The Revelation which God has given to His Church is at once stimulating and disappointing. It is stimulating inasmuch as it deals with matters so great and of such vast interest to mankind and affecting us so intimately, and it is disappointing in that it fails to answer so many questions which we long to have answered.
It confines itself chiefly to two points - to disclose to man the meaning and the reason of his present mysterious state, and the method of his restoration. All else is subsidiary to this. The Fall and the Restoration of man. The Revelation is made to man and for man, and always for practical not speculative ends. It does not satisfy our curiosity, however reverent and natural that curiosity may be, but confines itself to the purpose it has in hand.
It is remarkable that while the mystery of man's being has always been the subject of study and speculation, fascinating and perplexing beyond all others, the greatest minds of antiquity seem never to have come anywhere near the simple solution which Revelation gives - that man is created in the Image of God, and fallen. He is in the Image of God, and is therefore ever haunted by great ideals; ever seeking after God and striving to be God-like. He is fallen, and the jar of the fall has dislocated his whole being, and robbed him of that supernatural gift which preserved the order and harmony of his nature and kept the body under the control of the spirit
Wherever we turn throughout history we know that men were feeling that struggle of the flesh with the spirit of which we are ourselves so conscious. However far back we look, however strange the life men lived, one thing enables us to bridge the ages and to enter into sympathy with them. Whatever their interests and aims, and however different from ours, these men and women were like us in this at least, they knew and felt what we feel. Beneath the surface there was the same struggle, issuing as it does today in the life of each individual, in the victory of the spirit over the flesh or of the flesh over the spirit And yet as to the cause of this struggle their speculations resulted mainly in the conclusion that matter was evil and the soul Divine, and that these must struggle till the soul should be emancipated and set free from contact with matter.
Now, in the Gospel we find two classes of sayings about the body - one of warning, the other speaking of its honour and dignity. We read such words of Saint Paul as: "Mortify the members of your body which are upon the earth"; "If ye live according to the flesh ye shall die, but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh ye shall live "; and again, "He that soweth in his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth in the spirit shall of the spirit reap life everlasting". The flesh is set against the spirit in such passages as being the source of danger, corruption and death; to live after the flesh is to die, to mortify the flesh is to live. And then in contrast to these passages we read such words as: "Your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost"; "The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body"; "Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of an harlot?" And in the most solemn moments of our Communion with God, when we try to forget the flesh and to rise on the wings of the spirit, it is on the Body of our Lord that we feed our souls.
And we are conscious of something corresponding with both these classes of sayings in our own experience. There are moments when it seems to us as if the source of all the evil were in the flesh; we feel "the corruptible flesh weighing down the incorruptible spirit"; we feel the tides of passion and materialism, that take their rise in the flesh, wash over and swamp the spirit till for the moment the animal nature appears to be wholly triumphant. And we know how true Saint Paul's words are: "If ye live according to the flesh ye shall die".
But again, there are times when the body itself seems lifted up, and partakes of and adds to the joys of the spirit. Wave after wave of spiritual joy sweeps through the open channels of the flesh, and fills it with a new and intoxicating joy, before which the pleasures of the flesh seem poor and sickly. At such moments we are dimly aware of the possibility of the body, after a long process of training and discipline, being uplifted and spiritualised, and entering into a closer and more intimate union with the life of the soul, where the lust of the flesh against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh would be at an end. And then we know that the flesh is not evil nor the source of all evil in our life.
Let us not always say, Spite of the flesh today
I strove, made head and gained ground on the whole;
As the bird wings and sings, let us say all good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul.
Yet such moments of spiritual exaltation are rare, and have often to be paid for by a reaction in which the flesh renews with greater violence its assaults upon the spirit. They hold out to us no certain prospect of such a happy union here on earth as that of which the poet speaks when "nor soul helps flesh more now than flesh helps soul". On the contrary, though they may be the earnest of a perfect union to come, like the Transfiguration of our Lord, a moment of prophetic vision of what shall be hereafter, they warn us that the warfare has by no means ended, that there is need of renewed vigilance and self-discipline.
But apart from such rare moments of exaltation, which support and are themselves illuminated by the teachings of Revelation, men might well ask if this age-long conflict between flesh and spirit is never to come to an end; if there is no remedy to heal this strange discord in the highest of God's creatures upon earth.
