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“And you, Lord God, compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and most merciful, and true” (Ps 85:15)–because hanging on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Whom did he pray? For whom did he pray? Who was it that prayed? Where did he pray? The Son prayed his Father; the one crucified prayed for the wicked; amid all those insults not just of the words but of the death inflicted; hanging on the cross as if he was stretching out his hands in order to pray for them, so that his prayer might be directed as incense in his Father’s sight and the lifting up of his hands be like an evening sacrifice (Ps 140:2). “Long-suffering, and most merciful, and true.” (EnPs 85, 20; PL 37, 1096)


No part of Christian faith is more contradicted than the resurrection of the flesh. To meet such a denier, he who was born to be a sign of contradiction (see Lk 2:34) raised his own flesh, and he who could have so healed his members that their wounds would not appear preserved the scars on his body in order to heal the wound of the heart’s doubt.  But there is nothing in the Christian faith that is so vehemently, so persistently, so obstinately and contentiously opposed as its faith in the resurrection of the flesh. Many Gentile philosophers debated at length about the immortality of the soul and in many and varied books they have left arguments that the human soul is immortal. But when it came to the resurrection of the flesh, they did not waver but quite openly denied it, arguing that it is impossible for this earthly flesh to ascend into heaven. (EnPs 88[89]/2, 5; PL 37, 1134)


Augustine, after speaking about the warfare between the flesh and the spirit:

I want the whole to be healed, because I am the whole. I don’t want my flesh to be eternally separated from me, like something foreign; I want it to be entirely healed with me. If you do not want this, I don’t know what you think of the flesh; I guess you think it comes from some unknown place, as if from an enemy nation. That’s false; its heretical; its blasphemous. Mind and flesh have a single artisan. When he created man, he made them both, joined them both; he subjected the flesh to the soul and the soul to himself. (Augustine, Sermon 30, 4)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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Augustine voices what so many of us feel -  I want the whole to be healed...

So many times, one can't help wondering if it isn't all really just wishful thinking - we want it to be true, because if it is, it really is "good news".  Making the want into a belief, a belief that is central to an entire faith system, seems as though it could simply be a natural and fully understandable human reaction to the primal fear of death. Like Augustine, we all want it to be true, because if it isn't....

 How do we know? We can't know, so then it is really a matter of faith. How does one get that faith how can one be sure of that faith? How does one quell the doubts, and banish the fear? Or maybe it's just a matter of making oneself believe, because to not believe is so dark and lonely.

"Having" faith - the insurmountable obstacle for many, as the questions arise that seem never to be discussed, at least in education for non-theologians. For example, if Jesus was resurrected in the flesh, his human body "raised", how did he go through walls into locked rooms?  Why was he not recognized by those who knew him best - not even a startled "You look just like someone I knew" when he first appeared to them, his closest disciples.  Why is his body wounded flesh with Thomas, but not when it went through walls. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, in the contradictions.


The resurrection of the body (however that is interpreted and understood) is, in my mind, a very important part of our faith and creed. We are embodied people. Our body is part of who we are and while the "flesh" signifies different things including worldly temptations, etc in biblical texts, the resurrection of the body, not just Jesus Christ's body, but our body is to me compelling. It helps us to begin to understand the value of the body.

For all its faults, the Catholic church has maintainted the importance and beauty of the sensual through its liturgy, art, sacraments, and sacramentals to remind us of this fact.

In the Catholic imagination, touch is important, touch in the sacrament of the sick, touch in reception of Eucharist, touch in baptism, confirmation, marriage (the kiss in public and the private consummation), the sign of peace at mass.

I am far from a touchy-feely guy but even for a Finn cultured influenced guy like me, touch and the sensual is important.  And the balance delicate balance between the body, touch, and spirit is part of grace.

I think that might have been what Jesus was alluding to when Mary Magdalene leaned to touch his resurrected body and Jesus forbid her from doing so as he had not ascended.

The general idea in my Unitarian upbringing was that the soul is released from the body at death, that the body no longer drags us down, that we transcend the physical sphere. This idea is still pretty deeply engrained in my head, so I can't really wrap my head around these ideas very well.

What does it mean to be in heaven, healed in body and soul? 

My Baptist sister-in-law, who has a serious lifelong weight problem, says we get brand-spankin' new perfect bodies and she'll be able to eat all the ice-cream cake she wants and never get fat. If that's true, then I get to take up smoking and drinking again and, since there is no marriage in heaven, I can hook up with anybody who takes my fancy, right? 

My sister-in-law's idea of an orgiastic heaven strikes me as utterly off base.

If we live in heaven in corporeal form, both souls and bodies in a healed state, wouldn't we be free of the bodily temptations (particularly gluttony, lust, and sloth)? Does that mean that we would revert to some state of pre-Adamite innocence? Would we be without the knowledge we learned in this vale of tears? Is heaven just a forgetting this life? That idea fills me with terror and sorrow.

I try not to dwell on these things because a) my chances of getting to heaven seem fairly slim and b) I have no control of it anyway.

The best I can do on Easter is to Christ's triumph over humiliation and pain, the transmission of his his teachings, and the immortality of his love for us.

The body/soul thing .... Plato (the soul survives the bosy) and Aristotle (the  bosy and soul are always connected) ... Catholics are into embodiment because they put so much emphasis on Aquinas, who interpreted Aristotle through Christianity - the neo-platonists were more considered dualists/gnostics.

JD Crossan gives the Catholic view ( ...

"My criticism of Gnosticism would be this: one of the most fundamental decisions we have to make, going back to dear old Plato, is whether the human being is a dialectic, in the same sense as before, of body and spirit, or if somehow that spirit or soul is only temporarily, possibly even unfortunately, joined to what is either a flea bag hotel or a magnificent palace called the body. But in either case the soul is only temporarily embodied until it goes home to its true spiritual abode. I think that this is the most radical question in Western philosophy. Whichever way you come down on this question, everything else will follow. If you think that human beings are actually incarcerated, entombed spirits, that we're simply renting bodies out, then everything else will follow. But if you think along with the Bible that somehow or other the body/soul amalgam is a dialectic, that you can distinguish but not separate them, then everything else will follow differently. So Gnosticism seems to be a perfectly good, linear descendent of Platonism (I'm not certain though what Plato himself would have said), but at the heart of it is the presumption that the material world is at best irrelevant and at worst evil. Those seem to be the fundamental options. You have to pick your position from there."

But I like the other view better, given by Keith Ward (  ...

"a resurrected body will not be constituted of the same physical stuff as present bodies (it is said to be spiritual, not physical). The present physical universe will come to an end, and there will be 'a new heaven and earth'. What that means is that the physical stuff of this specific universe is not essential to the nature and continuous existence of persons, even though something analogous to this body must exist ......

What is at stake in this discussion is whether human consciousness is an emergent property of a physical object - and so ceases to function or exist without that object. Or whether human consciousness, though it does originate within a physical body, and does require some form of embodiment, is nevertheless dissociable from its original body, and is capable of existence in other forms. Is the soul adjectival to the body, or is this body just one form in which this soul may exist?..."

Crystal, thank you for those thoughts (and making me laugh with Crossan's "flea bag hotel" metaphor).

I confess that Ward's notion seems so radical as to tax what little imagination I have at the moment, but I've printed it and stored it away for future contemplation. Lent normally makes me feel renewed in my faith, such as it is, but this year has been so grim that I completely opted out of dragging myself through the Stations every Friday and the decidedly funereal tone of the local "Good" Friday service. I just wasn't up to contemplating more death for the last six weeks.

Someone's comment earlier on another thread about the crucifixion being the access point of redemption and salvation was certainly a help to my faith this year. Maybe it was Rita. Whoever, thanks for the reminder.

I recommend for Holy Saturday a slow, meditative reading of 1 Cor, chapter 15. It gives a great sense of what St. Paul thought was at stake in the question of the resurrection of the body.  

Here is a small part of Thomas Aquinas' commentary on that chapter. He is commenting on the statement of St. Paul: “If it is only for this life that we have hope in Christ, we are the most miserable of all men” (I Cor 15:19)  Someone objects that this is not universally true, “because they could say that even though their bodies have good things only in this mortal life, in their souls they have many good things in the other life.” Aquinas answers:

Two answers may be given. First, if the resurrection of the body is denied, it is not easy, in fact it is difficult, to maintain the immortality of the soul. For the soul is naturally united to the body, and for it to be separated from it is against its nature and per accidens;  soul stripped of its body is imperfect for as long as it is without its body. Now it is impossible that what is natural and per se be finite and almost nothing, while what is against nature and per accidens is infinite, [which is what would be the case] if the soul were to perdure without its body. That is why Platonists, positing immortality, also posited reincarnation, even though this is heretical. Therefore, if the dead do not rise, it is only in this life that we have hope.

Second, man naturally desires the salvation of himself. But the soul, although it is a part of the human body, is not the whole man, and my soul is not me (Anima mea non est ego). Hence, although the soul attains salvation in another life, I do not, or any other man. Besides, since man naturally desires salvation of his body also, that natural desire would be frustrated [without the resurrection of the body]. 

Maybe Aquinas believed what he did (via Aristotle) because at that time there wasn't a conception of the vastness of the universe and Earth's small part in it.  Someday the Earth will cease to exist - why would it be so important that  after death we keep these bodies that are what they are simply because they evolved  for surviva and reproductionl on this particular planet? 

This makes me think of all the fiction in which a person's consciousness (soul?) is moved into a different body.  In those cases, we tend to think that the 'real' them is their consciousness, not their original body.

A conversation I had today:

"- I don't believe we will resurrect after death.

- Really? We've been discussing the resurrection of Christ, but you do not believe it?

- It's not that. I do believe that Christ resurrected. We know it's true, because we have witnesses who saw him. But he's the son of God, and no one ever saw anybody else resurrected. I don't believe anybody else resurrects. 

- Maybe for others the resurrection will happen some day in the future, in a long time.

- But, Jesus, it only took him three days to resurrect. All the other people who have died since then, why is it taking them so long to resurrect? What's taking them so long? It doesn't make sense."

This article by Bishop Ware, discussing the unity of body and soul, is interesting. He highlights Maximus the Confessor (and it is too bad that we did not follow Maximus more with respect to original sin as it would have cleared a lot up).

The Christian anthropology of the East seems somehow been able to escape this duality  through their concept of divinization or theosis. Seen in this light, the resurrection of the body is the logical extension of our life.

