Question: My husband is almost completely debilitated from multiple sclerosis. He says that when he dies he wants to be cremated so that he can get back at his body for inflicting such suffering on him. He still believes in the Resurrection, but thinks that he wants to be resurrected without a body. What do I tell him?
— Name and address withheld
Answer: Your first and last words should be words of consolation and hope — which I am sure you provide. Being a support to him in his suffering and helping him deal with his suffering is the first responsibility of the Christian spouse. I have dealt with a number of long-suffering people who are angry at their bodies for being the source of such pain. What your husband feels is not so unusual.
However, there is no such thing as resurrection without the body. Christians do not believe in a vague immortality of the soul in which the body is irrelevant. At the heart of Christian faith (expressed every Sunday in the Creed) is belief in the “resurrection of the body.” The human person is made up of body and soul; both are inextricably intertwined. The soul is the life of the body, and the body is the shape of the soul. When we die, the body is separated from the soul, and the former decays. But at the great resurrection, body and soul are again united and made glorious.
It is notable that in the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection, the physicality of the resurrection of Christ is strongly emphasized. When Christ appears to his disciples, he appears as a resurrected body. He carries his five wounds (as Doubting Thomas found out to his dismay), but his wounds were now made glorious. So it is with those who rise in Christ. All that we were and experienced in this life is carried over into the Resurrection.
One way for your husband to be reconciled to his suffering is for him to see the dying Christ in his own disease and pain. It is not just his body that is suffering; his soul is suffering also. To be able to meditate on the sufferings of Christ and to identify with Christ’s Cross (in the Eucharist, in the Stations of the Cross, in the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary) should bring comfort and hope. Saying these prayers with your husband is the best you can do.
Trying to “get back” at his body by having it cremated is an understandable reaction to your husband’s daily endurance of suffering. The problem is that this does not work. Though we are reduced to dust and ashes after our death, God’s ability to raise up and glorify our bodies is not in any way hampered.
God promises all who die in Christ the restoration of the joy of their youth.
Reading the Fathers
Question: As a new Catholic, I am interested in reading more of the writings of the Fathers of the Church. What would you recommend for a beginner?
— C.D. Burns,Denver, Colo.
Answer: There is a three-volume work titled “Ancient Christian Devotional,” edited by Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby (InterVarsity Press, $17 or $18, depending on volume) that is excellent and very accessible. Each volume follows the weeks of the liturgical year. Each day presents a theme, a prayer and some short excerpts from the Fathers. Oden is a Methodist scholar who has done much to popularize the Fathers and open their riches to the nonspecialist.
Msgr. M. Francis Mannion is a priest and theologian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Send your questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.