In this reflection I want to go deeper into the beauty of Redemption, into the mystery of our re-creation in Christ so as to be made capable of participating in the inner life of the Trinity, and, in the Trinity, of loving every created person and the entire universe as we have first been loved by God. This will lead us to the climax of these reflections. I am going to approach this mystery from the central event of human existence, when eternity most radically penetrated time in order to transform it from within: the literal, tangible Resurrection of Christ in the flesh.
I have spoken a little above about how the Resurrection of Christ is the inauguration of the new world; it is the beginning, already in time and space, of that timeless and boundless mystery of everlasting love that awaits all of creation at the end of time. This mystery of the new creation—which is the destiny of all of us—has already been fully brought into existence in Christ. Christ is already in the new world. Or, perhaps better, Christ is the new world. His own living Body is the dwelling-place of man in God, and also the dwelling-place of God among men (Rev 21:3). In him the old has already been taken up, purified, renewed, and perfected in the very innermost life of the Trinity. And in this state of pure love and perfected existence—which is the very nature of the Risen Life—he has opened up a space for each one of us. For his Resurrection was not a mere return to mortal, earthly life, but an entrance into an entirely new form of existence, one which, nonetheless, stands in continuity with all beauty, goodness, and truth which preceded it. The Resurrection is the state of pure affirmation of all things, and thus their full flowering, in the heart of God. And the Incarnate, Crucified, and Risen Body of Jesus Christ is this state, the home of all creation, where it finds its repose in the bosom of the eternal Trinity.
Indeed, the Resurrection of Christ is not only the entrance of creation into God, but also the in-breaking of God into creation—all occurring in and through the incarnate being of Christ, and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, whose operation in this world is inseparable from the Son of God. In fact, it appears that these two movements—creation into God and God into creation—are really a single movement, a simple and indivisible reality of intimacy. This beautiful mystery remains, to a greater or lesser degree, veiled from our sight as long as the shadows of this earthly life persist. Only at the end of time, when the shadows are scattered, when the veil of mortality is at last removed, will we see God face to face, unmediated, and experience his embrace without anything coming between us. And, in God and through him, we will see, know, and affirm the whole of creation in the light of his own loving vision. This is the breathtaking destiny that awaits us. And, until then, the mystery is already present, already at work. It may be veiled, it may be present only in the littleness and humility of what appears terribly ordinary. But isn’t this precisely God’s way? For God, the only reality of significance is love and communion, the presence of the beauty, goodness, and truth of his own life as Trinity present and alive within creation, and taking created persons into the circulation of his eternal love. What determines what is important in life—what is important to him—therefore, is precisely its total belonging to and transparency to the innermost mystery of his own life as Trinity. For there can be nothing, nothing real, that does not flow from, inhere in, and return to this single mystery which gives being and life to all things.
And it is precisely on this “stage of littleness” that the “great mystery” (Eph 5:32) of espousal to Christ and participation in the life of the Trinity unfolds. The history of the world is ultimately determined, not by wars and politics (even ecclesiastical politics), not by technological advancements, not by impersonal cultural achievements, but by love, and love alone. And love, love and communion, is the apparently littlest and most insignificant reality. It is so weak and frail, so vulnerable, often so apparently “ineffective.” No, but it is the only true power that there is, in the true sense of the word. It is power without coercion, power without manipulation, power without defenses or control; it is the sheer fruitfulness of God’s own life active within creation, spreading itself out in and through the hearts, bodies, and lives of those persons who surrender to its redeeming and transfiguring touch. And this encounter with love—this encounter with God who is Love—is both a profoundly personal matter, incomparably precious for each unique and unrepeatable individual, and also profoundly communal, spreading its roots deep into the throbbing heartbeat of all humanity and thus communicating healing grace to others.