This truth is underlined with great clarity by St Maximus the Confessor. If according to the account of creation in Genesis Adam, was created last of all, after the rest of the created cosmos, that is because the human person is, as St Maximus puts it, "a natural bond of unity", mediating and drawing together all the different levels of the outside world, because related to them all through the different aspects of his own being. In the words of St Maximus, each of us is "a laboratory (ergastirion) that contains everything in a most comprehensive fashion", and so "it is the appointed task of each one of us to make manifest in ourself the great mystery of the divine intention: to show how the divided extremes in created things may be reconciled in harmony, the near with the far, the lower with the higher, so that through gradual ascent all are eventually brought into union with God". Having united all the levels of creation with each other, then, through our love for God (a key concept in St Maximus) and through the gift of theosis which God in His divine love confers upon us- we finally unite created nature with the uncreated, "becoming everything that God Himself is, save for identity of essence".


I'll be interested in knowing what you think of First Corinthians 15.

I'd also like to know how you conceive of consciousness or the soul, that it can move from one body to another. Is your image that of the driver of a car who can walk away from it when it gets old and enter a new one? 

I think Augustine's question is pertinent: I wonder what you think of the body.

I think Aquinas' statement is worth reflection: "if the resurrection of the body is denied, it is not easy, in fact it is difficult, to maintain the immortality of the soul."  This seems to run so counter to present assumptions. People seem to have very little difficulty in affirming the immortality of the soul but all kinds of difficulty in affirming the resurrection of the body. I confess that I do not understand it. For me the idea of a disembodied soul causes far more difficulties. 

In our culture has Platonism won? Gnosticism? 

Fr. K,

About First Corinthians 15 ...  I guess that a belief in the resurrection of the dead was a thread of Jewish teaching?   Is that why Paul siad that we are all to be resurrected, not just Jesus? ... NT Wright writes about the Jewish and early Christian belief ...

"Resurrection, in other words, means being given back one’s body, or perhaps God creating a new similar body, some time after death.  It is, in fact, life after ‘life after death’; because where you find a belief in resurrection you also find, unsurprisingly, a belief in some kind of intermediate state in between death and resurrection.  Various ways of describing this were developed: the souls of the righteous, said Wisdom (3.1), were in God’s hand.  Others spoke of a quasi-angelic intermediate existence, or of spirits that lived on prior to the resurrection.  The patriarchs were ‘alive to God’.  The Persian term ‘Paradise’ was employed, not necessarily for the final destination of resurrection, but, sometimes at least (e.g. 1 Enoch 37-70), for the peaceful garden where people rested before their new bodily life began." (

I understand the worry about gnosticism/dualism ... that the material world is not good and must be escaped ... and I'm not against believing in embodied resurrection, but what I'm questioning is the idea that the bodies we have now are the only ones we can be resurrected in - the Aristotelian idea that these bodies we now have are a direct response to our particular forms/souls.  I was born with Stargardt's disease, I have brown hair, I'm 5' 4" .... to believe that my body is the only way God wants me to be for all eternity just makes me depressed.

About Augustine and bodies in the afterlife  ... he also said that in heaveb, even though there won't be sex or reproduction, women will still have breasts so that men can have the pleasure of looking at them (City of God, 22/17) .... he had some issues  :)

In mentioning consciousness moving from one body to another, I was thinking of fiction (science fiction) ... like the movie Avatar, for instance, where a disabled man was able to tranfer his consciousness into another body.  I just meant that if your body and your consciousness were able to be separated, most of us would think of ourselves as being the consciousness part, not the body part.



Maybe our indiividual souls are each part of one big soul that we reconnect to when we die.  Sort of  how we talk about God being 3 persons in one God,  we're all separate, but one.  But I also get bodies being resurrected; doesn't all matter recycle? It doesn't just go away. 


Irene --

The possible one big soul that you hypothesize to which all souls reconnect  is rather like what Aristotle called "the agent intellect", a second intellect which all humans have as part of our terrestrial being..  It's not a very clear idea, and historically it has been controversial.  By the way, Aristotle also thought that there were many Unmoved Movers (gods).  But he didn't think there were many Heavens.  No heavens at all, actually.  And while he thought here might be as many as 16 gods, he thought that none of them even knew that this world exists.  His influence on Aquinas was not so dominating as many believe it to be.

Another theory of Aquinas was that when we die, first our rational soul dies, but something like animal  part of the soul remains.  Then that soul goes out of existence, and the body has a vegetative soul for awhile.  Then the body decomposes into many substances.  Hmm.  

Just today there is a news story out confirming that "near-death experiences" are quite real in rats.  It that suggests that it might be true that we die in stages.  There is physiological reason to think that our bodies are not entirely ruled by our brain -- the human heart has an electrical system that is somewhat independent from the  brain.  In other words, the heart can continue beating when there are no more electrical impulses from the brain.  (Boo!)

Complexity, complexity. 

Jean, yes, it was I. You're welcome. It made my day to know that it helped.

Just home now from the Vigil. Happy Easter, everybody!

The idea that all human intellects are part of one big agent intellect is what Aquinas fought against under the title of Averroism; he denied that it was true to Aristotle.

See for a very precise and detailed account of what happens the first 40 days after death, with extensive quotes from various Fathers of the Church!

Raber and I had an interesting talk about this this morning. I suggested that in my old Unitarian life, I imagined death would free us from our earthly carapaces, and we would zoom around as little points of light helping the saints answer prayers. He commented somewhat drily, "You mean like Tinkerbell?" 

He went away to read Fr. Imbelli's "Rekindling the Christic Imagination," which was my Easter present for him. The Boy is blowing up Peeps in the microwave and eating them by scraping them off a piece of waxed paper with a knife. I bought some steaks to grill because it is a nice day and we should be outdoors with some sunshine blowing off all this talk of the tomb

I don't disbelieve in bodily resurrection at the End of Days. But it's hard for me to imagine what form that might take without veering into sci fi territory or proofs of the hereafter, of which I am always skeptical.

1 Thessalonians 4:17 has always captured what I think the resurrection might be like as sensation, our bodies (and hearts) so light gravity will not be able to hold us down as we rise to meet Christ. 

Blessed Easter, everyone.

I like my scars. They are like a print of part of my life. When my little brother dropped a pane of glass on me and I ended in the emergency room... when he accidentally hit my chin with his head and I lost a tooth... when I insisted on going skiing on a foggy day and broke my ligament in a complete whiteout, after which they closed the ski resort... first white hairs, from being pregnant with my daughter... I enjoy looking at my scars and remembering the past. The scars connect my past to the present. I suppose that that's also true to the scars of my heart, although I am hardly as fond of them.

Why would Christ want to be resurrected without scars? Just because it's a new creation doesn't mean that the crucifixion didn't happen.

Claire, I think you raise such an interesting point. Our bodies--the ones we have right now and whatever they morph into before we die--tell the story of our lives, not just in scars, but in the clench of jaws, smile or frown lines, in what we are able to do or not do, and how we do it. Our bodies trigger memory, and without memory, we have no real consciousness--or at least can't make sense of what we're experiencing. Our bodies are tied up with who we are in this life, even if we've become frustrated or suffer because they don't work very well anymore. 

I'm not sure what implications that might have for the resurrection of the flesh, except that perhaps the flesh is as beloved of God as our souls, and God intends to keep us in our flesh as ourselves for whatever purpose we might serve at the end of days.

I do think people get fond of their bodies, love them even, but there are people whose bodies are a constant reminder of bad things too - how they don't fit in, the things they cannot do.  We don't choose our bodies and to be stuck for all eternity with what random genetics gifted us with seems unfair to me. 

Kind of touching on this subject, from  the British Jesuit site Thinking Faith ... "Hating Incarnation" ...


Maybe when God's kingdom comes the healing of the body means that we make peace with, even take some joy in, what our bodies have, to some extent, made of us. Maybe we won't have any more reason to be frustrated with or ashamed of them. I don't want to trivialize here, but I don't know know too many women who wouldn't find that a kind of paradise to be wished for. 

It's interesting, isn't it, that we often use "we" and "us" as they did not refer to or include our bodies, as if who we are does not include our bodies.  Back in the day, it was considered a great advance over Platonic or Cartesian dualism to say, and understand, this: "I don't have a body. I am a body." Am I correct in this? Does our individual self-identity include our bodies? Do phrases that I learned to treasure no longer apply: that we are "embodied, incarnate, spirits"? I've always thought that this view provides an anthropological ground for what Newman thought was the distinctive "idea" of Christianity--incarnation. I had even worked out parallels: human beings as spirits embodied; Christ as Word made flesh; the Church both divine and human; the sacraments as grace communicated through physical signs and gestures. But I'm getting the impression that today the anthropological link is weak and the body thought to be something that might easily and unregretfully be let go, without one's identity suffering any great loss. 

That's why I very much appreciate Claire's comments about scars as imprints of the personal history that has made us who we are.

Yes, that is an interesting observation that our first-person pronouns often seem not to include our physical bodies in these discussions. But I hope that no one assumes any word choice from me reflects any well-informed views on this matter. I'm a neophyte to any serious discussion of the resurrection of the body in Catholic tradition, which should be eminently clear from my comments here.  

I remember Anglican instruction touching on this topic--the dogma about bodily resurrection seemed to be in line with Catholic teaching (somebody in our discussion group referred to our turning into angels after death, which the priest said was incorrect)--but this wasn't a point that was emphasized.

Augustine's comment about this that is quoted above has thrown the idea into higher relief. My first response was to blow it off as a "mystery" and leave it alone, but there's a lot to chew on in this conversation (there's a metaphor that mixes mind and body, no?). 

In my pronoun choices, I'm not trying to argue against bodily resurrection. But, yes, it does show how the duality of body and soul is an engrained habit in my thinking, and I apologize if it is disruptive to the general discussion. I'm just trying to learn.

I would be interested to know how the communion of saints might tie into your anthropological links to the incarnation. 

 "Problems with the resurrection of the bodu" from the Encyclopedia of Philosophy ...


The view of the self as mind/spirit began in our present culture with Descartes who, like Plato, treated spirit and body as two basically independent things, and this view presents some huge philosophical problems --  once you separate the two it's hard to put them back together again as one basic (though complex) thing.  

On the other hand, there's a big theological problem with the older view of man as body-and-spirit.  I mean the medieval/Aristotelian view that our basic reality, our substance, is ccomposed of two metaphysical elements, body and soul, and all substances are such basic realities that to eliminate one element of a substance is to destroy that substance as that individual.  (Analogously, given some water, if you separate the O2 from the H, then there's no more water.)  