The witness of each individual is that it is persistent and unceasing from the dawn of consciousness till it is lost in death. That no one can ever remember its beginning, and so far as experience goes it has no end on earth. That one does not escape from it either by yielding to the flesh or by living for the spirit The saint bears upon his face the marks of this ceaseless struggle; the most sensual bears those traces of the protests of the baffled spirit that show the man is not a mere animal. No one has ever yet reached that spiritual height where he could relax his watchfulness and cease to struggle. There are stories told of those who after years of self-discipline and mortification grew careless and relaxed their vigilance and fell. No, so far as the experience of individuals goes, the battle is lifelong and unceasing. Victory of the higher nature over the lower can only be gained by constant struggle, and being gained it can only be maintained on the same condition. If there be a moment's respite, beneath the mountain the giant breathes, and we must beware.
Or if we turn from individuals to the evidence of the human race it is the same. Wherever we look through the past the battle is raging; there is no sign that it has but lately begun; men seemed to look upon it as much as an integral and essential element of their earthly life as we do today. The lost records of the past are constantly being brought to light. Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, are yielding up their treasures and enabling us to enter more and more vividly into those ancient civilisations; but we do not seem to get any nearer the beginning of this inherent conflict in the life of man; nor is it within the power of our imagination to suppose that science will ever discover for us the records of an age where man was at one with himself and supreme master of all his powers.
Nor does civilisation do anything towards lessening this inner conflict It is as sharp and keen today, so far as we can judge, as it was thousands of years ago. We cannot think of or imagine any of the arts of civilisation that could stay it or heal it, or that one who is the heir of all that modem progress and the developments of later times has to give, suffers from this terrible dualism one whit less than the primitive savage. The triumph of the flesh may show itself in less gross and brutal ways, no doubt, but the conflict is none the less keen. And as long as that conflict lasts and men know no remedy for it, surely our boasted civilisation is but surface deep - underneath are still burning the fires of the volcano. Many a man who has been brought up under all the refining influences of his age, living amongst the most cultivated and educated men of his day, has thrown appearances to the winds, and beneath the garments of culture and civilisation has shown himself with the naked passions of a savage.
No, however far we look back into the past, this dualism is seen wherever man is found, and there is no sign or token of its ceasing, nor of the conflict between flesh and spirit becoming less acute. There is no living member of the human race that can say he has found the remedy and made a truce. We who are the children of a later age, and have heard the prophets of our own day prophesy great things and declare the wonders that are to be wrought by science and education and a deeper knowledge of the laws of life, know full well that however great the enrichment of life in material things, and however wide the spread of knowledge, not the smallest step has been taken towards setting man at one with himself.
What then is to be the end of it? We cannot suppose that the God of order and unity created man in this state of disorder, an exception to all His other works. Yet we find no human record of its beginning; we find no hope, no hint, of any prospect of its ending.
One of two things alone seems possible if this strife is not to be eternal.
1. Some have lived as though they would trample upon and conquer the spirit, till the last spark of its life is drowned as the unchained passions of the flesh burst forth like the loosened waters and swamp it, and unity is purchased at the price of that which raises man above the beasts. There have indeed been times in the past when it has almost seemed as if it would be so. There are men in our own time who seem to have well-nigh succeeded in beating out the man and beating in the beast. But however low they may have sunk, however strong the animal nature and weak the spiritual, it still lives on if only to rebuke and condemn - "a spark disturbs this clod, a sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go". Man cannot destroy it and be happy as a beast. When he has sunk to the lowest depths, "and fain would fill his belly with the husks that the swine did eat," he begins to dream about his Father's home and the possibility of arising from his degradation. He has tried hard enough and long enough to destroy the dualism which torments him by slaying his spiritual nature - men try it still - but it is impossible, for it is his very self.
2. Others have sought to bring the inner strife to an end by the destruction of the flesh. They have looked upon the flesh as a snare in which man, who is a spiritual being, has become entangled. If he would trample upon it, despise it, starve it to death and try to live as much as possible as if he had no body, then the spirit would gain strength as the coils of the flesh were loosened, and, at last, the soul would cast it aside for ever in death like a dishonoured and threadbare garment and live henceforth as a pure spirit.
