Fr. Frank Pavone tells a discussion with a man who performs abortions. He begins by asking this question, “Does an abortion destroy a human life.” The abortionist responds, “I don’t know when the child receives a soul.” Fr. Pavone note that this represents quite an irony: The priest wants to focus on science whereas the other wants to jump to a question about faith.
As Christians we do not make a radical distinction between body and soul.* St. Thomas Aquinas said that the soul is the form of the body. Together they make up a single entity or substance. We do not see our bodies as something we can simply use and then toss away like a dishwasher when it breaks down. No, in a real sense, I am my body. Even though death may separate a person from our body for a time, the soul will not be complete until re-united in one substance with its material part.
How all of this is going to happen, I do not know. We do, however, get some hints in today’s readings. St. Paul states, “The one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.” In the Gospel, Jesus illustrates this hope.
Before speaking about the resurrection of Lazarus, I want to note one other thing about the reading from Romans. Paul begins by saying that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Obviously, he is not using “flesh” to mean “body.” The “flesh” Paul speaks about is the downward pull of our human nature, its resistance to giving itself to God. The “spirit” is just the opposite – what lifts us up, enables us by the Spirit of Christ to entrust ourselves to the Father. The flesh by definition wars against the spirit, but the body is not meant to war against the soul. Body and the soul are made to work together, like a knight with his charger or a mahout with his elephant. Of course that process requires discipline and training; it will never be fully completed in this life. In the end body will gradually weaken and, with death, disintegrate completely. Then, only God can restore it to the soul.
The Gospels tell about three occasions when Jesus put soul and body back together. The first was similar to what we sometimes hear about an operating room. Jairus’ daughter was barely dead when Jesus took her hand saying, “Talitha cum, little girl, arise.” The second was further from death – the funeral (probably the day after death) of widow’s son. The third, which we see today, was a man four days dead. By this time, the body and its cells would have disintegrated to a point that, as his sister points out, “there will be a stench.”
When Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, he was performing the kind of miracle that Ezekiel referred to: “You shall know that I am the Lord when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people.” But Jesus does not focus on the “people” in some abstract way, but on the concrete human person. Thus he calls from the grave a man with whom he had eaten and conversed, who had offered him hospitality in his home.
Once again this Sunday, I would like to conclude by reading part of prayer of exorcism, which I will pray over our candidates for the Easter Sacraments. It is the third and final scrutiny:
by raising Lazarus from the dead
you showed that you came that we might have life
and have it more abundantly.
Free from the grasp of death
those who await your life-giving sacraments
and deliver them from the spirit of corruption.
Through your Spirit, who gives life,
fill them with faith, hope, and charity,
that they may live with you always
in the glory of your resurrection,
for you are Lord for ever and ever.
*For a discussion of how this metaphysical issue has become a part of the abortion debate, see: Dualistic Delusions by Patrick Lee & Robert P. George (First Things, February 2005)
From Archives (Year A homilies for Fifth Sunday of Lent):
He Was Buried (2002)
On Confession and Cremation (1999)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (One Million in Pledges, Parking Lot Patrols, Palm Sunday Procession, More Catholic Answers Tracts)
Good Friday Service for Life
What bishop had a congregation of 5000 repeat aloud three times: "if we forget the poor, we’ll go to hell"?
And That's The Way It Ain't