This article was originally published on our Rosary Center & Confraternity website in their Light and Life Newsletter – March-April 2021, Vol 74, No 2
“You who have been raised with Christ, set your heart on higher things where Christ reigns at the right hand of God the Father.” (Col. 3:1) An ancient source says: “Man stands in the middle of creation, on the horizon of being, between flesh and spirit, between time and eternity.” Human beings have both flesh (a body) and a spirit (the spiritual soul).
The problem of man first involves the soul which is a spirit. What good can fulfill the soul? After long reflection even some pagan philosophers held that because of the presence of the intelligence in a human being, only knowledge of the highest and most all-encompassing cause of the world could still the wonder which begins in a child the first time he asks: “Why?” In Christianity, we know this to be God. Only the direct knowledge of God himself can still the dynamism of the intellect to know the truth. This is human perfection and happiness.
Thomas Aquinas put it this way: “quite apparent in this conclusion is the fact that ultimate felicity is to be sought in nothing other than an operation of the intellect, since no desire carries on to such sublime heights as the desire to understand the truth. Indeed, all our desires for pleasure, or other things of this sort that are craved by men, can be satisfied with other things, but the aforementioned desire does not rest until it reaches God, the highest point of reference for, and the maker of, things. Let those men be ashamed, then, who seek man’s felicity in the most inferior things, when it is so highly situated.” (Summa contra Gentiles, III, 50)
Once this is established as the perfection of our souls, the natural question arises as to the place of the body is this. The soul and the body are really distinct from one another. Our souls are set on the highest realms. What about the body? Matter tends to corruption and the mystery and fear of death are central experiences of human life. They compound the problem of man. If the soul lives forever and even sees God, it is an unnatural condition if the body could not share in that, unless the body were not essential to human life.
Plato was puzzled by this fact and this led him to posit that the body was a prison into which souls fell. He thought the soul existed before human birth in a body and struggled to constantly be free from matter to soar. There would have been no question or need for the resurrection from the dead, the Easter event, for Plato.
Aristotle, on the other hand, though he accepted that knowledge was spiritual, thought that common experience should teach us that our soul was a blank slate at birth and input to our intelligence only came in this life through sense experience beginning in the body. Yet again there was a conundrum. The soul lived forever, but his experience of all bodies is that they died. Again, unnatural! Human reason could not solve this problem and this disproves all modern tendencies to think that human beings can solve every mystery for this is one which eludes even the most intelligent. Life becomes absurd, the meaning of which we create ourselves in the relativity of truth.
When Our Lord rises from the dead, like the ring to a finger, the box canyon of human absurdity is resolved. When he appears to Mary Magdalen and in the Upper Room to the Apostles, he invites them to believe and in some cases to touch. He proves it is really him in his own body by eating a piece of fish and inviting them to place their hands in the print of the nails.
Pilate represented the absurdity of modern life oddly enough when in the Praetorium he pointed to the scourged Christ crowned with thorns and said: “Ecce Homo!” (Behold man) In the Upper Room, Christ wishes the Apostles peace and through the passion and forgiveness of sins says also: “Behold Man!” This is what the final meaning of human life is.
For those of us who meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary, the resurrection is one of the most important. There is a pious tradition which the Filipino community celebrates that though the Gospels are silent on this subject, the first person to whom Our Lord showed his risen body was Our Lady. John Paul II reflects on this in one of his Wednesday audience conferences:
A fifth-century author, Sedulius, maintains that in the splendor of his risen life Christ first showed himself to his mother. In fact, she, who at the Annunciation was the way he entered the world, was called to spread the marvelous news of the Resurrection in order to become the herald of his glorious coming. Thus bathed in the glory of the Risen One, she anticipates the Church’s splendor.
Cf. Sedulius, Paschale carmen, 5, 357-364, (CSEL 10, 140f). (May 21, 1997)
As Mary met Jesus first in her Annunciation and then was a part of all the actions of his life because his body came from her, this final experience must be the most important both to her and to us. Now all the mysteries are made clear and the purpose of Christ’s life and death are fulfilled. The world was created for the glorification of God in Christ and we are created to set our hearts on the higher realms. Not only our hearts and souls, but also our bodies.
It is true on earth each must wait until after death for this most complete of experiences, but as Mary did in faith we can anticipate this by both prayer and deed. We can ask her continued intercession in seeing the world from the perspective of eternity and grace. Thus we can prepare for our own resurrection first of soul through grace but then of body in the general resurrection. Behold Man!
by Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P.
The original article can be read on the Rosary Center website