But against such a theory we may notice two things.
(1) The Asceticism that seeks such a deliverance, itself bears witness to its untruth. It leaves upon the soul that so treats the body the marks of its revenge. The body refuses to be so sacrificed without leaving the deep impress of its protest in the moral injuries which it inflicts upon the soul. We have but to look at the effects of heathen asceticism to feel that it is a violation of nature. The soul does not rise, nor grow strong, it becomes dreamy and unreal. Between such practice and that of Christian asceticism there is as much difference as there is between life and death.
(2) On the other hand, the body will often revolt against being treated with unreasonable severity, still more against any effort to ignore it, and will assault the soul with those very temptations from which it sought to escape; if we try to ignore it, it will become more insistent in its demands, if we treat it too hardly it will make us feel its power.
We cannot end this inner conflict, therefore, by the killing out of either one or the other; each refuses to be slain, and the effort only increases our anguish.
What then, is this discord to go on for ever? and is man to be content to struggle on in darkness with no light as to its origin or end? Age after age went by; the struggle waxed fiercer and fiercer; times were when the flesh seemed wholly victorious and the spirit dethroned and dishonoured; men questioned one another as to what was to be the end. But no complete answer was given till Christ came. And he came and laid open not only the secret of the future but of the past.
His answer to man was this. This dualism that rends and tortures you is not of God's making but your own. It had a beginning and it will have an end. It is the penalty of that act of disobedience whereby Adam sacrificed the supernatural union with God which held the body subject to the soul. The soul unaided is not able to keep the whole nature in harmonious order. Man's nature was never intended to be complete in itself, it was created so that it could only fulfill itself and its destiny by union with God That union was lost by sin. Then began the conflict, "the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh". But the body however rebellious is an integral part of man's nature. He must be saved body and soul, or he cannot be saved at all. Men must pay the penalty of the Fall, that inner conflict which ends only in the separation of soul and body in death. But the body shall rise again, and the risen and glorified body shall live in perfect union with the soul; then "They shall no more hunger nor thirst, neither shall the sun fall upon them nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the Throne shall rule them and shall lead them unto the fountains of the waters of life, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
The answer then of Christian Revelation to man's perplexity lies in disclosing the past and the future, the Fall and the Resurrection. And between these, the dispensation of Christ, wherein He bestows upon man the supernatural gift of grace by which once more he is restored to union with God. And this gift does not indeed establish that inner harmony which was forfeited once for all by the Fall, but it bestows upon him a power by which he can gain control over the flesh to discipline and train it, to check its rebellions and teach it to take its place of subordination as the soul's servant and not his master, and thus prepare it for the Resurrection when once more body and soul will meet and live for ever in that perfect union which knows no strife nor discord.
The doctrine of the Resurrection thus protects the doctrine of the Fall It impresses upon us the fact that the body is an integral part of our nature, that the conflict between flesh and spirit which was caused by the Fall ends when its penalty has been paid, and man is restored once more in the completeness of his nature. Give up the doctrine of the Resurrection and the doctrine of the Fall goes with it, and with that the doctrine of the Incarnation: If there be no resurrection of the dead then is not Christ risen again, and if Christ be not risen again your faith is also vain.
And thus, in His Life on earth, our Lord refused to deal with man merely as a spiritual being. In all His actions, in every work of healing, what was the instrument with which He healed? It was His Body. His Touch restored the dead to life, the moisture from His Lips gave light to the sightless eyes, His Fingers pierced the closed ears of the deaf and opened them to hearing, the very touch of His garments steeped in the power that flowed forth from Him healed the woman bowed down with disease. In all His dealings with man He dealt with him as a composite being and taught him to reverence the flesh.
And in that kingdom which He came on earth to found - the Catholic Church - it is the same. Every great spiritual gift which is given to cement man's union with Christ is bestowed upon him through material channels.
Thus would our Lord impress upon His followers that the body is an integral part of man's nature, neither to be indulged nor ill-treated, but by the help of His grace, and by the practice of constant discipline, to be brought back to that position of dignity and true liberty as co-operator with the soul in the service of God, which it held before the Fall.