In the case of people, the problem is this:  when a person dies the soul is separated from body, so, theoretically, the substance must go out of existence.  But Christian theology says that the soul does not go out of existence.  How to solve the problem?  Aquinas held that the soul continues in existence, but it is *not* a person, not a substance.  It's just the part of us that's kept in existence by God until the resurrection of the body.  

Regardless of these theoretical problems, and although we don't know *how* a spirit and a body can be combined into one reality and later re-combined,  it seems to me that we really don't *have to know* some theoretical explanation to be convinced that we are both spirit/mind and body.  All we need to do is to look at our everyday experience:  when I stub my toe it isn't simply *my toe*that hurts -- it's ME that hurts.   Pain is complex because *I* am complex.  Would that we could separate injured parts of our bodies and our physical pain from our experiences of ourselves, though that would seem to entail killing parts of ourselves.  

By the way, the difference between "mind'" and "soul" is another philosophical problem still hotly contested by all sorts of philosophers, and even the Catholic ones talk sometimes as though they are identical.  (Descartes did.)  Part of that problem is that we can't *imagine* what soul/mind looks like because it/they is not a physical thing at all.  (We can imagine only physical things.)  Yet we are certainly at times extremely conscious of consciousness itself, so, apart from any theorizing, we do know that it's real although not a material reality.  (I'm assuming here, of course, that "consciousness" refers to only one reality-- there might be *parts* of consciousness, or maybe even different *kinds* of it.  Complexity, complexity.)

And, of course, the immateriality of the soul makes it terribly difficult to form some idea of a soul in Heaven without a body.  

Jean --

It seems to me that speaking of body and soul as  "two different realities" isn't objectionable at all so long as we recognize that  "a reality" is ambiguous -- it can mean a whole basic being, like a real cat or a person or a molecule of water,  but it can also refer to mere *parts* of a whole basic reality, including real parts  such as souls and bodies.  In the latter sense it is quite proper to talk about body and soul as two different realities, i.e., as two different metaphysical parts of the whole person.

Language bewitches us, says Wittgensein.

Why is God only spirit not matter ... why are angels only spirit not matter?  I  don't see any persuasive reason to believe in the resurrection of our original  human bodies aside from the fact that Aquinas (and the Pharasees) proposed  it. Jesus' resurrection leaves a lot of questions, but it seems possible  from the way the disciples didn't recognize him that he was not wearing his "original" body after his death, and I'm not sure it follows logically from the idea that he was physically resurrected that we all will be too.

I wonder if these are the terms of a truce between science and religion. They have partitioned their respective areas of expertise. To science goes the study of the physical, the body. To religion goes the spiritual, the soul. Many people agree that there is something beyond the physical reality, and being "spiritual, but not religious", or otherwise keeping the two domains separate, is an easy way to reconcile  trust in the ability of science to explain the things we observe, on the one hand, and the intuition of another reality, on the other hand.


Jean:  I wasn't singling you out when I made the comment about the way in which this conversation has spoken of "us" in relation to our bodies. It was something I noticed in several comments and I thought it might be significant as indicating a certain dualism in all our thinking. Is dualism the default way of speaking about all this, something that we have to un-learn, as I suspect.

Crystal:   (1) I don't know where you got the idea that it is Aquinas and the Pharisees who provide the only reason for proposing the resurrection of the body. I've already cited the texts from Augustine that long antedate Aquinas, and you can then go back to St. Paul, and from him back to the experience of the disciples of Jesus, and then back to Jesus himself in response to the Pharisees.

(2) If you read 1 Cor 15: 35ff, you'll have noticed that St. Paul does not speak of "the resurrection of our original bodies," as you put it, and neither does anyone I know of after Paul. We''re not talking about the resuscitation of a corpse, as in the case of the three raisings recorded in the Gospels.

(3) You have things backward. Paul did not argue that if Christ was raised, we also must be raised, but the other way around: that to deny the possibility of the resurrection is to deny the resurrection of Christ, and if that is died, as he said very forcefully, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching, and your faith, is in vain.... If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain, and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15:14, 17). 

Could I ask what you make of Aquinas's statement that without the resurrection of the body it is very difficult to prove the immortalty of the soul?

Jean HR wrote "our bodies trigger memories... without memory we have no real consciousness and can't make sense of our experience". 

The fear of many people now is not death but life lived too long and  beyond meaning -hence the growing conversation  over 'end of life ' issues.   And part of that fear  is of Alzheimer' or other forms of dementia. Death no longer feels like the 'last enemy' [1 Cor15.26] for many people. I have no idea if in some way or other the body is to be restored or handed back to us [in tradtional theology ] - I am far more concerned about the mind.   I lost someone I loved to dementia years before her body died.  She was not a relative  of mine. In the end she did not know her huband or her children, let alone me.    What does resurrection mean now?  What would judgement mean  to someone who does not even know who they are or were?  

I notice that, except for a link suggested by Claire,which I read at length,  this thread has no references to any of the dark side of afterlife  - judgement, purgatory, hell - is that all gone now? [It is a genuine question asked out of my ignorance]. The most recently made saint here  [John Henry Newman] makes clear in his Apologia that he has no problems with the idea of' 'eternal punishment' -but he does not mention for whom. He did not even live to see the first world war or the holocaust  which would make it more understandable to me. I am in the weekly presence of the dying and the thought of these  emaciated, fragile  bodies, mostly quiet   but occasionally one who shouts stuff we do not understand  every waking hour - the thought of these in some sort of judgemental interview in the after-life is  .....  I have no words for  after 'is'.

Are these these the  bodies that will be resurrected?  "The devil is in the detail" said Ann.  Yes.  If 'disembodied soul' makes no sense, which stage of our bodily life will be 'resurrected' or am I too literal in my interpretation and question?  

I think some scars on the body [like some that Claire names] can be carried in humour and even a kind of pride, part of the telling of family history;  perhaps part of a greater and wider history.  But there are scars borne only in silence and shame, that may not even  leave a lasting mark, especially I suspect by women and to have anyone look on them or touch them is unbearable.  One does not have to  believe the body or the material world is' evil' to wish one did not physically exist and to wish rather for bodily annihilation rather than 'naturally desire salvation of' 'his'   body' also as quoted by Aquinas. Does one want the source of so much misery back? 

 There has been much mention of Plato on this thread, but not of his 'noble lie' where the afterlife is concerned.  I personally do  not believe in or even want an after-life. Not to believe does not have to be  'dark and lonely".  I am content  to think of my body as returning to the elements of the universe.  It even raises a smile now that I have learnt that we are all made of stardust!  "From stardust I came, to stardust  I shall return"! Wonderful!  It does not make my life meaningless nor that of  people I  have loved and revered.   It was wonderful to  have known them once,to have known that they existed that once,  just as it was wonderful to have known the natural  world.  I don't think I want my body for eternity if there are no longer hills and woods to walk, rivers to see and listen to, birds and hedgehogs and frogs. It is their diverse beauty and everchangingness that makes them  glorious.  Augustine's vision of what I will 'do' if allowed in is close to hell for me - an endless school assembly of hymn--singing!   And having read Dante - I'd rather spend my time with Virgil and other 'virtuous pagans'.   But if I  stand to lose badly in Paschal's ghastly [and, I think, immoral] wager,   I  would still like to  have your thoughts about the de-mented mind as well as the body 'before I go'.  I find the word 'soul' difficult and never use it; but 'body - mind - spirit'- each word still matters  to me and  how people from many positions use and relate them does interest me. 




Aquinas held that the soul continues in existence, but it is *not* a person, not a substance.  It's just the part of us that's kept in existence by God until the resurrection of the body.  

Ann O., yes, this is kind of how our Episcopal priest explained it, that our souls go into "rest mode" until such time as our bodies will be resurrected. 

I think Claire is on to something when she talks about the truce between science and theology--one the province of the body and the other the province of the soul. 

Fr. Komonchak, I didn't feel singled out, but I did want to make it clear that my thinking about the resurrection was not formed in the Church, and I am probably behind all of you in my ability to think in any sophisticated way about this area of theology.

Lorna:   To give him credit, Augustine does explicitly exclude the vision that makes you shudder, "an endless school assembly of hymn--singing."  The praising consists in loving. 

Lorna, thank you for your thoughts. You speak for others. I am among those who increasingly doubt the reality of an afterlife for human beings - of a heaven or a hell beyond the heavens and hells we experience in our physical human lives. I wish it (the possibility of eternal bliss and love - but not the possibility of eternal hell) to be true. Like Augustine, I want it to be true, but, wanting doesn't make it so.

Jean, I had many years of Catholic education, through college. I also went to a Jesuit grad school, but not much theology at that stage. I took many "adult" courses, including one at  the Washington Theological Union (grad school of theology).  Your questions and thoughts are actually very much the same as those of most cradle Catholics I know, who also had 16+ years of Catholic education.

Fr K:  (2) If you read 1 Cor 15: 35ff, you'll have noticed that St. Paul does not speak of "the resurrection of our original bodies," as you put it, and neither does anyone I know of after Paul. We''re not talking about the resuscitation of a corpse, as in the case of the three raisings recorded in the Gospels.

What body, then, are we talking about?  The corpse is what remains of our physical, human bodies after we die,  returned to earth (or stardust!). Where is the soul then? Is it "in rest mode" until the final days, as Jean put forth as a possibility?  Does the soul automatically "receive" a new body wherever it "is" while the former body, the corpse, has been reduced to dust or ash?

It is very hard sometimes for ordinary Catholics to distinguish when the church teaches and interprets scripture literally, and when it does not.  We are often afraid to even ask these questions, because we fear looking foolish in contrast to the more highly educated in theology and philosophy. But if we don't ask, how are we to learn?

Like many, I do not see the soul and body as one, except temporarily, in a vague understanding that the soul "inhabits" the body during our physical lives, and is freed after physical death. I tend to feel that the soul is somehow embodied in our minds, because that is where our personalities seem to reside.  I think of our souls as the essence of who each of us is as an individual.  And yet if the soul is somehow "in" our minds, what then of those who live their physical lives with extreme brain damage from birth - who have no "life of the mind' it seems to onlookers, babies who are born missing most of the brain (mind?) and whose physical lives are often, but not always, very short.  Obviously the mind and the soul are not the same, the body, including the brain, and the soul are not the same. So where is the soul?