This helps us to understand the authentic depth of the words of John Paul II quoted earlier—the words about man’s desperate need to discover love, to experience it, to participate in it, to make it his own. And the pope says that this discovery fully occurs, occurs with its redemptive fullness, when a man approaches Christ—vulnerable and naked with all the struggles, questions, and aspirations of his being—“enters into him” as well as “appropriates” him (we could say is also “appropriated” to him). This is not the kind of appropriation spoken of in the “dimension of appropriation” mentioned earlier—the dimension of use and control and possessiveness which is blind to the person and to the dimension of gift. Rather, it is an expression of the very opposite: the profound communion that occurs between the Heart of Christ and the human heart, between the Body of Christ and the human body. It is an expression of the living within one another that Christ expressed in his prayer at the Last Supper: “As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us” (Jn 17:21). These words thus express a giving-and-receiving of the very substance of life and love—like the vine drinking of the sap from the branches (cf. Jn 15), and, more, as the Son living on the very life of the Father (Jn 5:26). Here the human person is taken up into the very Person of Christ and begins to live with his life, and to allow Christ to live within him. Here the communio personarum blossoms in the most beautiful way, as “I” and “Thou” are united and made one in a mystical bond fashioned wholly by grace and yet also super-affirming all of nature and perfecting it. Here one can say with Saint Paul, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives within me” (Gal 2:20).
Man and woman find themselves, not closed in upon their own isolation, but by allowing their incomparable personhood to be inserted anew into the Person of Christ; in other words, by letting themselves be opened to a relationship of communion with him, in whom, for whom, and through whom they were created (cf. Col 1:15-22). In this relationship the shackles that bind their being are loosed, and the deepest desires of their hearts are set free and gradually carried to fulfillment, not in the isolation of selfish autonomy but in the dependence and co-operation of intimacy and love. Of course, this utter communion, this utter dissolution of all loneliness, does not constrict or hinder the uniqueness, the distinct nature and or unrepeatable contours of the created person, but rather super-affirms, cherishes, protects, and brings to full flower their incomparable being within the being of God. This is because God is not a god of violence, a god who alters or manipulates us without regard for our being, but rather is the true Home of the human person and of human nature, in whom, cradled in the embrace of perfect intimacy and permeated fully by the presence of the One who loves us, we are set free in the fullness of our identity to live and play and rejoice in the truth of what we were always meant to be.
Let us return now, to come full circle, to the theme with which we began this reflection: the Resurrection of Christ as the inauguration of the new creation, as the entrance of incarnate Christ, and in Christ of the whole material universe, into the life of God. This is the significance, not only of the Resurrection, but also of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven (which is nothing but the final movement of the Resurrection)—an ascension which is not a physical passage to some particular “place” locally speaking, but rather is precisely the expression of his definitive entrance, in his concrete, bodily humanity, into the innermost life of the Trinity. The same is true also of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who, at the end of her life, was already welcomed—body and soul—into the embrace of the Trinity. Thus we can say that, in a Man and a Woman, Jesus and Mary, the new creation has already come about. And this new creation, as we have seen, is an eternal marriage, an everlasting nuptial intimacy between Bridegroom and Bride, between God and humanity within the sacred home of creation (which, for its part, is utterly held within and permeated by the home of God’s own life as Trinity). But the creation, as well as us children of God who are still on our journey to the end of time, has not yet come to the time of definitive renewal and consummation. But Mary and Jesus are a hope and a promise for us. They are, in the rich term used by Saint Paul, the “first fruits of the resurrection” (1 Cor 15:20).
As he writes:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. … But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual which is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of earth; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of earth, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of earth, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (cf. 1 Cor 15:20-26, 35-49)
These passages are tremendously rich. I cannot even attempt to expound them within the limits of this book. But hopefully they already speak for themselves of the profound beauty of the gift of new life we receive through Christ—a gift that touches us in the fullness of our incarnate humanity and bodiliness, and draws us to the newness of endless life that awaits us, a fruit of the Resurrection of Christ, in our own resurrection at the end of time. Indeed, our nature here on earth, bound by weakness and suffering and limitation due to sin, is not impermeable to grace and redemption. Rather, it is already a “seed” of that great gift—a capacity only awaiting the fecundating and renewing touch of God’s love given in Christ crucified and risen. As John Paul says in this regard:
By contrasting Adam and (the risen) Christ—or the first Adam and the last Adam—the Apostle in fact shows in some way the two poles in the mystery of creation and redemption between which man is situated in the cosmos. One could even say that man is “set in tension” between these two poles in the perspective of eternal destiny that concerns from the beginning to the end his same nature. When Paul writes, “The first man taken from the earth consists of earth, the second man comes from heaven” (1 Cor 15:27) he has in mind both Adam-man and Christ as man. Between these two poles—between the first Adam and the last Adam—the process unfolds that he expresses in the words, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of earth, we will bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Cor 15:49).