And it is in the hope of the Resurrection that this is to be done. In its essence and in its motive Christian asceticism is absolutely different from heathen. Heathen asceticism would git rid of the body as an enemy to be hated; Christian asceticism would but train it for its glorious life in Heaven. The heathen ascetic has ever before him the thought of death; the Christian the thought of the Resurrection. For whatever changes will have passed upon the body in the Resurrection, the organic unity between the risen and mortal flesh will be preserved; "In my flesh shall I see God."
The deeds that It does upon earth, the habits it forms, the life it lives, must as surely affect its future as they affect the future of the soul. Character is stamped upon the whole bodily frame; the way a man walks or sits or stands all help to show something of his character. We are told that every thought is registered in the molecular changes which it effects in the brain; and certainly the face is the mirror in which the soul is reflected, upon which it stamps with ever-deepening lines its thoughts, its passions, its ambitions. The difference between the face of a child and that of a man is the same as that between a white sheet of paper and one covered with writing, or between that of a new garment and one that has been long worn. It has been said by the well-known and learned psychologist, Professor W. James: "I believe that we are subject to the law of habit in consequence of the fact that we have bodies. The plasticity of the living matter of our nervous system, in short, is the reason why we do a thing with difficulty the first time, but soon do it more and more easily, and finally, with sufficient practice, do it semi-mechanically, or with hardly any consciousness at all. Our nervous systems have grown to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat once creased or folded tends to fall for ever afterwards into the same identical folds." Had we but eyes to see, we might take scalpel and microscope and read in the bodily frame the moral history of the life of the soul that was its tenant Indeed many a characteristic is stamped so clearly that none can fail to see it. Many we fain would hide but cannot, the tell-tale flesh has, so to speak, materialised the thoughts of the mind, given them form and shape, and revealed them to the world. As the body lies still and silent in death, its mystery and its pathos is that it has been the instrument and co-operator, and remains the material record of the soul's life. No thought ever passed through the mind for one brief moment but the body took its part and wrote the record. Was ever history written with such unerring accuracy as is written the history of the soul in the body which it inhabits.
And this body must rise again. Whatever changes it may have to undergo it is the same body, the partner of the soul here on earth, the material crystallisation of the life of the immaterial soul; the servant that often gained the mastery and entangled it in its meshes and seduced it to sin. The body must rise again, bearing upon it for good or evil the traces of its earthly life.
If then we are able to form any conception of the condition of the risen body it will help us and guide us in the practice of self-discipline. The object of all such discipline is to subdue the flesh and bring it into a state of obedience, and thus prepare it for its life in the resurrection.
Can we then form any idea of the glorified body? For if we can we shall know better what our aim is, and we shall find in it the principles which are to govern us in the practice of the discipline of our mortal bodies. We shall have a model by which to guide ourselves, and we shall not be overbold if we expect to find here on earth some dim foreshadowings of what that life is to be beyond the grave. Now, Saint Paul gives us in Corinthians 15 four characteristics of the glorified body. "It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory. It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power. It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body."
We cannot indeed expect to find any tokens of the incorruption, or the glory, or the power, or the spirituality of the risen body while we are here on earth, however faithful and strict we may be in the practice of self-discipline, but I think we can and may expect to experience within ourselves that from which such results will follow; to feel those spiritual movements within the soul and that taming of the body which is preparatory to it, as the first movements of the spring are preparatory to the full glory of the summer.
Let us consider these four characteristics which Saint Paul gives us, and see how we can use them as principles of self-discipline by which the body may be prepared for their full enjoyment hereafter.
1. "It is sown in corruption, it shall rise in incorruption." The body here on earth is ever prone to suffering and decay, ever face to face with death, the fuel of life is constantly consumed and needs to be supplied afresh. We can neither act nor think but by the expenditure of energy which, if it cannot be renewed, is soon exhausted But in the Resurrection all pain and suffering and decay will have passed away for ever, There shall be no more sorrow nor suffering, for the former things are passed away." The shadow of death no longer lies across the pathway, it lies behind. The soul can look back and see the gate of death thrown open, the secrets of the grave laid bare and its mystery exposed. Its terrors lie behind. It looks forward and sees the open plains of endless life bathed in unclouded light. When last the soul and body were united, the agony of death was upon it, every nerve was on the rack as they grappled in their final struggle. And now they have met and are united once more, and through the veins there surges the currents of a life so strong that the memories of the keenest moments of youth seem but like the splutterings of a dying candle compared with it. Time has no meaning, and work no power of wearying. There streams through every channel of the flesh a torrent of inexhaustible energy that never flags. Ages go by and the body is untouched by time in the exhilaration of perennial youth. The energy of the Divine life breaths from its nostrils, shines upon its brow and radiates from its presence. How could suffering or death approach such a being who fills the whole air with its pulsing life. And this is the body which toiled and suffered on earth, seeking to husband its failing strength and vitality that it might live out the threescore years and ten of its earthly pilgrimage.
