The Incorruptibles

(Homily for Third Sunday of Easter)

Bottom line: The incorruptibles, such as Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, give a small indication of what we hope for in Christ.

During these fifty days of Easter we focus on the central mystery of our faith - the Resurrection of Jesus. We see that his body has been radically transformed: For example, today two disciple fail to recognize him. But in spite of the transformation there is continuity: He shows his wounds and, as we see today, he reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. From this we can see that Jesus' Resurrection is not only spiritual, but also corporal - that is, physical.

To help understand this, I would like to mention an interesting medical-scientific mystery. You of course know that when we die our bodies rapidly decompose - but not all. Some bodies remain intact, even without being embalmed. An example of this a young Italian named Pier Giorgio Frassati who lived at the beginning of the twentieth century. He was an engineering student who participated in Catholic youth groups that stood against fascism and served the poor. While visiting the sick, Pier Giorgio contracted a disease that killed him at the age of 24. In 1981 - almost six decades after his death - they exhumed his body as part of the canonization process. A surprise met them. When they opened his tomb, they discovered that his body was intact! Those who go to the World Youth Day this summer in Australia will have a chance to pray in front of the mortal remains of Blessed Pier Giorgio. His body is being transferred from Turin to Sydney.* The young people who attend World Youth Day can see this example of an incorrupt body.

Blessed Pier Giorgio isn't the only one whose body did not decay. There are actually quite a few others including St. Francis Xavier, St. Clare, St. John Vianney and in recent years - Blessed John XXIII and St. Frances Cabrini.** Their bodies were found either partially or totally incorrupt. They call these saints the "incorruptibles." I am not sure what to make of this remarkable phenomenon, but it does point to something revealed in the Bible. Jesus came not only to save our souls, but to one day restore our bodies in an immortal form. As St. Paul says, Jesus will "transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

Even though the matter which makes up our bodies is constantly being recycled, we retain a form that gives continuity. The form enables us to recognize each other, even after many years. Sure we age, but the form remains. Something similar will happen on the day of Final Judgment, when God raises up our mortal bodies: some to punishment, other to glory.

The incorruptibles, like Blessed Pier Giorgio are a tiny testimony - a foreshadowing - of that future event. In their case, of course, God will use their actual bodies. In our case (at least I am pretty I will return to dust) God will use our form or "soul" to restore our bodies. Today's Scripture readings have a verse which refers to our future lives. Let me read it to you. It comes from Psalm 16:

"My heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption."

God will not allow the body of his faithful one to undergo corruption. Who does this refer to? In some sense it applies to Blessed Pier Giorgio and other incorruptibles. But St. Peter - in the Acts of the Apostles - gives a much more specific application. I ask you to follow St. Peter's argument. He quotes the verse and reminds his hearers that it comes from one of King David's Psalms. However, says St. Peter, the verse cannot apply to David himself since we have his tomb here in Jerusalem. If you opened it, you would only find bones and dust. David's body did decay. But if you go to Jesus' tomb, you would find something different. The tomb of Jesus is empty. His body is not there. Why? St. Peter gives an astounding explanation: The same Jesus, crucified for our sins is now alive. We are eyewitnesses, he says. Jesus was restored not to ordinary human life, like Lazarus, but has a new, "glorious" existence.

We get some hints today about this radical, glorious life. In the Gospel, two disciples are leaving Jerusalem. They are distraught, discouraged and disillusioned. Everything they hoped for has come to a terrible end. They meet a stranger on the way and he begins to ask them questions. In the course of the conversation, the stranger talks about the prophecies concerning a suffering Messiah. His words put fire in their hearts. They do not want him to leave. The stranger fulfills their desire in a remarkable way. He takes bread, blesses it and breaks it. Then they recognized him. The stranger disappears because he is now present "in the breaking of the bread."

In St. John's Gospel, Jesus tells us, "He who eats this bread will live forever." Blessed Pier Giorgio attended daily Mass - and he spent many hours, sometimes entire nights, before Jesus in Blessed Sacrament. It is appropriate that his body is incorrupt. The incorruptibles, such as Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, give a small indication of what we hope for in Christ. Like them, you and I are also invited to meet Jesus "in the breaking of the bread," holy Mass. Because of Jesus, we can also speak the words of Psalm 16:

"My heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.


*Christians have always joined veneration of relics of saints with faith in the resurrection. The Council of Trent summed up that tradition: "The holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ which bodies were the living members of Christ and 'the temple of the Holy Ghost' (1 Corinthians 6:19) and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful..."

**While incorruption suggests sanctity, corruption does not prove the opposite - a point Dostoevsky makes dramatically in Brothers Karamazov. (Remember what happened after good Fr. Zosima's death.)

Spanish Version

From Archives:

2014 Homily: Journey to Hope Week 3
2011: Restoration
2008: The Incorruptibles
2005: Nor Did His Flesh See Corruption
2002: Time Stood Still
1999: Spirituality not Religion

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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