Friday, September 25, 2009

Rambling on About Death, Resurrection, Burial and Cremation

I'm looking at a coffee mug at the moment: one of those with a few words printed on it. This one says:
"God put me on Earth to accomplish a certain number of things. By now I'm so far behind I will never die."
I've felt that way, sometimes: but it doesn't work like that. Even if I'd gotten nothing of what I was 'supposed to do' done: I'd still die, sooner or later.

Most likely. There seems to have been an exception to that rule here and there: Elijah, for example. (2 Kings 2:11) But I rather doubt that, out of all humanity's billions, I'll warrant the flaming horses treatment. And I'd be daft to count on it.

"The Hinge of Salvation"

I did a little checking in the Catechism, and found a whole article on the resurrection. And what has to come before resurrection, death.

I enjoy breathing, and hope to keep doing so for a good many years. I also like the material world. Many of my posts in in another blog are attempts to let readers see the layers upon layers of wonder and beauty that I live in: from the swamp east of town to cherry blossoms and the moons of Saturn.

On the other hand, I'm glad that I only have to go through this life once.

A few excerpts from that section of the Catechism:
" 'The flesh is the hinge of salvation' (Tertullian, De res. 8, 2: PL 2, 852). We believe in God who is creator of the flesh; we believe in the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh; we believe in the resurrection of the flesh, the fulfillment of both the creation and the redemption of the flesh."

"What is "rising"? In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. God, in his almighty power, will definitively grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection."

" 'We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess' (Council of Lyons II: DS 854). We sow a corruptible body in the tomb, but he raises up an incorruptible body, a 'spiritual body' (cf. 1 Cor 15:42-44)."

"Death is the end of man's earthly pilgrimage, of the time of grace and mercy which God offers him so as to work out his earthly life in keeping with the divine plan, and to decide his ultimate destiny. When 'the single course of our earthly life' is completed,586 we shall not return to other earthly lives: 'It is appointed for men to die once.'587 There is no 'reincarnation' after death."

"Jesus, the Son of God, freely suffered death for us in complete and free submission to the will of God, his Father. By his death he has conquered death, and so opened the possibility of salvation to all men."
Time for a disclaimer: There's more. What I've quoted are just snippets, intended to give an impression of what the Church teaches - like I said, there's more.

Resurrected? You Mean I Have to Live With This Body Forever?!

We don't have a lot of information on what our resurrected bodies will be like, although I think it's likely that there's a sort of preview of what to expect in accounts of what Jesus did, after he'd died, been buried, and rose again.

Take the road to Emmaus encounter, for instance.
"As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight."
(Luke 24: 28-31)
Okay: Jesus apparently didn't look all that outlandish, although Luke 24:16 does say: "but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him."

A footnote on that verse reads:
"A consistent feature of the resurrection stories is that the risen Jesus was different and initially unrecognizable (Luke 24:37; Mark 16:12; John 20:14; John 21:4)."
(Luke 24, Footnote 7, NAB)
That "vanished" business seems to indicate that he didn't have to walk from one place to another, if he didn't want to. Picking up the 24th chapter a little further on:
"Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, 'Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.' And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' "
(Luke 24:35-41)
If our resurrected bodies are something like Jesus', they'll no ghostly stuff: Jesus had "flesh and bones" - quite tangible.

And, we're told, incorruptible. Right there you've got something that's very different from what we've got now. I don't know what the resurrected body will be like - and I certainly don't know the 'how' of resurrection. God knows that sort of thing: and I'm certainly not that much like God.

But we really don't have all that much information. Which is okay by me: I don't need to know the details, and I sort of like surprises.

Cremation: Not Recommended, but Allowed

I wrote about cremation back on Tuesday. Cremation used to be forbidden, now it's okay. It's not a case of the Church 'rewriting' God's law - more like changing regulations to deal with what's going on today.

There are very good reasons why the Church strongly prefers that we bury our dead. For one thing, this is the body that was baptized - I'll let you read the whole article: just follow the link, if you're interested.
"Why does the Church prefer the burial of the actual body of the deceased? There are many reasons that I can think of for the burial of simply the cremated remains....

"...Disposition of the bodies of deceased Catholics by means of cremation is a fairly recent development. The 1917 Code of Canon Law forbade the practice, and this prohibition continued until 1963. While making allowance for cremation (as long as it was not chosen as a sign of denial of Christian teaching) the 1963 instruction Piam et constantem issued by the Holy Office urged that 'the practice of burying the bodies of the faithful is by all means to be kept.' This 1963 concession is provided for in the 1969 Ordo Exsequiarum, the Latin edition of the revised Catholic funeral ritual and was later incorporated into the 1983 Code of Canon Law in canon 1176: 'The Church earnestly recommends that the pious custom of burying the bodies of the dead be observed; it does not, however, forbid cremation unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.'..."
("Cremation and Corporeal Burial," Committee on Divine Worship, USCCB)
What the Church had to say about cremation was very important to me, since my father had very specific instructions about what to do with his body. He wanted to be cremated, as my mother was, their ashes comingled, separated into two lots and then one urn buried near their home in the Red River Valley of the North, another buried in his homeland, east of Chicago, Illinois.

He loved my mother very much, and I believe I understand why he wanted this disposition of the bodies.

Particularly since I had to sign the authorization for his cremation today, I'm glad that the Church allows such things. That sort of go/no-go decision I can do without.

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