The Glory of the Body, by Father Richard O'Kennedy

What shall be the glory of the body?

In heaven there are two sorts of glory: one, belonging to the soul, comprising knowledge and love, and therefore called essential; the other, belonging to the body, and called accidental. This comprises the privileges with which God will clothe our mortality.

Of the body, Saint Anselm reckons seven most excellent and glorious qualities: beauty, agility, fortitude, penetrability, health, pleasure, and perpetuity.

Of beauty, or, as we shall better understand it, perfection of body, our Blessed Lord says that the bodies of "the just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." (Matthew 13) Here below there are many diseases and many deformities. But in the kingdom of heaven there shall be none blind, lame, or defective; but such defects shall remain as would redound to the glory of the elect. For this reason our Blessed Lord retains His five Sacred Wounds; for this reason also the martyrs bodies shall have their scars, but these scars shall shine with an especial and transcendent glory, on account of their being borne for Christ.

The second quality shall be agility. We know what is matter; we know it by its dull, lazy cloddishness. Spirit is totally opposed to matter. Our souls and our bodies are of diverse substances. In this sense our soul is agile, our body is not. A bird winging its rapid flight is agile. Lightning is agile: a ray of light can travel about 12,000,000 of miles in a minute. Our memory is agile: it can, in a second, speed to the farthest distance, or recollect the most remote occurrence. Our bodies, then, will become spiritualised after their resurrection. The Sacred Body of our Divine Saviour by this quality ascended into heaven after His Resurrection; and by this quality also shall our bodies, more rapid than lightning, quicker than thought, rise from the dead, and ascend on high, when our mortality puts on immortality. "Neither did Christ ascend into heaven solely by virtue of His power as God, but also by the power which he possessed as man" (Cat. Council. Trent). But in hell they shall not be able to move hand nor foot.

The third is fortitude or strength. Saint Anselm says that a glorified body will be so endowed with strength that it could move the whole earth. Of Saint Peter of Alcantara, the great Francis can Father that practised such heroic mortifications and penances, and of whom Saint Theresa tells that God told her anything she would ask for through his intercession would be granted, of him it is told that one day falling into an ecstasy of love he grasped the tree beside which he was standing, drew it from its roots, and bore it with him into the air. Such the power of the love of God even here on earth.

The fourth is penetrability. This will be understood from an instance in the life of our Blessed Lord after His Resurrection. The Apostles were gathered together in a room. The doors were carefully fastened, for the crowd outside in the streets of the city talked of the men that followed the Nazarene, and the Apostles were alarmed and afraid. All at once, without a door being open, a figure stood in their midst. Then they became frightened. Before they had time to recognise Him they perhaps began to say in their own minds: "How did He get in? If others get in in the same way, what will become of us? We are no longer safe even here!" And, answering their thoughts, our Blessed Lord said: "Fear not. It is I." Here a corporal body, of the same flesh and blood as ours, the only difference being that it was glorified, passed through other substances, and passed through them by its natural privilege as a glorified body. After resurrection the same privilege shall belong to our bodies.

The fifth quality is health. By health we understand absence of sickness or pain in the first place, and, in the next, each several member and joint and part performing easily and agreeably its appointed function or task. Now, in heaven there shall be no pain, no discomfort, no uneasiness.

Sometimes pain of the body arises from anguish of the mind; "but in heaven there shall be death no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away; and He that sat on the throne said: Behold I make all things new." - Apocalypse 21:4,5

Saint Liguori says: "In that place of bliss there are no sorrows, no infirmities, no poverty, no inconveniences, no vicissitudes of day or night, of cold or of heat. In that kingdom there is a continual day, always serene; a continual spring, always blooming. In Paradise there are no persecutions, no envy, for all love each other with tenderness, and each rejoices at the happiness of the others, as if it were his own."

The sixth perfection or privilege is delight. Each sense of man shall be delighted with an exceeding and special delectation peculiar to itself, and rejoicing it beyond worlds of happiness.

Saint Anselm says: "All the whole glorified body will be filled with abundance of all kind of comfort - [this very body that presently we have] - the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the hands, the throat, the lungs, the heart, the stomach, the back, the bones, the marrow, every part shall be replenished with such unspeakable sweetness and pleasure, that truly it may be said that the whole man is made to drink of the river of God's divine delights, and made drunk with the abundance of God's house." Oh! how careful ought I to be over the senses and members of my body, and how immaculately ought I endeavour to preserve them, if these members of my body are going to be with God's angels before God's throne in heaven! And they are, please God, going to be there.

