Have you noticed our culture’s obsession with zombies and ghosts in recent years? Turn on the TV and “The Walking Dead” is currently showing and there is “Ghost Hunters” on the SyFy channel. Look to books and we have such books as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or “The Shining” by Stephen King. Even many recent video games attempt to portray zombies and ghosts in an attempt to give its players a thrill. We would do well to reflect a bit on this odd fascination of our culture. What makes zombies and ghosts so scary and yet oddly fascinating to us? To answer this question I’m going to get a bit technical into a fundamental aspect of humanity, which is also something that is crucial to our Catholic faith. This is a concept called hylomorphism. To put it a bit more simply, this is the truth that each human person is both a body and a soul; we have a physical body, but we also have a soul that is the spiritual aspect of our human nature. You could say that each of us is an embodied soul or you could say an ensouled body. This does not mean that our soul somehow drives and controls our body, like a person would drive and control a car; rather this means that to be human, fundamentally, we must have both a material body and a spiritual soul, together, joined in what we would call a “hylomorphic” way, which is a fancy way of saying that the body and soul are both united so completely that this union is necessary to be alive. This is attested to in the book of Genesis on the creation of man when it reads: “…the Lord God formed man from the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gn 2:7). So back to Zombies and ghosts for a moment. Both phenomenon show a lacking of something fundamental to humanity. Zombies are bodies without souls and ghosts are souls without bodies. We find them scary and oddly fascinating because we inherently know that something is wrong with them. Something is not quite right about them, something not quite human.
So today, when the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus, they too saw something odd and scary. They did not recognize Jesus and could only conclude that the phenomenon they saw was a ghost! But Jesus reveals to them that he is neither a zombie nor a ghost, he is something greater: he is resurrected in his body, both body and soul! And if there was any doubt, he proves it to his disciples. He invites them to physically touch his hands and his feet, but he goes further and does something very strange. He eats a piece of baked fish in front of them. This may seem very odd, but it was a way for Jesus to show the disciples that he, who had died, had truly risen in his body. He couldn’t eat food without a body, and yet he does just that. Also, Jesus’ resurrected body was different than his normal body, since his disciples obviously didn’t recognize him by his sight. His body is transformed, as prefigured by His transfiguration on the mountain. Jesus is, however, recognized in the breaking of the bread by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, which is traditionally considered the first Eucharist, and also now in his eating of the fish, which would have invoked the memory of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with bread and fish earlier in His ministry (Lk 9:16), which also foreshadows the Eucharist. This action of eating by Jesus makes his disciples witnesses to his resurrection in his body and now they are able to go out and proclaim the resurrected Jesus to the nations.
This event is important to us because Jesus’ resurrection reveals our destiny as well. We profess each Sunday that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead…” and often we may not realize fully what that means. At the end of time, we will be resurrected in our bodies in what is called the general resurrection with the good rising to life and the evil to judgment. Our faith reveals that this resurrection will be analogous to Jesus’ own resurrection. We will not become zombies or ghosts, we won’t be just souls without bodies, or bodies without souls, but rather our resurrected bodies will be our same bodies WITH our souls. Bodies and souls are meant to be united, unlike what we see in zombies and ghosts, and this unification is what we profess will happen at the end of time. Additionally, our bodies will also transformed, patterned off of Christ himself in his own resurrection. They will be made holy by grace without defects and we will dwell with God in heaven in eternal happiness.
And this is the grace we pray for profoundly within this Mass. In the opening prayer this morning, the collect, we prayed that “we may look forward in confident hope to the rejoicing of the day of resurrection.” And as we move into the Eucharist, which is the focal point for us today, Fr. Jim will pray over the gifts: “grant also that the gifts we bring may bear fruit in perpetual happiness.” The rejoicing of the day of resurrection…bearing fruit in perpetual happiness…that is what is revealed in Jesus’ resurrection as our destiny too. And the Eucharist is our path to that destiny. One of the saints in the early Church, St. Irenaeus says, “When our bodies partake of the Eucharist, they are no longer corruptible, as they have the hope of eternal Resurrection.” The Eucharist is the participation in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and should be the focal point of our entire life. Life is meaningless if it will end in nothingness. But our faith tells us is this is not so! Our destiny is to dwell in perpetual happiness with God in heaven where we will be resurrected too. And God, to prove Himself to us, gives us the Eucharist to lead us on the way. It is the Eucharist that we, like the disciples, get to see and touch the resurrected Jesus. Rather than watching Jesus eat a piece of fish, we get to eat his flesh in the Eucharist, sharing in His life. It is in the Eucharist that we are united to Christ and are sustained on the way to our eternal destiny with Him in the resurrection of the dead.
But we also know that the Eucharist alone is not enough to get us to heaven, we can still choose to freely reject God and end up in eternal punishment by our own choice. This was Peter and John’s concern in the other scripture readings we heard proclaimed today. Peter reminds the Jews that they were the ones who delivered Jesus up to death, but that they were not necessarily lost because of it. They only needed to repent and turn back to the Lord and ask forgiveness. In the 1st letter of John, John tells us how we are able to turn back to God when we sin. Jesus. Jesus is our advocate. He is the “expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). And this, of course, is found in the sacrament of confession, where the priest is Jesus Christ himself within the sacrament. Jesus, in the priest, is advocating on our behalf to forgive sins and help us turn back to God so that we can journey onward toward our eternal destiny of happiness in heaven.
So, as we continue in Mass today, I invite you to let the resurrected Jesus encounter you in the Eucharist. Let us remember that our destiny is one of resurrection, like that of Christ Himself, not like a zombie or a ghost, but our actual bodies resurrected with our souls. Let us approach the Eucharist worthily and remember that even when we fall short in sin, Jesus is our advocate in the sacrament of confession to help us back to Him and to a life of grace. And with great hope and joy for that resurrection and eternal life promised by Jesus in the Eucharist, let us go forth to proclaim that same truth to all we meet by our words and by our lives.