I have never liked open caskets at wakes and funerals, and am directing my children to have my body (corpse) be buried in a "green" burial, without anything being done to it between physical death and burial beyond the measures needed to halt or slow decomposition until burial. No embalming, no vault, no casket - a shroud.  If there is no "green burial" ground near wherever I end my days, then I will tell them to try a Jewish cemetary!

When I look at the remains of people I knew and loved in an open casket, it is disturbing - the familiar clothing, the make up and hair for women, cannot disguise that the person I loved is no longer there. It seems almost disrespectful, as though the body of one I loved had somehow been turned into a figure at Mme. Taussaud's. I do not like having my last memory of a loved one's face be like a wax figure - I want to remember them as they were in life, with the soul still visible in the face and body.  In that sense, I can agree that the soul and body are intertwined in ways that cannot be easily defined, that the soul is somehow the source of animation of the body.

You mentioned earlier, that you cannot separate soul and body - that you cannot imagine a disembodied soul, whereas for many of us, after death, we can't imagine an embodied soul. If the "resurrection" of our bodies does not refer to the body we "wore" during our physical lives, what is this new body that the soul then inhabits?

We non-theologians struggle mightily with these concepts, because the vocabulary of theologians and philosophers is very different than that of the rest of us. Words seem often to carry very different meanings to the two groups.

Several articles on interpreting the resurrection over at NCR online.  There was an article by James Martin, SJ, but now I can't find it, nor can I find it at America's website, where it also appeared. However, I did find a version at the Wall Street Journal's website!  The main consensus, as with so much of christian belief, is that it is a "mystery".

And another by James Martin at the Washington Post.  James Martin talks in the ordinary vocabulary of most people, but is something "lost in translation" from theology-ese and philosophy-ese?  What do our experts say?

Fr. K,

Yes, I forgot about Paul - I've got to stop making comments after midnight ;)  Spiritual bodies would be different than our original bodies and I *can* imagine us having spiritual bodies rather than our exactly recreated original bodies.

About what Aquinas says abot the difficulty of proving the immortality of the soul without the resurrection of the body ...  he does think the soul can exist without the body - like in prgatory or heaven -  but that it's in a incomplete state, yes?    Keith Ward writes this about what Aquinas believes ... "To speak of a 'soul' is to speak of the capacities of a type of physical body, capacities of a type of animal capable of abstract thought and responsible action. Souls cannot properly exist without bodies"  But I don't see how Aquinas can prove this to be true, he can only assert it.

Crystal (and everyone) What exactly is a "spiritual" body and how does it differ from plain old "spirit" or "soul"?   Can one assume that a "spiritual" body has not substance - is not "material"?  If so, what is it?

About the survival of our actual body after death --

Seems to me that the best evidence is that even in *this* life our bodies do not remain the samematerial that we start out with.  Consider only the growth of hair and nails -- new ones are constantly appearing and falling or wearing away.  And, of course, we can have a part lopped off and still survive.  No, we don't regenerate missing legs and arms, but we do have millions of cells dying each day and being regenerated.

In other words, our substance, our individuality, is not dependent on any *particular bit* of matter to persist as this person, though it is necessary if we are to continue to exist in t his world as a whole person that our spirit part muust have some body/matter or other to be combined with.

So what's the problem with getting an enirely new body at resurrection?  We're getting partly new bodies all the time.

Yes, there are problems with understanding just what "matter" or "body " is, especially given the new discoveries of contemporary physicis.  But it seems that regardless of those new theories, the facts remain that our bodies do regenerate at least in part.


I notice that, except for a link suggested by Claire,which I read at length,  this thread has no references to any of the dark side of afterlife  - judgement, purgatory, hell - is that all gone now?

No, it's not all gone, and I think about it often. I hestitated to bring it up on this thread for fear of throwing off the focus, but it's always in the back of my mind.

And bodily resurrection makes Hell more terrifying; it's one thing for Hell to be a hopeless separation from God's love, but the added dimension of physical torture and pain at the hands of Supreme Evil hardly to be imagined, Dante or one of those Jack Chick tracts aside.

OTOH, I've heard Catholic theologians make statements to the effect that, of course, there is a Hell, but the Church does not teach that anyone, not even Judas Iscariot, is beyond the reach of salvation.

I don't disbelieve in an Afterlife, but I guess I'm back to square one here: whatever Heaven or Hell turn out to be is beyond our comprehension in this life. 



Ann O., you make very good analogies. 



I don't think anyone knows what a "spiritual" body is like, but if Jesus' resurrected body is an example, then it seems to be material enough to eat food, and he says "Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. - (Luke 24:39) " ...  but not typically material since it can move through solid objects and can instantly disappear.

Here's an interesting article ... ..."Transformations of the flesh: Approaching the spiritual body through an engagement with Sarah Coakley"

And there's this video by NT Wright ...  "What did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 15 by a *spiritual body* ...

Lorna, for me too Alzheimer's is the ultimate nightmare. Could someone whose mind has been destroyed by Alzheimer's resurrect in that diminished state? Surely not. The way in which I think of the resurrection comes from the accounts of the Transfiguration. Jesus was the same, but different. Plus Mt 13:43 "The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." I can't fill in the details, but it sounds good!

As to the "endless school-assembly of hymn-singing", maybe it is better to think about climaxes in our lives, moments when we wished time would stop, when, perhaps, our heart was overflowing. Could it be that our hearts will be overflowing with love of God? One example of such a fleeting moment is in the poem "Le Lac", if you can read French:, or in the final scene of the movie "The unbearable lightness of being" Or when you watch your child sleeping. Or when making love, sometimes. Or in rare moments of intellectual intimacy in the exchange of ideas.  Or when a homily reveals the "unknown knowns", telling us things about ourselves that we never realized we knew but that, upon hearing him, we recognize immediately to be true, as if he were reading something already written in the hidden folds of our mind. Or when we watch the night sky, we silently thank God, and, as if on cue, he answers with a shooting star. Or when, after a few hours of toiling, we reach a snowy mountaintop at sunrise. Or sometimes there is just the deep contentment that comes from praying in church, as happened to me just this past Saturday evening, when after two hours I started feeling sleepy and remarked to myself how strange it was that in spite of my sleepiness I had no wish for it to end but was content to just sit there under the glow of the electric heater and enjoy the community prayer. There are so many moments in life that are so good that we wish we could stop time. Oh, and of course also Peter wanting to stop and set up tents on top of the mountain at the time of the Transfiguration.

In speaking of the Kingdom, Augustine often appealed to two NT texts: 1 Cor 2:9: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."  And 1 Jn 3:2: "We are God's children now; what we shall later be has not yet come to light. We know that when it comes to light, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." To which could be added 1 Cor 13:12: "Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. My knowledge is imperfect now; then I shall know even as I am known." 

Augustine thought that with regard to eternity, as with regard to God, it is far easier to say what it is not than what it is. In either case if we wait until we can say positively what God is, or what eternity is, of what Paul's "spiritual body" is before we say we believe, we have a long wait ahead of us.

What Augustine usually did was appeal to our sublimest desires and occasional joys of some fulfilment of them, and to God as the fulfilment of them. Who does not desire truth, for example, he might say; well eternity is boundless ecstatic insatiably beautiful joy in the Truth that is God. Or think of his phrase in my other post: insatiabilis pulchritudo--a beauty that never cloys. I think that Claire is on the right track by appealing to moments we wish could never end. 

I think that part of our problem is in imagining eternity as endless time, a never-ending succession of days. See the Lenten reflection on "Heaven's days."  No, it doesn't answer all questions, and it's not cited as some kind of proof. But it does try to do away with certain problems caused by our inability to transcend, even in hope, our present limitations.

I don't think that there is any question asked here that has not been asked by someone in the past, beginning with those to whom St. Paul addressed himself in 1 Corinthians 15.  So people have been discussing this and trying to meet objections for nearly 2,000 years ever since the disciples startled their world by this strange and difficult-to-believe claim about Christ and about the resurrection of the flesh. 

Anne C. --

I agree that "spiritual body" is thoroughly problematic.  A contradiction in terms, actually, even if it's The First Theologian saying it.  But St. Paul in his usual state of mind-boggled enthusiam didn't seem bothered by contradictions, especially when trying to explain the ultimately unexplainable. Aggravating :-)

" How do we know? We can't know, so then it is really a matter of faith. How does one get that faith how can one be sure of that faith? How does one quell the doubts, and banish the fear? Or maybe it's just a matter of making oneself believe, because to not believe is so dark and lonely."

Anne C, --

This was the first great question you raised on this thread, but we didn't get around to it.  I think it's the kind of question that dotCommonweal explores very well sometimes, though new questions always seem to arise.

Anyway, about faith.  True, we can never be sure about what we believe, in this life anyway.  If we're honest we have to admit that "I can always be wrong".  But just because we aren't sure of something that doesn't imply that belief is always unreasonable.  It's unreasonable only if we have no good reason(s) for belief.  And doesn't St. Peter tell us to always be prepared to give our reasons for our belief?  But what's a "good" reason?  Are good reasons in theology the same sorts of reasons that are good reasons in science -- facts revealed by sensations, for instancre?  I suspect that they arent', but I'd be hard-pressed to say just why that's what I think.  I'd really like to hear what others say about this --  *why* do you believe?  And *why* do you trust your beliefs??


" How do we know? We can't know, so then it is really a matter of faith. How does one get that faith how can one be sure of that faith? How does one quell the doubts, and banish the fear? Or maybe it's just a matter of making oneself believe, because to not believe is so dark and lonely."

Anne C, --

This was the first great question you raised on this thread, but we didn't get around to it.  I think it's the kind of question that dotCommonweal explores very well sometimes, though new questions always seem to arise.

Anyway, about faith.  True, we can never be sure about what we believe, in this life anyway.  If we're honest we have to admit that "I can always be wrong".  But just because we aren't sure of something that doesn't imply that belief is always unreasonable.  It's unreasonable only if we have no good reason(s) for belief.  And doesn't St. Peter tell us to always be prepared to give our reasons for our belief?  But what's a "good" reason?  Are good reasons in theology the same sorts of reasons that are good reasons in science -- facts revealed by sensations, for instancre?  I suspect that they arent', but I'd be hard-pressed to say just why that's what I think.  I'd really like to hear what others say about this --  *why* do you believe?  And *why* do you trust your beliefs??


I'm not sure that the resurrection of our bodies is any harder to believe than transubstantiation of the elements in the Eucharist, though the details are not revealed to us.

