Can you imagine the sheer glory it must have been to watch Jesus being lifted up and taken to eternity? After forty days of walking on the earth testifying by his wounds his victory over death, Jesus raises our eyes to something even greater and more glorious: heaven.
I have pondered what heaven must be like my whole life. Have you ever caught yourself imagining it? How does this whole eternity thing work? For the life of me, I can’t wrap my head around it, and yet, heaven is the goal of the Christian life; more specifically, to be one with our Creator, who satisfies the longings of every heart. But what gets me is that, while it’s true that is the destiny of our soul, it just as much—maybe even more so—the destiny of our very bodies!
TOB as Essential to Christian Understanding
The Theology of the Body has played an integral role in my faith and in my relationship with Jesus. For most of my twenty-five years of life, I had looked at my soul as the most important, if not the only, component when it comes to faith. After all, the soul is connected to the heart, and the heart is what the Lord is after, right? It wasn’t until recently that I learned the beauty of JPII’s teaching on our bodies, their integration, and necessary connection to our souls, that I understood why it is impossible to separate this integral unit, and why it would be foolish to want to.
St. John Paul II says:
“the body and it alone has the ability to make visible the invisible—the spiritual and the divine.”
If what JPII said is true, then our bodies reveal something of what is in our souls. Our bodies express the essence of our inmost being. Knowing this to be true of all human bodies, we know that the incarnate body of Our Lord and the body of our Mother Mary must have been the most beautiful of all bodies on this earth. Their bodies revealed their holiness; their wholeness. Our bodies do the same. When we nourish our souls, it is seen on the outside and expressed through our bodies, and when we participate through our bodies in the life of Christ, our soul is nourished. The body is a vessel for the Lord’s work in us and through us.
The Body and Soul Unity
Our bodies are good. God created them in his likeness and called everything he made “very good” in Genesis 1:31. But after Adam and Eve sinned in the beginning, we see a break in the original understanding of the human body and its connection to our soul. We lost the original unity that God created within us, and now we are living with its effects. Our world and even those in the Church misuse and abuse their bodies and the bodies of others because they are missing this key truth: that our bodies matter, and what we do with them matters. This truth sets us free to love each other fully as Christ intended and demands that we use them intentionally.
This is not a new concept, but one that has been greatly challenged through time. In the second century, the heresy of Docetism became common among many influential people. It was this idea that Jesus didn’t really take on a human body, but was just in the mere appearance of one, which actually stemmed from something even deeper: the speculations about the imperfection or essential impurity of the body. What’s even scarier about these notions is that if this were true of the body of Jesus, then what does that say about the value of our own bodies? It essentially says they’re worthless!
Good thing this isn’t true. God has revealed it to us through his incarnation. While our bodies and souls are imperfect because of sin, God took on our flesh not only to save our souls but to save our bodies as well. He does this in and through his own human body, because:
“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”Philippians 2:6-7
What’s incredible about our faith is that since Jesus truly became one of us in human likeness, his actions through his life, death, and resurrection in a human body, have significant implications for us who believe in him and follow him; and you’d better believe that his Ascension does too!
This World Is Not Home
When Jesus was taken up into heaven after his resurrection, he not only re-affirmed his victory over death and bodily corruption, but he reminds us that our bodies are destined for something beyond what we can see. They are called to something even greater than what this world provides. As Jesus ascends into paradise, he leaves us with the hope of things to come. In one of my favorite Gospel passages, Jesus says:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”John 14:2-3
Jesus’ body is with him in heaven, and it is his desire to come back and take us there with him. He wants us to be with Him, not just our souls, but our very bodies, as well. Are we ready? Are we following him now not just with our hearts, but our bodies as well? God is calling us to participate fully in heaven joined by our body. All of our senses fully engaged and all of our longings fully immersed in the presence of God. And so the Ascension reminds us: this earth is not our home. If heaven is the final destination, we can’t forget to live and die like Jesus as we await the resurrection of our bodies … and the life of the world to come.
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Taylor Tripodi is a twenty-something cradle Catholic from Cleveland, Ohio aspiring for sainthood. She graduated from Franciscan University, majoring in theology and catechetics and is now a full-time musician, traveling all over and spreading God’s unfailing love through word and song. In her spare time, she enjoys making scented candles, seeking adventure, and being present to her large, crazy, Italian family. Want to hear her sing? Check out www.taylortripodi.com.