And where does the body get this wonderful life? Never in the most exuberant days of youth had it anything like it Whence then has it received it? The body has not within itself gift of immortality. Yet it knows that with such a life flowing in its veins suffering and death are impossible. How then has the frail and suffering flesh been so transformed, and whence comes that torrent of life that transforms it? Its source is in the soul not in the body, it flows out upon the body from the soul. The soul is so strong, the vigour of its life so great, that everything gives way before it as it goes coursing through the veins and flooding the body with its energy. As the darkness flies from the face of the morning sun, so do suffering and death before this mighty stream of life.
But whence does the soul get this power? It received it here on earth. Its first germs were imparted to it at the font. "This is the testimony that God hath given to us Eternal Life, and this Life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life." And again, "I am come that they might have life, and that they may have it more abundantly". This more abundant life given in Baptism is nourished by the Sacraments and developed by the struggle with sin. It springs from union with Him who is the Fountain and Source of Eternal Life. That life now flowing with such energy had to be cultivated and developed amidst all the difficulties of earth; often it was so weak and nature so strong that its pulses were scarcely felt beating, but every struggle strengthened it, every Sacrament increased its power. And now, when the soul's probation is ended and every difficulty is overcome and its union with Christ is perfected, behold the life that is in it pours out upon the flesh, transforming it and making it partaker of its joys.
And to gain this glorious gift for the body, the soul when on earth had to carry on a constant warfare with it - to discipline it, to refuse its demands, to check its encroachments. Often it had to be stern with it, sometimes perhaps to inflict suffering upon it in order to tame it. But it is with no Manichaean idea that it is inherently evil; no, it is to gain for it this glorious bridal gift of immortality with which to endow it on the morning of the Resurrection.
Let this then be the first principle in the practice of self-discipline - To refuse to the body all that can weaken or delay the soul's union with our Lord. To let that be ever the first and ruling aim in life; and when the body is insistent in its demands for what might mar that union, it is good to remember that by refusing it indulgence we are gaining for it a better indulgence, even immunity from suffering for all eternity. Every such act of self-discipline is inspired by the highest reason, and looks through the moment's suffering to the gain that it secures for eternity.
2. "It is sown in dishonour, it shall rise in glory." The last that is seen of the body on earth is, as it passes beneath the shadow of death and is robbed of every ornament of beauty with which life endowed it. When next that same body is seen it is glorified, it shines with a light that transforms it. "Then shall the just shine." Here we clothe ourselves with garments that are to remind us of our fallen state; then the body needs no garments: "It is decked with light as with a garment". The pallor and dishonour of death have passed from it as night passes before the coming day.
But whence has the body this brightness? It receives it from the soul. .The body has become, as it were, a lantern through which the radiant soul shines. And the soul? When was it set on fire by this Divine light that radiates forth from it and does not consume it? The first spark of that fire was kindled within it on earth, and had to be tended and guarded through all earth's storms and troubles. "I have come," said our Lord, "to send fire upon the earth." It is the gift of holiness, the presence in the soul of that Spirit who came down upon the Apostles at Pentecost in the form of fiery tongues. That fire is first kindled in Baptism, and the work of life is to fan it into a brighter and ever brighter flame. The fire must be within, shining outwards from within. "He was a burning and a shining light." First burning and then shining. There are many who have a wonderful power of catching and reflecting the light of another as it shines upon them from without; such light leaves the person who reflects it in darkness when it is withdrawn. It is not merely the reflection of another's influence that will adorn both body and soul with light eternally.