Is the Eucharist Christ resurrected in a spiritual body, albeit one made of bread, not flesh.

Is a saint a partial resurrection of Christ in the flesh? 

Thank you, Ann O - I would very much like to hear how others might answer your question - Why do you believe?  And why do you trust your beliefs?

Jean, my stumbling block is the incarnation - it seems to me, that if you can accept that, you can accept the resurrection, if not literally, at least accept that somehow Jesus lived on.  However, I'm not sure I can ever accept transubstantiation - sometimes it seems the church is overly dependent on Aquinas and perhaps there are better explanations out there.

Is this a bad time to admit I don't believe in transubstantiation?  ;)  Maybe we believe or don't believe in stuff we have some emotional investment in believing or disbelieving? At least the stuff that's not prove-able.  There's no way really to prove that God exists, but I want it to be true and I usually operate as if it's true.  It's kind of a choice.

Jean, trying to define "saint" would open a whole new can of worms!  There are many out there who don't think that at least one of the two men who will be called "saint" in a week or so really qualifies as "saintly" in their own minds!

Ann:  Why do you think Paul's phrase "spiritual body" is a contradiction-in-terms? What meanings do you assign to the two words that leads you to think that? Before you accuse the Apostle of such a linguistic and philosophical faux pas, don't you first have to ascertain if he used the two words with the same meanings you give them. Surely you don't mean that these words have the same meanings as used by all peoples of all times and cultures!

Above, you spoke of the relation between "mind" and "soul". Paul's contrast of the soma pneumatikon to the soma psychikon asks for a similar reflection on the relationship between spirit (pneuma) and soul (psyche), the two nouns that underlie the contrasted adjectives.

The video by N.T. Wright to which Crystal refers us above is a very short summary of his extensive discussion of the matter in his big book The Resurrection of the Son of God

There's no way really to prove that God exists, but I want it to be true and I usually operate as if it's true.  It's kind of a choice.

Sounds good to me. 

Then signs accumulate. Not proofs, but a change of perspective on life gives meaning to events that otherwise would go unnoticed. Then there are also all the questions that get answers that seem so fitting, everything essential (for example, answering the question "what is love?") fits together so beautifully that it has to be true. The anxious dissatisfaction of those who think life is meaningless is replaced by the joyful looking for Christ, and it seems so right and just that we are filled with certain hope. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating", as the phrase goes. 


I often think that for some people the very word "transubstantiation" is somehow repugnant.  It can't be because the word is so long -- we use lots of long words and think nothing of them.  But "transubstantiation" seems to raise hackles that I can't figure out.  It's as if there's some sort of strongly negative thought associated with it. Does it represents some noxious sort of thing, some intellectually smelly sort of thing?  Is it associated with some particularly obnoxious person?  Why does the word itself seem to raise warning flags saying "Don't go there"?

The word "consubstantiation" seems to get the same sor of reaction.

[Here's a little note from  Paul Elie about visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  It takes all kinds.]

Everything That Rises - Two Americans, One Empty Tomb

I believe in transubstantiation because of John 6:22-66; but also because it would break my heart not to believe in it.  So I guess Crystal is right about there being an emotional investment in belief, as well as an element of choice being involved.

I should clarify my previous comment; I am speaking of transubstantiation and the Real Presence as being the same thing; which strictly speaking they are not. I am invested in the Real Presence, which depends in one sense on transubstantiation.

Ann, I have already once gone into my personal difficulties with transubstantiation in a thread that ran to well over 100 posts as I recall (as poor Fr. K patiently tried to get the blind to see), and won't repeat them all. My mind just doesn't seem to operate the way it "should" to grasp all of this. (The professor who taught my class on Aquinas was close to despair from my questions - he said I was a positivist. In some ways, maybe, but not in all ways).   For me (just one person - I can't speak for anyone else), the concepts of both transubstantion and consubstantiation are both a bit "noxious" -  the dogma claims that the bread is Jesus' body and that wine is Jesus' blood, with differences of opinion as to the nature of the materials of bread and wine.  I find the concept of consuming another person's flesh and blood - even if the "accidents" are bread and wine - to be obnoxious, totally repugnant!  Same problem with consubstantiation.  I can approach an understanding of "spiritual food". though.

But I also have a problem with the whole idea that somehow Jesus' "presence" in the eucharist is somehow superior, or even different from God's presence everywhere.   Some say, well Jesus' presence in the world is "spiritual" but in the eucharist it's "reality".  But that implies that Jesus' spiritual presence in the world isn't reality.

But, as I have said before, I get more Protestant all the time.  My heart is Catholic, but my brain isn't - it has a whole lot of trouble with Catholic dogma and is really very Protestant I guess.  I also can't grasp the idea that some kinds of God's grace (sacramental) being "better" than the rest of God's grace. Can God's grace really be graded (AAA, A, B+) in the same way as municipal bonds?  Why is the "grace" supposedly granted by absolution by a human being in a formal reconciliation rite considered "superior" by some to the grace God grants freely to anyone who experiences sorrow and repentance and confesses sinfulness directly to God, without the human being in between?

It does seem really that many do see faith and belief as matters of "wanting" - and of choice, as did Augustine it seems.

I don't think you suffer from a lack of "Cathoic" sensibility, Ann, and if you do, I share in it.

Teilhard's entire work, The Divine Milieu, asserted that we meet Christ everywhere throughout all of creation. This is the meaning of the cosmic Christ who is different, albeit related, to Jesus of Nazareth (I know this is another can of worms!). However, the Christological dimension makes clear, through later Trinitarian development that the world was created in and through Christ and this is also revealed through the resurrection and Pentecost. Thus the entire creation is filled with élément christique (Teilhard's phrase). And this was also Blake's intuition and Hopkins God's Grandeur.

I have always liked Meister Eckhart and he said that if one were to step on a stone with proper interior dispostion it would have greater value than if one received Eucharist without. I much prefer the term "transignification" over transubstantiation as the latter terms demands that we accept an Aristotelian science which I don't think is required by faith. 

Just to clarify: the term "transsubstantiation" and the doctrine of the Real Presence do not demand that we accept an Aristotelian science. They don't even require that we accept an Aristotelian metaphysics. The Council of Trent deliberately avoided language that would make any particular theological or philosophical school obligatory. 

I think a lot of very naive notions of "substance" underlie many of the objections to the doctrine and its formulation in terms of transsubstantiation. You know, the idea that deep, deep down, way down below the "accidents" of a thing, so deep that only an ontological microscope of the highest possible power can discern it, there is the "substance" of a thing, and that what happens is that that way-down-deep substance of bread is whisked away and replaced, way down there, by the substance of Christ's body. If something like that leads you to reject transsubstantiation, you're in good company, which would include me--except I don't think that that is what the doctrine holds.

So may I ask those who say that they reject transsubstantiation, what it is to which they object?

I think of the Ignatian saying "finding God in all things" and for me, personal prayer seeems the main place to find Jesus, more so then the eucharist ... in prayer he can talk back to me, but not as a wafer.  I think one can still be Catholic and have questions about transubstantiation ... I believe both Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeeckx (tansignification/transfinalization)) dissented on that subject, but I'm not sure I understand what they believe.

I'm comfortable with transubstantiation but, like Paul VI, I don't think transignifation or transfinalization are fully effective terms. When I teach 7th, 8th and 9th grade CCD students I use the Flannery O'Connor formula -- "If it's only a symbol, to hell with it." I emphasize that Christ's Eucharistic presence is the most intimate, tangible way that God expresses His love for us and shares His life with us. While I'm a fan of Aristotle's metaphysics, my belief in the Real Presence doesn't relay on Aristotle or Aquinas. I accept it through faith which is based on what Jesus says in the Gospels, particularly in John 6.  John's Eucharistic discourse is affirmed by the Last Supper narratives, some Pauline texts, the writings of the Fathers and the teaching of the Church. 

As an aside, I belong to a parish that is in it's fifteenth year of perpetual adoration. 

I have read that the Orthodox churches believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, but that they don't use the term "transubstantiation".  Maybe we are trying to define a mystery too specifically.

In the New Dictionary of Theology that I edited some years ago, the fine Jesuit philosopher Norris Clark ends the entry under "Substance and Accidents" with a reference to its use in explaining the mystery of the Real Presence as effected by transsubstantiation: "It should be noted, however, that the church does not commit herself in her dogmatic definition to any one strictly philosophical explanation of the mystery, not even to the technical doctrine of substance and accident."

I think a lot of very naive notions of "substance" underlie many of the objections to the doctrine and its formulation in terms of transsubstantiation. You know, the idea that deep, deep down, way down below the "accidents" of a thing, so deep that only an ontological microscope of the highest possible power can discern it, there is the "substance" of a thing, and that what happens is that that way-down-deep substance of bread is whisked away and replaced, way down there, by the substance of Christ's body. If something like that leads you to reject transsubstantiation, you're in good company, which would include me--except I don't think that that is what the doctrine holds.

That, more or less, characterized what I understood to be the basic idea of "substance", the sort of "stuff" of matter. It seemed to me to be a kind of intellectual scaffolding to support Aristotelian metaphysics. So, if that is a naive understanding, that was indeed my reservation. If there are better understandings, I am open to learning and reflection.

That said, I support the real presence as a matter of faith and have opted not to get to focussed on precise definitions. I have leaned towards the phenomenologists and for that reason liked Schillebeeckx's idea as far as I understand him. As I understand it, his notion is analogous to Wittgenstein's in that the meaning of words occurs in use. So by analogy the meaning of the bread and wine can only be understood in the context of how it is being used. So in this sense, the change in the bread, happens when the celebration is actually occurring and the signfication of the bread and wine changes. It is a both a symbol and channel of grace working in and through the assembly. So when I receive and say "Amen" I am assenting to the presence of the risen Christ in and around me, in what I consume, hear, and see. I receive, I do not take. It is gift.

I have heard that some Eastern churches and maybe Protestants also address the "problem" by consuming all during the Eucharistic celebration and not then having to reserve the remaining species.

At any rate, reverence for the celebration, the Eucharist, the word, and all of the acts are important and should lead to greater love of God and neighbour. 

My own reservations about transubstatiation and real presence are kind of mixed up ... there's the thought that what Jesus said about it in the NT referred only to his disciples then, that expected us to do communion in memory of him but didn't expect a future chirch where priests would change bread and wine into his body and blood ... there's the idea that the eucharist makes those who take it more "holy" and thus the church can in a way almost blckmail people into certain behaviors by denying them communion ... there's the abstraction of eucharistic adoration where Jesus is in a way reduced and domesticated into a wafer like a product when what he said, take and eat, not take and adore in a monstrance.