This “heavenly man”—the man of the resurrection, whose prototype is the risen Christ—is not so much the antithesis and negation of the “man of earth” (whose prototype is the “first Adam”) but above all his fulfillment and confirmation [affirmation!]. He is the fulfillment and confirmation of what corresponds to the psychosomatic [soul-body] constitution of humanity in the realm of eternal destiny, that is, in the thought and plan of the one who created man from the beginning in his image and likeness. The humanity of the “first Adam,” the “man of earth,” carries within itself, I would say, a particular potentiality (which is capacity and readiness) for receiving all that the “second Adam” became, the heavenly Man, namely, Christ: what he became in his resurrection. It is the same humanity, which all human beings, sons of the first Adam, participate in. It is “perishable”—since it is fleshly—while being burdened with the heritage of sin, yet it carries in itself at the same time the potentiality of “incorruptibility.” (TOB 71:2-3)
Let me focus, in short, on one simple and yet surprisingly rich phrase from the Scripture text of Saint Paul. He writes: “First comes the bodily, and then the spiritual” or literally, “First comes the natural, and then the spiritual” (1 Cor 15:46). What does this mean? The word “bodily” here (i.e. “natural”, in Greek: physikon) actually indicates the fullness of our temporal existence, in its body-soul unity, as for Hebrew thought there was no body/spirit distinction as there was for Plato. “Spiritual,” therefore, does not refer to non-bodily, but rather to the fullness of bodily existence renewed by the divinizing presence of the Holy Spirit, who makes us capable of living the Risen Life, already now in the contours of this world, and fully and unreservedly in the resurrection of the body at the end of time.* The text literally means, therefore, that our earthly, temporal existence comes first—rooted in the first Adam—and only then, by the grace of God, comes the spiritualization of our existence in Christ, the new Adam. This is God’s provident plan for the history of humanity, in its passage from the seed sown in mortality—the potentiality—to the glorious resurrection of the immortal body at the end of time—the full confirmation and consummation.
This is the passage from the integrity of the gift of nature, through its corruption and its restoration through grace, to the definitive renewal of humanity in its participation in the mystery of God himself, which brings about our complete divinizing spiritualization. Here body and spirit are united, inseparably one and harmonized totally in the single objective-subjective experience of the human person in intimacy with the Trinity. Yes, this same passage from natural to spiritual, from the first Adam to the second Adam, is true in terms of the whole life of faith and communion with God, and indeed in our communion with all of reality. Our perennial temptation as fallen human beings is quite the opposite, however. It is dis-incarnation from our concrete humanity, flight from the living beauty and pain of the “potentiality” for resurrection that we are, from the corruptible body that bears incorruptibility within it. Our temptation, thus, is both disembodiment and a rejection of the fullness of our nature in its innate richness. We seek to flee from our bodies, in all their concreteness and limitation, in their passage through the organic stages of earthly life, as if this were a hindrance to making contact with the spiritual realities. Yet we do not get closer to the second Adam by rejecting or fleeing from the first Adam, but only by letting the first Adam bear fruit in the second, by letting the potentiality be realized. And this happens by our grafting into the living Christ by participating in the grace of resurrection—or better, it occurs through our appropriation into the mystery of the Risen Christ, such that he lives in us and we live in him.
And if we understand the above text from Saint Paul, in an extended sense, as referring to our literal bodiliness—i.e. the body in the strict sense, as our somatic constitution in this temporal world—then we could recognize that the text implies, not only that the natural precedes the supernatural, and that Adam precedes Christ, but that, in some way, the body precedes the spirit. Yet we tend to assume that our bodies, and the whole of our psycho-physical (soul-body) nature is bound irreversibly to corruption; we assume that the first Adam and the second Adam are totally at odds with one another, totally at enmity and incompatible. But the text of Saint Paul says the very opposite. And this prejudice again our concrete, temporal humanity in its suffering and yet beauty, in its woundedness and yet promise, precisely has the effect of closing us off from the gift of the new Adam. For Christ, the Risen Christ, comes to meet us precisely in the place where we bear the potentiality to receive him: in the body, in the fullness of our incarnate humanity in the here-and-now.