We must therefore have the fire of personal holiness burning within us and shining forth from us, however dimly here, if hereafter we are to shine as stars in the Heavens. "Ye," says our Lord, "are the light of the world"; and again, "Let your light shine". And the foolish virgins in the hour of death wakened up to find their lamps going out and the door of the Heavenly Kingdom closed against them, while the wise trimmed their lamps and went forth to meet the Bridegroom.
The work of life, then, is to tend the Divine fire of holiness that has been kindled within, against every breath that may endanger it, and every holy deed and thought helps to feed and fan the flame. In proportion to the brightness of the fire that burns within when the soul goes forth to meet its Judge will be the glory with which it will clothe the body in the morning of the Resurrection. "There is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory. So also is the Resurrection of the dead." And the glory with which these heavenly constellations shine is kindled here on earth.
But there is another fire that may burn within us, before whose lurid flames the Divine light grows pale and dim and at last dies out The fire that at first as the faintest spark bums in the flesh and grows with a fearful rapidity, demanding ever more and more fuel, till all that is noblest in the soul is sacrificed to feed its all-consuming flames, and the heavenly flame dies exhausted and untended.
Therefore we have constantly to make our choice. We cannot keep both these fires alight within us, we must starve one that we may feed the other. In feeding the Divine fire in the soul the fire within the flesh must die for lack of food. We may try to trample upon it and extinguish it we may make violent and exhausting efforts, only to find that it has flamed out more furiously. We shall never put it out by such methods. There is only one safe and certain way. Use all your efforts in feeding the fire of the soul, sacrifice to it all that the flesh could feed upon, and that deadly fire will die for lack of nourishment. "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." He who gives all his thoughts and efforts to tending the fire from Heaven will in time find that the earthly fire has exhausted itself.
This is the only safe way to meet the demands of the flesh when they rise up against the spirit. Indirectly rather than directly. Positively rather than negatively. As the spirit grows stronger the flesh grows weaker. No man ever yet succeeded in merely chaining his passions. The one remedy is to turn to God, to live closer to Him, to deny the body by turning all one's interests, all one's energies to the cultivation of the spirit, and as the disorder of nature is thus overcome, the passions, purified and disciplined, sink into their proper place.
3. "It is sown in weakness, it shall rise in power." When last the body was seen it was in the weakness of fast approaching dissolution. It could not minister to its own wants. Exhaustion paralysed every member. With faltering and feeble steps the feet had taken their last journey and refused to bear the body farther. The hand could not lift the food to the lips, the weary eyes could look no longer on the sights of earth, and the soul imprisoned in the worn-out frame of the body could no longer express itself. As the quick breath comes from the heaving chest and burning lips, and the sweat stands thick upon the brows, and the faltering lips refuse to frame the broken and inarticulate words, the dying body presents a picture of the utmost weariness and exhaustion. The journey of life leaves it cast at the gate of the grave too weak, too utterly worn out, to take one step farther. Verily it is "sown in weakness".
That is the last that is seen of the body before the thread of life is broken and the soul slips forth in solitude.
And when next it is seen, it is as a giant refreshed with wine. It wakens from the sleep of death to find itself renewed, invigorated, energised, with a power that is inexhaustible and unwearied. Here the body has to drag itself after the mind by slow and weary movements, but now the body is borne along on the strong wings of the soul, it flashes with the swiftness of thought from place to place. The movements of the whole man are in perfect union, no longer does the corruptible flesh weigh down the incorruptible spirit, but the imponderable flesh, penetrated with the energy of the spirit, keeps step with it in its glorious movements.
Whence then has it received this gift? It falls to sleep in death in the utmost exhaustion, it wakens to the life of the Resurrection renewed with an energy that transforms it Again we answer, this gift is not inherent in the body, it is imparted to it from the soul. But whence did the soul receive it? It showed no such power during its earthly life, on the contrary often the vigour of the soul's life is gained at the expense of the weakening of the body.
