels, as well as in Christians. Its possession does not, in the least, denote sanctity ; nor does its absence denote moral depravity; and, therefore, beautiful persons may be very wicked, while deformed ones may be very holy. Not so after the resurrection. Perfect personal beauty, accompanied with a heavenly splendor, being one of the rewards in store for the children of God, will then denote sanctity in the just. The more holy they have been in this life, the more beautiful and conformable to the glorious body of Jesus they shall be.

Now, Christian reader, do you wish to possess faultless personal beauty in your heavenly home ? Do you desire, not only to increase your own blessedness, but to be even an ornament in the kingdom of your Father? No doubt you do. Well, you have the means in your hands. Lead a holy life, a life of purity and perfect charity. Endeavor to reproduce in yourself the virtues which Jesus taught and practised; and when the angel s trumpet calls the dead to life, your body, which must first be sown in dishonor, shall rise in that degree of beauty which you have deserved by the holiness of your life.

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