Aan interesting book - "Making a Meal of It: Rethinking the Theology of the Lord's Supper" by Ben Witherington ... ... it covers the evolution of communion from the agape feasts, through the early church fathers, the scholastics, the Council of Trent, and the Reformation, until now.

Ann C. --


I've always said it's probably a good thing I went to a secular college because if I had had some of the teachers my friends had in Catholic ones I don't know if I'd be Catholic today.  I did take two philosophy courses at Loyola here, and the courses had their merits, but the teachers wouldn't admit problems in their opinions, even obvious ones.  Such uncritical thinking was a big turn-off for me, but fortunately I had read some Aquinas himself and learned to love him, a lot of him anyway.  I can see how someone who had had really poor theology teachers might indeed think that "transubstantiation" just signified some sort of intellectual  con job, instead of an honest attempt to make some sense of a mystery.  So I was lucky I just never was taught I had to accept that particular explanation.


I also was never taught that the graces of the sacraments are somehow superior to other graces.  But I also think that the sacraments can give more than one kind of graces, and their effects last.  Maybe we should have some threads on the Sacraments?  I could use 'em.

human beings as spirits embodied; Christ as Word made flesh; the Church both divine and human; the sacraments as grace communicated through physical signs and gestures.

And these seem to be posing somewhat similar difficulties. "human beings as spirits embodied", and difficulties with the resurrection of the flesh. Sacraments, and difficulties with the Real Presence. The holy Church, and difficulties coming to terms with the existence of sex abuse. Christ as Word made flesh, and difficulty by some to accept, or to see the need for, supernatural events of his life. Could it be that all those controversies arise from the same difficulty, a difficulty in mingling the spiritual with the physical?

Georg D. -- 

I"m with Flannery O'Connor.  If it's just a symbol, then what's the big deal.  My belief is simple.  Jesus *says* that the bread and wine are changed into Him, Tradition says that it happens again at Mass, and I accept *that* it happens it, though I don't know *how* the miracle happens. 

Consider this:  bread and wine are *constantly* being changed into people (every time we eat and drink them), and we don't think those cases are astonishing at all.  But maybe they *are*, if we really think about them.  What is astonishing about the Consecration is *how* the bread and wine are changed into Jesus -- and also how Jesus then exists in many places at once.  That's miraculous too.

If you're serious about learning some Aristotle, then try one of Edward Feser's little books, "Aquinas" or "The Last Superstition".  His new book "Scholastic Metaphysics" came out this very week.  It will probably be wonkish.  (Haven't gotten my copy yet.)  Also, Adler's little classic "Aristotle for Everyone" will at least give you some Aristotelian vocabulary.


JAk --

I couldn't get that N.T.Wright YouTube thing to work, so I still don't know what St. Paul means by "spirit".  Is i something physical?  LIterally physical breath?  If so, then statements about the Holy Spirit "breathing"  on people are strange, are they not?

Human life here and now is largely about exertion and striving. Suffering plays a part, certainly, but it is what we do or fail to do, including the endurance of suffering, that makes us what we are. Working, loving, hating, fighting, earning a diploma or a degree, running a marathon, finishing a crossword puzzle, praying, writing a comment for Commonweal, these things make up a human life. And death and the knowledge that we are going to die add a tragic urgency. Why do the Homeric gods, even at their most august, seem almost frivolous, while the human heroes are so fraught with meaning and consequence? Death is the difference.

From our vantage point here below, the Christian heaven suffers from being everlastingly uneventful. Or at least no one seems able to say what goes on there. Maybe that is why poets and artists and preachers are more successful in portraying hell than heaven. We have at least some experience of torment, but unruffled, unending bliss is beyond our ken.

What is a body to do in heaven? What use is a digestive system, if there is no eating and drinking? Or reproductive organs, if there is no mating and no procreating? What becomes of the searching, problem-solving human brain, when all mysteries have been revealed?

Worse, a hell of perpetual punishment fatally compromises heaven, for we have learned enough, I hope, in our earthly years to see that even our pitiful notion of justice could not impose, nor our mercy permit, eternal damnation of creatures weaker than ourselves. How then if God acts so? Would not the only ethical choice be hell and defiance, rather than spend an hour, let alone eternity, with a monster who in effect pulls the wings off flies and tortures small animals?

In the yearning after eternal life, there is a temptation to think that anything less is of no value; that our existence is without meaning unless it is without end. But is that the lesson of our lives? Flowers bloom and fade, birds sing, stars shine, babies cry and coo. Beauty astounds us, love wells up, joy overwhelms. They are real, even if now they are gone. Or not gone, for in the mind of God, are not all these brief things gathered into one eternal present, and nothing lost?





Well yes I am serious. I had studied some metaphysics in my undergrad but frankly was not drawn, at that time, to that particular school and even found Aquinas a bit wanting (but that could have been how it was presented. And besides, in Catholic circles, then, it seemed that almost every Catholic philosopher claimed to be an heir to the Thomistic tradition - Lonergan, Gilson, Martain but they all had slightly different takes so it always seemed to me to be a bit of a pious homage). At any rate, thanks for the book suggestions and I will write those down and put them on the list. So many little time....:)


You can read this interview with NT Wright about spiritual bodies at Beliefnet ... ... also his website has tons of articles ...

I think Crystal brings up something important when she spoke of the Church trying to force people into certain behaviors by denying or granting people Communion. When the sacrament is used as a carrot or a club this seems like an abuse of both Jesus and and the person.  It is not recorded in Scripture (to my knowledge) that Jesus ever withheld himself from anyone who came to him. We say that this is "protecting" the sacrament, but would seem that it actually weakens people's belief in it.

Ann Oliver,

I recently read Edward Feser's "The Last Superstition" and liked it very much. I own Adler's "Aristotle for Everyone" and Feser's "Aquinas" but have only read parts of them.  


Ann:   Bernard Lonergan was of the same view about the Real Presence;  Christ said "This is my body." His body isn't bread. This isn't bread."

For him the substance of a thing was its reality as known by intelligent grasp and rational judgment, and not by some kind of "look."  The judgment in the case of the Eucharist is that of Christ: "This is my body." Christ's judgments are true. So this, which looks like bread, in reality is his body.

A parallel:  Tertullian thought that the Son of God was consubstantial with the Father because made of the same stuff, really fine matter, it seems. Athanasius thought we had to say that the Son was consubstantial, of the same substance, because the same things are affirmed in the Scriptures about him as are affirmed about the Father, except for the name "Father." 

I still remember where and when I was when, preparing for an exam on the Holy Trinity, I realized that I had an image in my mind of three rather diaphanous entities in relationship among themselves. St. Augustine said that it took him years and years before he realized that something could be real without being a body. I don't think it's any easier today to achieve that same realization. 

I believe that Jesus was God and that he somehow takes care of us during our lives and after death, assuming we don't utterly reject his love and teachings. (Whether that includes following every single rule the Church promulgates through the CCC is a question I continue to struggle with.)

But, like the insistence that Mary was a perpetual virgin, the resurrection of the flesh it just doesn't mean much to my effort to follow the prime directive: Love God with all your soul and your neighbor as yourself.

At least some of these things don't mean much to me now. I'm slow to put things together, and skeptical about claims that can't be proved. I stay away from books like "Heaven Is Real." All that means to me is that the author THINKS he has seen heaven and knows it exists and what it's like. 

But I admit that 30 years ago, the divinity of Jesus meant very little to me. Certainly, it does now.

Fr. K, yes, part of the problem may lie with definitions and understandings of the words used - of substance, soul, spirit etc.  As I commented earlier, the vocabulary of theology and philosophy often includes words used by everyone, but the meaning of those words is not the same as the meanings understood in everyday language by those not educated in theology and philosophy.

I'm not sure that God meant for all of this to be so complicated, so difficult for ordinary people to grasp.

Ann O, when I mentioned the issue of sacramental grace v. plain old grace, I used the example of formal confession. That is because the issue of grace is often raised in debates about the value of the ritual of confession to a priest. Very often people who defend the rite claim that even if the rite is rote and mechanical, and the confessor listless and bored and obviously anxious to be done with the tedium, the penitent will receive "grace" from going through the ritual and that this "special" grace of confession is available only through going to confession via a human mediator - a priest (as if God is somehow unable to grant absolution without the help of a man.)  How is this grace from the sacrament any different from the grace that is lavished on all of us, all the time through God's unlimited love?  The church talks of grace, sacramental grace and sanctifying grace, but that seems to be a human classification system that treats some grace as "better" than other grace.  Catholics often mention this as one of the advantages of being a Catholic christian - that protestant christians do not obtain this special grace because they "don't have the sacraments".   According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, God even sometimes doles out sacramental grace, withholding some until all the required hoops have been jumped through -

For example - (CCC 1285)  It must be explained to the faithful that the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace.89  So apparently the grace of baptism must be added to the grace of first communion which is then added to the grace of confirmation and finally the portion of grace allocated by God for the "sacraments of initiation" is used up.


I would like to ask everyone who still has the patience to continue this conversation and who has used the term "Real Presence"  exactly what they mean by that term, getting away from transubstantiation etc.  How is God (Jesus) more present by consuming a wafer of bread and sipping some wine than in any other way?   I tend to be with Crystal on this - I most strongly feel God's presence in prayer - especially in silent prayer.



Anne: wasn't that discussed at length with you not long ago? I can't find the thread again, but if you have a link that you could post, that would be great. I wouldn't want to repeat what's already there.


Claire, you are right - at least it was close enough to the same discussion. I will try to find it. But I think that it's hopeless and I might as well give up. I've been trying to understand what the church really means by certain teachings since I was a kid in a Catholic parochial school in the 50s. I didn't get it then, I didn't get it in college, and I still don't get it. My mind just doesn't work the way it "should" to understand these ideas the way the Catholic church means them.  I might as well just accept it.

Jean --

I'm with you about certain dogmas, or at least the *explanations* of certain dogmas.  In their fulness some of them are essentially almost  totally beyond us, so why try so hard to grasp them accurately?  One theological argument definitely turns me off.  I mean the issue of the pepetual virginity of Mary.  As I see it, whether or not she remained a virgin is nobody's business but hers, St. Joseph's and the Holy Spirit's, so everyone else should just shut up and mind their own business.  The whole arguments seems  rather obscene to me.