Saint Liguori says: "Perhaps we imagine that the beauty of heaven resembles that of a wide extended plain covered with the verdure of spring, interspersed with trees in full bloom, and abounding in birds fluttering about and singing on every side; or that it is like the beauty of a garden full of fruits and flowers, and surrounded by fountains in continual play. Oh! what a Paradise to behold such a plain or such a garden! But, oh! how much greater are the beauties of heaven!"

Saint Bernard cries out: "O man! if you wish to understand the blessings of heaven, know that in that happy country there is nothing which can be disagreeable, but everything that you can desire."

Speaking of the sense of sight, Saint Liguori again says: "The sight shall be satiated with beholding the beauty of that city. How delightful to behold a city in which the streets should be of crystal, the houses of silver, the windows of gold, and all adorned with the most beautiful flowers! But, oh! how much more beautiful shall be the city of Paradise! The beauty of the place shall be heightened by the beauty of the inhabitants. Saint Theresa once saw one of the hands of Jesus Christ, and was struck with astonishment at such beauty."

Of all our senses the sense of smell is the keenest: the most easily offended, as it is the most quickly delighted. We know the beautiful scent of hay and corn when rambling through the country-side in the golden autumn. We know the scent of flowers. Travellers tell us of isles in the ocean that have earned for themselves the distinctive title of "aromatic". For miles before the ship comes within reach of them the sailors perceive the scent; for miles after passing the beautiful odour is wafted along the seas. Oh, how sweet its breath must be!

"The gale that sighs along
Beds of oriental flowers."

In heaven, says Saint Liguori, "the sense of smell shall be satiated with odours, but with the odours of heaven."

"The hearing," says he, "shall be satiated with the harmony of celestial choirs. Saint Francis once heard, for a moment, an angel playing on a violin, and he almost died through joy. How delightful must it be to hear the saints and angels singing the divine praises! They shall praise Thee for ever and ever (Psalm 80:3) . . . In a word, there are in Paradise all the delights which man can desire."

Saint Augustine says: "Were God to show His face to the damned, hell would be instantly changed into a paradise of delights"; and he adds: "Were a departed soul allowed the choice of seeing God and suffering the pains of hell, or, of being freed from those pains, but deprived of the sight of God, it would prefer to see God and to endure those torments."

The seventh privilege of a glorified body is called perpetuity. "The just shall live for ever." (Wisdom 5) When our first parents were in the garden of Eden, they were to eat of a tree called the Tree of Life, and the fruit of that tree kept away sickness, disease, accidents, old age, decay, death. While a person ate of that tree none of those things could happen to him. A glorified body does not stand in need of eating at all. Nothing could harm it. No contagion could bring it sickness; no accidents could cause it injury; no number of years could induce old age or decay; no enemies, no sword, no poison, could bring it death, or even do it the slightest harm: it is absolutely invulnerable to all.

"And this is one of the chief prerogatives and most excellent dignities of a glorified body," writes an English Jesuit of the penal days, "whereby all care, doubt, and fear, all danger of hurt and annoyance is taken away. For if all the world should fall together on such a body it could not hurt nor harm it anything at all! - Parson's Christian Directory

Summing up all, Saint Liguori says: "In beholding the beauty of God, the soul shall be so inflamed and so inebriated with divine love, that she shall remain happily lost in God; for she shall entirely forget herself, and for all eternity shall think only of loving and praising the immense good which she shall possess for ever, without the fear of having it in her power ever to lose it. In this life holy souls love God; but they cannot love Him with all their strength, nor can they always actually love Him." Saint Thomas teaches that "this perfect love is only given to the citizens of heaven; they alone love God with their whole hearts, and never cease to love Him actually."

The ancient chronicles tell a beautiful story illustrative of the happiness of heaven, which Longfellow has thus put in verse, in his own tender Catholic way:

"One morning, all alone,
Out of his convent of grey stone,
Into the forest, older, darker, greyer,
His lips moving as if in prayer,
His head sunken upon his breast,
As in a dream of rest,
Walked the monk Felix"

The summer dawn, the woodlands, and the beautiful forest trees are described.

The old monk was reading Saint Augustine's work, The City of God (de Civitate Dei), but could not understand it. "I believe, O God, what herein I have read; but, alas! I do not understand."