When we don’t understand this, though, we tend to neglect the importance of our concrete relations established through our natural bodies in the uniqueness of daily life, feeling instead that the frailty of this corruptible existence is a hindrance to drawing near to God and to the movement of our spirit towards him. And in a certain sense this couldn’t be further from the truth. For this “corruptible existence” already bears within itself the seed of the glory that awaits. The path to wholeness, therefore, does not pass by way of discontinuity from old Adam to new Adam, but rather of continuity, not by way of a break from our natural being, but by its renewal and transformation through “the love of God poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).
For God created us as a union of spirit and body, of person and incarnation, of grace and nature, and he draws near to us in no other way than in and through the fullness of our concrete humanity. His image is sealed, in other words, precisely in our humanity as we now experience it—broken, yes, but still fundamentally whole, and still bearing the capacity for renewal and complete restoration. The path of faith and love, of prayer and growth in holiness, therefore, consists not in moving away from our human nature and towards the disincarnate spirit or some other supposedly “supernatural, divine realm;” it consists rather in moving towards the harmonization of body and spirit, of soma and psyche, of nature and supernatural, in a joint movement into intimacy with God (and, in God, with other persons and the whole of reality). This path, therefore, is one of healing and integration in our whole personhood in all of its dimensions—bodily and spiritual, mind, will, and affection, emotions and physical experiences, relationships with God and with all created things—such that we are made whole in union with the wholeness of all that is. In other words, holiness is wholeness. It is becoming and being once again, through the healing and re-creating grace of God mediated through Christ, a whole human being, a man or woman as we were created and redeemed to be. As Saint Irenaeus wrote: “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.”
Before coming full circle to the “first Adam” and the “second Adam” again, let me speak a bit of the significance of bodiliness in our recreation in Christ. For we see that, even before the coming of Christ in the flesh, and yet in anticipation of it, God designed the body to be the manifestation of his own life, the living locus of love and relationship. This is because, as we have seen, the body, in God’s plan, is the primordial sacrament, the primal “making-visible of the invisible,” the original incarnation of what cannot be seen and touched, and, more, the very meeting-place of contact between “I” and “You,” in which persons see, touch, and enter into communion with one another. Because of sin, however, we have a tendency, whenever we experience a desire or an impulse for deeper contact with reality, for fulfillment in communion with beauty, goodness, and truth, to immediately turn to “ideals” and “achievements” to attempt to fashion the fulfillment for ourselves (whether in some supposed future or in the fantasies of our imagination, etc., but not in the simplicity of our bodiliness in the given moment). The result of this is a turn from reality and into unreality, from concrete incarnation into fantasy, from the sacramentality of the universe fashioned by God precisely to communicate his beauty, goodness, and truth and instead to the projections of our own minds. Indeed, the trouble that most of us have living in the present moment indicates just how deeply this wound affects us. Once we make contact with something good, something beautiful—something that, in and through the body, reaches out and touches us, moving us with longing, gratitude, or hope—we tend to turn immediately to planning, to trying to control and manipulate, to reflecting and conceptualizing, rather than simply welcoming the gift and communing with it in poverty and simplicity of heart.
Of course, time is also part of bodiliness, and so planning and reflecting and learning from experience is a part of a healthy human life; but the trouble is when our whole life becomes these things, and we cease to do the one thing that we were created for: to play and rejoice in the fullness of the present moment, in the gratuitous intimacy that enfolds us at every instant in the all-enfolding embrace of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But nothing would exist in this world unless it is a manifestation of the inner life of the Trinity, a reflection of his own being and nature. And in particular, our own bodies—human bodies with all their limitations and all their beauty, bodies fashioned as male and female—manifest and incarnate the life of God above all else. They are precisely the space in which encounter occurs, and in which the threads of communion are woven between our own heart—our unique personal identity—and the Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as well as with all of our brothers and sisters and the whole of created reality.