The issue of our own resurrection does matter to me.  I can't imagine being me without the ole body.  I suspect that those who want to eliminate bodies from the fulness of the afterlife, whatever it is, are still bogged down in Gnosticism of some sort.

Anne Chapman:  I'm trying to understand your last post. You wrote:

I've been trying to understand what the church really means by certain teachings since I was a kid in a Catholic parochial school in the 50s. I didn't get it then, I didn't get it in college, and I still don't get it. My mind just doesn't work the way it "should" to understand these ideas the way the Catholic church means them.  I might as well just accept it.

When you say you "don't get it," what is the it?  That you don't understand what the Church really means by certain teachings? Or that you don't understand what they really mean? Or that what the Church means is not what you mean by them? Or that you understand what the Church means but that you don't agree with it? 

I ask because you seem frustrated that these many conversations don't seem to help. 

I share some of Anne's frustrations.  Me being introduced to ideas like 'real presence' or 'sacramental grace' as an adult  convert makes it harder not to question them, especially when sometimes the only argument for them is tradition ... maybe people raised Catholic as children absorb these doctrines uncritically?

I ask my spiritual director about this stuff all the time and he usually seems to say to trust my prayer experience over doctrine, to try to 'discern the spirits, to follow the love and to let go of the stuff that disturbs me.


Anne C. --


About the grace(s) of Confession being superior to God's other graces -- My Dictionary of St. Thomas Aquinas give almost three full *pages* of different sorts of graces.  All graces are gifts, and it seems that all aspects of our very being can have gifts bestowed on them.  There are gifts for body and gifts for soul, gifts for our inclinations (including habits), and gifts for carrying out actions, gifts which are temporary and gifts which are permanent.  Plus a lot of other classifications.  As I remember my catechism, the graces of the Sacraments are permanent, and  I guess it might be said that Sacramenal graces are superior to the graces which come and go.  But might there be some fleeting graces that are better -- say, more powerful -- than the permanent, sacramental ones?  Maybe the theologians on the blog could help us with this.    


You also say:


"I would like to ask everyone who still has the patience to continue this conversation and who has used the term "Real Presence"  exactly what they mean by that term, getting away from transubstantiation etc.  How is God (Jesus) more present by consuming a wafer of bread and sipping some wine than in any other way?"

ISTM that there's a bit of a semantic problem here.  The Scholastics made a distinction between something that was only a sign or symbol of something else and something that is simply itself, i.e., real.  For instance, a statue of Washington is only a sign of him, but George was the real thing.  But both can be present to us.  I don't think that "presence" can be defined (it's a kind of primary datum), it can only be pointed to.  For instance, I can say "Look at that comet in the Western sky", and you turn your attention to it, and looking you see it, and it is now present to you.  Or I might ask, "Are you awake?"  If you are awake, you point your consciousness "towards" itself and find that you are conscious of being conscious.  So you answer, "Yes".  You are able answer Yes because you experienced yourself as present to yourself.  (Prepositions like "to" get in the way of talking about identities.  There's not really any *from-to* involved in being conscious of being conscious.  Sigh.)

When we talk about "the Real Presence" that just means that Jesus' presence in the priest's or our own hands and within our bodies is not a symbolic presence.  He's  REALLY totally there, both body and  spirit.  Whether that is superior to God's immanence in His creatures, I don't know, but it is certainly much easier for our weak minds to be aware of a physical presence than the purely spiritual presence of God within His creatures.  Maybe the theologians here could help with this, though I'm not burning to know the answers.

I might add that there seem to be some mystics who do become aware of God's presence in nature, within all the beautiful things that He has created. They'e usually not Catholic mystics, though.  Odd that.  Their experiences are very different from those of the pantheistic  "nature mystics" who intuit themselves as *identical* with God/nature. 


Crystal:  I'll ask a question similar to what I asked Ms. Chapman:  What precisely is your frustration? It certainly can't be that on this blog your questions are not being taken serously. Is it that you don't find any of the answers provided convincing? Or what?

Please don't think that people catechized in their childhood remain always childish, in uncritical absorption of the doctrines of the Church.

I do have a question: If you have such doubts as those you have expressed about central or basic Catholic doctrines, why did you want to become a Catholic? This is not a criticism, but a genuine question, because it puzzles me. But if it's too personal, don't feel obliged to answer it.

Fr. K,

The frustration is not with the discussions we have here, it's mostly with the official face of the church, the US Bishops, Vatican decisions, etc., but yes,i do find it hard to believe a lot of the church teaching that some of the commenters here believe.

Why I became a Catholic and a Christian is sort of long and convoluted and probably boring to anyone but me  :) but ...  In college, atheist me took a lot of history and philosophy classes and I was interested in the medieval church and the church at the time of the Three Musketeers. All the incense, candles, stained glass windows, monasteries, celibate preisthood, saints, religious wars, Anselm, Heloise and Abelard, Thomas Becket, Cardinal Richelieau ... it was all so exotic. Then about 10 years ago when I was pretty lonely and my vision was worse, I decided to join a church.  I didn't really believe in God and I didn't know anything about the contemporary Catholic church aside from what you'd read in novels or see in movies, but I thought maybe I could become part of an interesting community and it would be enough (and I lived within walking distance of a Catholic church).  I went for about 4 years but then stopped going - I didn't really make any friends there and I didn't learn anything about how to connect with God.

But a few years after that I got to know a  Jesuit online when I was researching some stuffo and I read his posted homilies and they made me hope that God did exist.  I decided to do the Creighton University online Spiritual Exercises retreat and he helped me with it.  I learned so much more about God and myself in that retreat than at church and I had a sort of religious experience, I guess.  Since then I've been learning more about Catholicism and Christianity, mostly via blogging  :)  And I'm working on having a personal relationship with God through  prayer. 

Anne and Crystal, I have to tell you that most of the time I also cannot say what the Real Presence is. Once in a while I read a text and have some fleeting understanding, then it goes away. At Mass, when I answer "Amen" at communion, it does not mean that at that moment I understand how the Host is the body of Christ. It also does not mean that I have some feeling of receiving the body of Christ. Usually it's largely empty, more an expression of the will than of anything else.

Why, then, accept it? Because it is nourishing. The Eucharist is nourishing.

Then the question is not whether to accept it but how to accept it.

To better appreciate communion, sometimes I sit close to where people receive communion, and watch them receive, one after the other, watch their faces, or listen to the endless "The body of Christ... amen... the body of Christ... amen..." and it's like a mantra. The words may bring home the fact that we're all united in Christ. Or the sight of other people's faith can help my own faith.

Sometimes when I am stuck on a problem and keep hitting the same obstacle without making progress, instead of going at it headfirst I might then find it more fruitful to go around. If I were stuck on the Real Presence, I might think about other questions, questions that I would find easier to grasp, and maybe they would help me and one day I would find that the issue of the Real Presence has unexpectedly been resolved. It's not "giving up" but trying a more circuitous route. (At least, that's how things work in Math sometimes. I don't know about theology.)

Crystal -

Thanks very much for what you wrote at 5:33 p.m., in response to Joe Komonchak's question.

Hi Gene  :)

Crystal --

The Creighton University Spirituality Center has lots of good programs online, including daily readings and reflexions.  I generally find them to be more relevant to contemporary concerns than some of the old-fashioned prayers and piety, plus a lot of the contributions are from lay people.  Learn more at:

Online Ministries Home Page

Hi Ann,

Thanks. I visit many of the Jesuit sites like Creighton ...  the Irish Jesuit's Sacred Space prayer site ... ... and the British Jesuit sites: Pray-As-You-Go ... ... and Thinking Faith ...

As far as what the Real Presence means to me personally, I think of it as intimacy with Christ.  Not that intimacy can't be achieved through prayer and meditation; but the host and/or consecrated wine is the outward tangible sign of Christ's willingness to become part of my body and soul with His body and soul. The Anima Christi sums it up best.

I was rather frightened of returning to this thread!

Claire -I will try your poem tho' my French I'm  afraid is that generally described as 'schoolgirl'!

I do understand what you and Prof. Komonchak describe as moments of overwheming love  -  and I know I  am rarely fair to  Augustine.  I have known some of the moments equivalent to those you describe, some of them over and over again and never tire of them but that is because I meet them fresh each time.  I do not wish to play myself my favouriite piece  of Mozart immediately over and over again but savour the silence that follows - and sometimes its joy and sometimes its sorrow and how he reconciles them for me . I don;t want him as an everasting sound-track even when I kid myself I want to say there forever.   Even  on the mountaintop it begins to get cold. I accidentally found  myself out all  night on an alpine mountain once - I draw on it for all kinds of reflections  but it is not an experience I want to repeat.  

They  - all  those 'moments' come through my senses and my corporality.   [When I typed that word I mis-spelt it as 'corporeality' which I decided I rather liked!]    My love of my local landscapes and changing skies is based on all my bodily sensations and capacities and even enjoying the atermath - the cleaning of boots, the washing of mud-stained trousers, the hot drink and some food; the shower after a bout of gardening. Love is a verb, not just a noun.  My garden  brings   me joy if I work on it as well as looking at it [and without the work it would be nothing but bramble and nettle].

My greatest 'moments' leave me feeling "This  is enough - I can go now". That is not   a suicidal impulse - it is a feeling that life is so sufficient at that moment, so full, so complete, even if it has involved Mozart's pain as well as his joy  that should I be 'taken' at that moment, that would be perfection. It is not connected to wanting a continuation in another life. One of the saddest comments in all this thread for me was that one about eating icecream cake without putting on weight. I do sincerely hope that the person's sister who said that was joking in that way one can joke' out of lugubrious  gloom, or was teasing her listener. It is not  'moral' judgement but   sadness over -  if meant- the lack  of  imagination and joy in  this  life projected on to a future life.  I would suspect depression. Get some life before death.  

You  mentioned among joys that of intellctual discussion. That is one I suspect will be missing 'up there', along with books and pctures and new art.   I  realised when was younger that I would rather spend eternity with Socates and Co than any of the saints  I read about and saw  in 'afterlife' paintings, overwhelmed by glory.  I engaged in a happy fantasy once that Jesus, being kindly and courteous,  would make sure all his saints were comfortable, even provide scourges  and mouldy  food  and all the rest for those who adored self inflicted bodily misery on earth so  they would not miss them ,  and then come out and quietly  lock the door - ie from the outside - and come and join us who would  I give him a good party  and  talk together endlessly.  I admit I was working for a group at the time who    were praying to save from eternal damnation most of the people I liked and revered more every day!  