And yet if no such power was manifested in the soul here on earth, there surely were anticipations of it. There were manifestations of a Divine energy that nothing could repress or destroy, an indomitable spirit that would lash on the body, however weary or ailing, and force it to obey. An energy that was awakened by no hope of earthly reward and that was often alien to the natural man. It is not of earth but of Heaven. It is imparted to the soul through its union with our Lord by the gift of Divine grace. It was of this gift our Lord spoke when He said, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten Me up". It was of this His great servant spoke when he cried, "This one thing I do, forgetting the things that are behind, I press towards the mark to the prize of the supernatural vocation of God in Jesus Christ". This indomitable power he manifested through his life, bearing along his feeble body in the arms of his triumphant soul; "in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings". Nothing could hold back that spirit set on fire from above, and the poor exhausted body must needs obey and follow as he drags it in his tempestuous zeal from east to west, from one end of Europe to the other.
And each in his measure and degree must manifest some spark of that Divine power here on earth if he is to enrich the body with it hereafter. The tired body cries out against the soul's activity. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Yet every victory of the spirit over the flesh will gain for the flesh that submits a richer endowment, every surrender to the flesh will be for it an eternal loss. Every hour of prayer, every night of vigil, every day of fasting, every work of charity, every act of mercy done for the love of God and kindled by the fire of holy zeal, in spite of the protests of the flesh, will strengthen in the spirit that Divine energy which will enable it in the morning of the Resurrection to endue the body with its strength.
4. "It is sown a natural body, it shall rise a spiritual body." We must not suppose that when Saint Paul says "it shall rise a spiritual body," he means that it shall cease to be a body. Let me repeat it - man is by nature composed of body and soul; he will never be as the Angels, pure spirits. "He took not hold of the Angels, but of the seed of Abraham He took hold." Human nature after death is not changed into angelic nature. By a spiritual body it is not meant that the body has ceased to be a body, and that man has undergone so fundamental a change that he has practically ceased to be man. What then does it mean? It means that the body receives some of the attributes of a spirit, that it lives henceforth a spirit's life, it becomes spiritualised. There is something analogous to this in the natural order. The most solid substances under the action of heat take the form of gas; though they remain chemically unchanged their properties are so changed that it is impossible for the untrained eye to recognise them; a heavy mass becomes buoyant, elastic, transparent, and a weight that a strong man could not lift floats as vapour in the air.
And something analogous to this takes place in the risen body. The soul aflame with the fire of God's Presence acts upon the body as fire upon solid matter and transforms and spiritualises it The heat of the burning soul transmutes it. It is flesh still, as truly as every atom of the steam was once solid ice, but it is spiritualised, transformed, glorified. The intensity of the spirit's life radiates through every nerve and fibre, bums out all that is gross and earthly, and lifts it into a perfect partnership with its own glorious life.
And this power which works such wonders in the Resurrection is bestowed upon the soul here on earth, and if it is to produce its full effects hereafter it must be developed amidst the difficulties of this life. The soul by the power of Divine grace and kindling with the fire of the Love of God must strive as much as may be to spiritualise the body, refining it, and purifying it more and more from the coarseness and grossness of its natural state. There are many things short of sin in which the body can be permitted or refused indulgence - all those things by which the light of faith is dimmed and the soul is endangered of losing some of its lustre. The stronger the hold the good things of this world have upon the body the weaker the soul becomes. There is such a thing as living in the senses - the delight of the senses in their own enjoyment - what Saint Paul calls " walking after the flesh It is not what is ordinarily meant by sensuality; one may live such a life and never even be tempted to sensual sin. But it is the reverse of spiritual. In proportion as one lives such a life the spiritual life becomes weakened and the things of faith lose some of their power.
In the struggle with the body to overcome this tendency, to walk in the spirit not after the flesh, to deny it pleasures that though not sinful have the danger of becoming inordinate, the soul develops that power which in the Resurrection lifts the body into that union with itself by which it is "raised a spiritual body".
We are permitted for our encouragement sometimes to see here on earth men and women who have so advanced in the spiritual life that they seem to have come as near this as it is possible in this life. Their bodies seem almost etherealised. They satisfy its wants so far as it is necessary to keep it alive, and that is all. They reduce its wants to a minimum, but their life, their joys, are chiefly those of the spirit.
Thus the Resurrection becomes the most practical thought in the daily life of the devout Catholic. The vision whose dim outlines are ever before his eyes becomes the model by which he works, and its laws the principles by which he trains the body for its Beatitude, when the dualism of earth will have ceased, and, grasped in the mighty arms of the soul, it enters into its joy and partakes of its glory.
- text taken from , by Father Basil William Maturin