"And, lo! he heard
The singing of a bird,
A snow-white bird, that from a cloud
Dropped down,
And among the branches brown
Sat singing
So sweet, and clear, and loud,
It seemed a thousand harp-strings ringing.
And the monk Felix closed his book,
And long, long,
With rapturous look,
He listened to the song,
And hardly breathed or stirred,
Until he saw, as in a vision,
The land Elysian,
And in the heavenly city heard
Angelic feet
Fall on the golden flagging of the street."

Suddenly he wakes from his reverie, and hears his own convent bell ringing - the convent that he thought he had left but that morning.

"And he retraced
His pathway homeward, sadly and in haste."

But there was a change in the convent, a change in all things; he knew not a face in the convent.

"A stranger, and alone
Among that brotherhood,
The monk Felix stood.
'Forty years,' said a friar,
'Have I been Prior
Of this convent in the wood,
But for that space
Never have I beheld thy face!'

"The heart of the monk Felix fell;
And he answered, with submissive tone:
This morning, after the hour of Prime,
I left my cell;
And wandered forth alone,
Listening all the time
To the melodious singing
Of a beautiful white bird,
Until I heard
The bells of the convent ringing
Noon from their noisy towers.
It was as if I dreamed;
For what to me had seemed
Moments only had been hours!'

"'Years! said a voice close by.
It was an aged monk who spoke,
From a bench of oak
Fastened against the wall; -
He was the oldest monk of all.
For a whole century
Had he been there,
Serving God in prayer,
The meekest and humblest of His creatures.
He remembered well the features
Of Felix; and he said -
Speaking distinct and slow:
One hundred years ago,
When I was a novice in this place,
There was here a monk, full of God's grace,
Who bore the name
Of Felix, and this man must be the same.'

"And straightway
They brought forth to the light of day
A volume old and brown,
A huge tome, bound
In brass and wild boar's hide,
Wherein were written down
The names of all who had died
In the convent, since it was edified.
And there they found,
Just as the old monk had said,
That on a certain day and date,
One hundred years before,
Had gone forth from the convent-gate
The monk Felix, and never more
Had entered that sacred door.
He had been counted among the dead,
And they knew, at last,
That, such had been the power
Of that celestial and immortal song,
A hundred years had passed,
And had not seemed so long
As a single hour."
- The Golden Legend

A Comparison of Stages of Life

"Some divines use a consideration of the three places whereunto man by his creation is ordained. The first of these places is our mother's womb; the second, this present world; the third, 'coelum empyreum,' the place of bliss in the life to come. In what proportion or measure the second does exceed the first, in a much greater does the third exceed the second; so that as far as the world does surpass the womb of one woman, so much, in all beauty, delights, and majesty, does the place of heavenly bliss surpass all this whole world with the ornaments thereof. And as much as a man living in the world does exceed an infant before it is born for strength of body, beauty, wit, understanding, learning, and knowledge, so much, and far more, does a saint in heaven surpass all men in this world. The nine months also of life in the mother's womb are not so little in respect of any man's age in the world, as is the longest life on earth in respect of everlasting life in heaven." - Parson's Directory

Saint Augustine says: "O, my Lord! if Thou for this vile body of ours hast given us so great and innumerable benefits, from the firmament, from the air, from the earth, from the sea, by light, by darkness, by heat, by shadows, by dews, by showers, by winds, by rain, by birds, by fish, by beasts, by trees, by multitudes of herbs and variety of plants, and by the ministry of all Thy creatures, O sweet Lord! what manner of things, how great, how good, and how innumerable are those which Thou hast prepared for us in Thy heavenly country, where we shall see Thee face to face! If Thou do such great things for us in our prison, what wilt Thou give us in our palace? If Thou givest so many things in this world both to good and evil men, what hast Thou laid up for good men in the world to come? If both Thy enemies and Thy friends are well provided for in this life, what will Thy friends receive in the life to come? If there be so great solace in these days of tears, what joy will there be in that day of the marriage? If our jail or prison contain so great matters, what will our country and kingdom do? O my Lord and God, Thou art a great God! And great is the multitude of Thy magnificence and sweetness! And as there is no end of Thy greatness, nor number of Thy mercies, nor depth of Thy wisdom, nor measure of Thy benignity, so is there neither end, number, limit, nor measure of Thy rewards to them that love Thee and do fight for Thee." - Lolil., c. xxi.