Why, therefore, do we tend to turn away from our bodiliness, to try to manufacture or create the “spiritual” while fleeing from the “bodily”? There seem to be two primary reasons. The first is because the body is a limitation. It is frail and weak and needy. It is a perpetual reminder of our inability to fashion our own reality as we might wish, and a constant invitation to live in the real, in the real as it simply presents itself to us unceasingly in the contours of each day. The second reason is that, however estranged from the body we may feel, we know that our body is not merely a “thing” we have, a possession or even a prison, but an essential dimension of ourselves; in a certain way, we are our bodies. Our bodies are certainly us. But, having fallen out of the sacred sanctuary of our own intimate solitude with God—where we abide in his embrace as his uniquely beloved child, and where we experience most keenly our desire and calling to intimacy—we flee from the body. We flee from the body because we flee from ourselves. For our bodies are the perpetual incarnation of ourselves, the very living locus of our being, the inescapable truth of our identity.
And if this is true, if we flee from bodiliness in order to flee from the real—from the limitations of concreteness in the world that God has made, and from the limitations of our own being and identity as the singular person God made us to be—then the answer is precisely to get back in touch with these. It is to come to see and experience that both of these are not heavy burdens or painful constrictions, but pure gift. Reality is God’s gift to us, the gift that communicates to us not only visible, tangible, earthly life, but also mediates to us his own life as Trinity, and prepares us for the final consummation that awaits at the end of time. And there the whole visible world will be taken up into the innermost life of the Trinity and be made totally permeable, totally transparent, to his own radiance and love, to the touch of his own sweetest embrace. Our own bodies, therefore, are his primal gift to us; or better, our incarnate being, an inseparable union of body and spirit, is his primal gift to us, the gift of our own identity as beloved, created in solitude (interiority) and oriented through nakedness (vulnerability in the body) to enter into communion (intimacy) with other persons, and indeed with the whole of creation.
In the light of all this, we realize even more deeply how amazing it is that our divinization—our participation in the very life of God—is meant to occur here! Here, in our very living of our bodies, weak and frail and corruptible as they may be! As John Paul affirms:
Without any doubt, if in the whole visible world (cosmos) only this body, which is the human body, carries in itself “potentiality of the resurrection,” that is, the aspiration and the capacity of becoming definitively “imperishable, glorious, full of power, spiritual,” the reason is that, persisting from the beginning in the psychosomatic unity of its personal being, it can gather and reproduce in this “earthly” image and likeness of God also the “heavenly” image of the last Adam, Christ. (TOB 71:4)
We see here the breathtaking significance of the fact that God redeemed us, not through some exchange occurring merely in the spiritual realm, but precisely by becoming incarnate (becoming-flesh) in our very bodiliness in Christ. He became a human being, a child, a man, in order to espouse himself to our humanity in its fullness. And indeed this humanity, this created “image” of God, was fashioned from the very beginning of time to reproduce in itself the true Image of God that is the eternal Son of the Father. Thus, this created potentiality finds its fullness, its definitive realization, precisely through the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus Christ—this Son of God become a human being—who takes our nature in its full body-soul unity, and introduces it into the fullness of life. He introduces us into the very inner life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, where all the promises and capacities of our humanity as super-fulfilled in the life of everlasting communion and endless joy.
Indeed, Christ has inaugurated, in his Incarnation, and definitively in his Passion and Resurrection, the re-creation of the whole universe—the whole “cosmic,” created ordered, bound inseparably to the destiny of man and woman—such that it may enter definitively into the very innermost heart of the life of God for all eternity. Yes, here Christ has come—precisely here—espousing himself to our flesh in the heart of the created order, and carrying it through the very passage of death into the glory of the Resurrection. And he will come again, in the body, to introduce the whole visible, created order into the definitive state of everlasting intimacy within the embrace of the Trinity. Here all human persons will participate, in the fullness of their bodily and spiritual being, renewed and harmonized by grace, in the circulation of love and gift ever passing between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in the undimmed joy of their eternal communion.
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*John Paul confirms this when he says: “We are speaking here about human nature in its integrity, that is, about humanity in its psychosomatic constitution. Paul, by contrast, speaks about the “body.” Nevertheless, on the basis of the immediate and remote context, we can assume that what is at issue for him is not only the body, but the whole man in his bodiliness, therefore also in his ontological complexity.” (TOB 71:4)