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Souls live a separate existence

Q: On several occasions you've referred to our souls living on with God. I realize you can't encompass all religious beliefs in every answer, but could you please give some equal time to the beliefs of Catholics? Not only our souls but also our bodies will live on in heaven. Why have you never mentioned this?

-- J.

A: What you're asking about is the belief in the resurrection of the body at the end of time. Until that Messianic age, obviously, our bodies return to the earth through burial or cremation. Until that time, our souls, which are immaterial and return to God, live a separate existence from our bodies.

This belief in the ultimate resurrection of the dead is also a belief of post-biblical Judaism (called rabbinic or Orthodox Judaism). It entered Western Christianity, not just Catholicism, as a part of the Apostle's Creed, which was one of the earliest formulations of Christian belief. The Apostle's Creed was first introduced in the 4th century and was formalized by the 8th century. This is the Creed as translated for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which divides the Creed into 12 beliefs, with the resurrection of the dead being No. 11:

1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.

3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

5. He descended into hell. On the third day, he rose again.

6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,

9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,

10. the forgiveness of sins,

11. the resurrection of the body,

12. and the life everlasting.

Amen.

The theological problem with believing in the resurrection of the body obviously centers around those bodies that have been destroyed utterly and have thus lost their bodily integrity. How are they to be resurrected? There's also the problem of what age we will be when we're resurrected. Will old people be resurrected as young, vibrant people? Will infants be resurrected as adults?

The apostle Paul in I Corinthians 15:44 states that although the resurrected body will be a physical body, it will be so suffused with the Spirit that it will not have any of the imperfections it endured during its earthly life.

There's another theological tradition which is comforted just by the promise of eternal life for the soul with God after death. I hold to this view. However, if my miserable body is to return, I better get on the treadmill today so that I can keep up with my wife.

Whether or not the body is resurrected in the fullness of time is definitely one of those ultimate mysteries I'm in no hurry to solve. Of course, if Brad Pitt's body is available, I might change my mind. (Note: If you want more information on this topic, you might read "The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336," by Caroline Walker Bynum (Columbia University Press).

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Q: My mother died at home while under hospice care. It was her wish not to go to a hospital. I'll never forget the look on her face the morning after placing her on morphine. She sighed, and with a huge smile said, "No pain" when asked how her night had been. She'd endured pain for months.

At one point, my 11-year-old grandson (her great-grandson) asked me: "Grandma, can't you just give her a pill? They do it for animals." I explained that it was against the law to take a life. "She doesn't have a disease, she's dying," he answered. With tears he said, "Grandma, there's no cure for dying!" I'm so glad that we chose to ease her pain. Any thoughts?

-- J.

A: Your grandson spoke the truth. There is no cure for dying and our faith teaches us to recognize when we've passed over the line that divides healing from hospice care. I know many people of faith, and of no faith, who were comforted in the knowledge that they did everything to heal, but when the time came they did nothing to impede the arrival of a peaceful and painless death.

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