When God establishes an everlasting home for Himself and for His elect, and when He that is infinite all but exhausts the infinite treasures of His omnipotence on the wealth and beauty of that home, what must it be like? Saint John the Evangelist says that "the whole place will be of purest gold; that the wall going around the city shall be all of a precious stone called jaspis. This wall has twelve gates of twelve rich stones, called margarites, and every gate an entire margarite. The streets of the city are paved with gold, interlaid with pearls and precious stones. The light of the city is the clearness and splendour of Christ Himself - shining brighter than a thousand suns - who sits in the midst thereof. There was no night in that city, nor did any defiled thing enter thereunto: but they who are within," says he, "shall reign for ever and ever." (Apocalypse)

Cardinal Hugo says: "In this vision of God we shall know, we shall love, we shall rejoice, we shall praise. We shall know the very secrets and judgments of God, which are a depth without bottom; as also the causes, natures, beginnings, issues, and ends of all creatures. We shall love incomparably both God, for the infinite causes of love that we see in Him, and our brethren and companions, as much as ourselves, for that we shall see them as much loved by God as ourselves, and for the same cause for which we are loved. Whence ensues that our joy will be without measure, both because we shall have a particular joy for everything we love in God, which things are infinite, and also for that we shall rejoice at the felicity of every one of our brethren as much as at our own; and by that means we shall have as many distinct felicities as we shall have distinct companions in our felicity, who being without number, it is no wonder that Christ said: Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord, and not: Let thy Lord's joy enter into thee, because no created heart can receive the fullness and greatness of this joy. And hereof finally it does ensue that we shall praise God without end or weariness, with all our heart, with all our strength, with all our powers, with all our parts, according to what the Scripture says: Happy are they that live in Thy house, O Lord, for they will praise Thee for ever and ever."

Our Saviour, in the Gospel, said:

"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God." To see God. This then is a reward. It must be a very great reward, when it is promised to those who are especially dear to God on this earth - the clean of heart.

Saint Augustine says: "There is a sight and a vision which of itself is sufficient to make a man happy and blessed for ever - a vision which neither eye has seen in this world, nor ear has heard, nor heart conceived - a vision that surpasses all the beauty of earthly things. We shall see God face to face. We shall see and know the power of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, the goodness of the Holy Ghost. We shall know the indivisible nature of the blessed Trinity. The sight of God is the full beatitude, the total glorification of men and angels; to see and behold Him that made both heaven and earth; to see and behold Him that made us and will glorify us. . . . O joy above all joys! and without which there is no joy, when shall I enjoy Thee, to see my God that dwells in Thee. O peace of God that passes all understanding, wherein the souls of the saints do rest with Thee, O Lord; and everlasting joy is upon their heads, and joy and exultation is theirs, and all pain is fled from them. . . . O Lord, in this kingdom of Thine there is infinite joy without sadness; health without sorrow; life without labour; light without darkness; felicity without abatement; all good without evil. Here youth flourishes that never grows old; life that knows no end; beauty that never fades; love that never cools; health that never diminishes; joy that never ceases. Here sorrow is never felt; complaint is never heard; sadness never experienced; nor evil success ever feared, because they possess Thee, O Lord, who art the perfection of their felicity."

Exhortation of Saint Liguori

"Let us then, brethren, courageously resolve to bear patiently with all the sufferings which shall come upon us during the remaining days of our lives: to secure heaven they are little or nothing. Rejoice then; for all these pains, sorrows, and persecutions shall, if we be saved, be to us a source of never-ending joys and delights. 'Your sorrow shall be turned into joy.' (John 16:20). When, then, the crosses of this life afflict us, let us raise our eyes to heaven, and console ourselves with the hope of Paradise. At the end of her life, Saint Mary of Egypt was asked, by the Abbot Saint Zozimus, how she had been able to live forty-seven years in the desert where he found her dying. She answered: 'With the hope of Paradise'. If we be animated with the same hope, we shall not feel the tribulations of this life. Have courage! Let us love God and labour for heaven. There the saints expect us, Mary expects us, Jesus Christ expects us. He holds in His hand a crown to make each of us a king in that eternal kingdom." (Sermon 16)

"Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall be free. The land shall bud forth and blossom; the glory of Libanus is given to it, the beauty of Carmel and Saron; they shall see the glory of the Lord and the beauty of our God.

"Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees. Say to the faint-hearted, Take courage, fear not; behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense.

"And a path and a way shall be there; and it shall be called the holy way. The unclean shall not pass over it, nor fools err therein. No lion shall be there, nor shall any mischievous beast go up by it, nor be found there; but they shall walk there that shall be delivered: And the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and shall come with praise; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness; and sorrow and mourning shall fly away." (Isaias 35)