I don't  want all questions   silenced and my sole role is just  to adore the  Almighty. I have too many questions for him and they are not scientific ones.  Are we really going to be reconciled with "And he shal  wipe away all tears from our eyes" and his secret plans of love even when they were indiscernable  from hate?   All judgement scenes are about 'us' facing 'him'  -  how about 'him' facing 'us' and all those with even more cause? ? Otherwise - I hope to become just 'stardust'.   

A final thought - texts sent by the young from that boat from South Korea reminded me of the   mobile phone messages that were recorded and replayed on '9/11'.  Unless heavily edited and selected,  they were all of sent  love - earthly human love.  None  that  I  heard  expressed fear of hell or hope of heaven;   none  seemed l seemed to find life meaningless as  they looked death in the face.  Those concerned  with  the afterlife and paradise on   9/11 were those who flew the  planes.   Simple human love and cherishing is what will get us through; is where true hope lives.  





Crystal, I have used the Creighton site for long periods. Thanks for the reminder. I think I need to go back to it. 

I have some of those "moments of overwhelming love" that a couple of people on here have discussed. But those moments are their own reward. 

What keeps me connected to the Church are my moments of overwhelming, generalized sorrow. I have had these feelings as long as I can remember They are quite possibly the signs of a morbid and depressed mind rather than anything else. But from a very young age, I would befriend some animal or some kid whom everyone thought was an oddball, and this led to a kind of amorphous and angry prayer a la,  "God, if you're really there, why aren't you helping these dogs/cats/people more? I do what I can, but there are millions out there like this, and I can't possibly take care of them all."

I tried to quash these feelings in a variety of ways, including avoidance, and that just made me feel worse.

So for all that I'm at odds with the Church over its "pelvic issues," liturgical changes, and what seems to me like "dead-end dogma" (e.g., the perpetual virginity of Mary), my association with Catholicism has made me more open to being reaching out because I am connected to everybody else as part of the Body of Christ; it's not just my personal relationship with the Lord that matters here. The Church also provided me with a host of saintly friends to whom I could offer up petitions and a sense that those prayers may actually matter. 


"God, if you're really there, why aren't you helping these dogs/cats/people more? I do what I can, but there are millions out there like this, and I can't possibly take care of them all."

That's my prayer too, said the person who just left some food out for the stray cats in the yard ... sigh  :(

I'm sorry, I did not realise you had all changed the subject so greatly when I sent my last post - it seems so 'out of order' and irrelevant now that I read it back among all the contributions. .

But can I say to John Prior  [April 22nd and 4.10am according to my computer [?!]  that I  so know what you mean by your questions about 'what is the body to do in heaven?' What is the point of having it? And the sense that heaven seems 'everlastingly uneventful',  and your concerns over hell.   I feel less alone in my bewilderments!

Can I share my thoughts on this comment that many quote - " If it's only a symbol to hell with it" I felt  a great sadness when I first encounted  it a few weeks ago.   I;m so  ignorant  I  don't even know who Flannery C, the originator of the comment,  is.  And I have never taken/received Communion or the Eucharist.  My own period of church involvement  was Protestant and non-conforming Protestant at that.    Their celebration was not, as I understood it, of the 'sacrificial death' of Christ itself ,  so not a re-enactment of the three hours on the cross,   but of "the Last Supper" - Do this in remembrance of me; ie break bread together and take some wine in  memory of us together here. "Companion" comes  from 'con pane' -to break bread together. 

It is only in similies  that one spells out 'this is like that'   - in metaphors one just goes straight in ["I'm over the moon", not "I feel as though I;m over the moon"  or  "it s like being  over the moon".   More deeply - "Who would have thought my withered heart could have recovered greeness?"     It is not literal.  But he is not going to waste words on saying - "It is as though...." and turn wondrous poetry into deadly prose.  Is  anybody so completely sure they know what Christ  was saying and at what level?

As  youngster I found it incredibly moving that  in this small congregation - a working class community and half  of it formed by us, the children who came from  a local authority Children's Home  - the adults kept this meal in his memory  'till he come again", quoting the  same famous passage that you all  use.  

[The Home as not a  'religious' one; it was absolutley devoid  cruelty, abuse,  and sadism. There were no religious pictures or statues.
We  went to church  twice on Sundays.   Looking back  I feel for and admire the young minister who faced  our rows of  eyes each Sunday  and found a way to   talk of God  as loving father].

It worries and saddens me that if you are going to say 'to hell with it if it is just 'symbolic', you, like Paul, find  only his death of any meaning.  I am constantly shocked by Paul's lack of interest in the life of Jesus.  One would learn nothing from him about the teachings, the healings, of  a woman who touched  the hem of his garment and he does not shame her; ;  a little girl has her hand taken and the parents told to give her something to eat - and no further orders to her;  the analogies that go through coin and sheep and prodigal son; the brilliance of how he  got himself and a woman out of possible death for them both if he gives the wrong answer .   And as you, Katherine N said, seemingly turning away no-one from his table. It is the language of 'the table' they  use,  not the altar.

Why the dismissive angry " If it is just  symbolic to hell with it" Perhaps none of the communion celebrations have the whole truth?  Do you know the story of the six blind sages and the elephant?

I cannot believe that he would deride this simple interpetation if that is  what it is,   even if in your eyes it is 'wrong', such seems to have been his capacity to communicate with th e poor  and the illiterate and not  only the sophisticates who would be able to cope with the complex ideas with which the educated are struggling on this  thread. Why would it  be such a blow to faith and to your conception of him that you would simply say "To hell with it"? And what  exactly is the 'it' you would consign to hell? ?  Symbolism seems to me the  flower of the human mind; the source of  all creativity and art.   It  [F.C's  statement  just seems to me a desperately sad one - for you, not 'against' you.

Meanwhile I  find Garry 'Wills' Chapter 9, "The   Priestly Caste" [ Garry  Wills 2000] sheds a very interesting light  on the whole subject.







Lorna, this is the first time I've encountered a fellow outdoors person on this blog! 

I understand that the Flannery O'Connor quote comes from an anti-Protestant context. I think and hope people did not mean it as a put-down of Protestants; in this instance I think it was a case of intra-Catholic disagreements.


While visiting New York as a young woman, Flannery O'Connor attended a party at the home of the novelist and critic Mary McCarthy. McCarthy was raised a Catholic but embraced atheism as a young woman. She was very cultured and sophiticated.  Here is Flannery O'Connor's recollection of the evening.

I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater. . . . She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual. We went at eight and at one, I hadn't opened my mouth once, there being nothing for me in such company to say. The people who took me were Robert Lowell and his now wife, Elizabeth Hardwick. Having me there was like having a dog present who had been trained to say a few words but overcome with inadequacy had forgotten them. Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the "most portable" person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, "Well, if it's a symbol, to hell with it." That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest is expendable. 

Flannery O'Connor was a writer of enormous talent. Paul Elie, writing in Commonweal in November of 2008, said that part of her genius was that "she made work that crossed borders-- between North and South, black and white, Catholic and Protestant, the realistic and the grotesque -- in order to dramatize the central human question: "the question of the salvation or loss of the soul..."".


I wonder what O'Connor meant about "to hell with it" ... to hell with communion, with going to church, with being a Christian?  To make the real presence the most important thing about being a Christian seems impoverished to me.

Crystal --

To make the Real Presence the most important thing about being Christian is to make Christ the most important thing about being a Christian.  How could anything be more important?

Jesus seemed to think the most important things were loving God and other people, and his years of preaching and acting revealed a lot about what's important about being a Christian.  To make it all be just about a wafer, especially when transubstantiation is a tradition not even all Catholics, much less all Christians accept, seems strange to me.  Jesus is way more than a pesence in a host.  Or so it seems to hetrodox me  ;)

  From US Catholic ...

of adult Catholics (63 percent) believe that “at the consecration during a Catholic Mass, the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”

And in Ireland ...

Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) believe the blessing of bread and wine during Mass only represents the body and blood of Christ. Just over a quarter believe it is transformed (26 per cent).


Crystal --

It isn't abou a wafer at all.  The wafer goes out of exisence.  It's about Jesus, the Risen Lord.

Do you believe that God created the world?  If so, then if He could do *that*,  why would it be beyond Him to make Jesus present yet again and again in the Mass for everyone's benefit?

Theologians these days seem very impressed with the notion that being a Christian is first and foremost *encountering* Jesus the Lord.  From that everything else in a Christian life follows.  This fits very well, I think, with the belief that in Holy Communion we actually encouner the Lord Jesus Christ, same as Mary Magdalen did at the tomb, same as Thomas and the other Apostles did later.


Yes, I do think God could do that if he wanted to.  And I do believe encountering the risen Jesus is at the center of Christianity.  It's what I am trying to do with my prayer life.  I'm just not convinced that the eucharist is the best way to do that.  I guess it's hard to explain why I think this, but I'll try, and I hope what I say doesn't sound too offensive. 

My first encounter with Jesus was through a prayer conversation  -  Ignatian colloquy - where you imagine yourself being with Jesus.  You talk to him, he talks to you. When I compare a conversation with what seems like a consciously 'there' Jesus, one who speaks and listens and moves, to eating a wafer, even one believed to be Jesus' flesh,  it seems like replacing a  relationship with a symbol, seems emotionally distancing, seems like packaging the encounter into something controllable and completely controlled by the church ... no one can have this eucharistic encounter except at church and unless they're "vetted" ...  divorced/remarried people can't, sexually active gay people can't, excommunicated people can't, etc.  That seems to place the church in the position of mediating people's encounter with Jesus.

It's not that I think communion isn't important - do this in memory of me - but to say it's the ultimate religious experience of Jesus seems incorrect to me. seems like ....packaging the encounter into something controllable and completely controlled by the church ... to place the church in the position of mediating people's encounter with Jesus.


Thank you, Crystal.  I am also among those who don't really understand those who believe that receiving the host and drinking wine is the only or 'best" way to encounter Jesus.  Your comment about the church (the priest) being a mandatory player (according to the church anyway), a  required mediator between people and Jesus is pretty much what Garry Wills says in his most recent book, Why Priests?. A lot of priests wrote a lot of nasty reviews of that book!  

The church does the same thing with Reconciliation - it attempts to block people from going directly to God to confess and to receive forgiveness, claiming that the priest has been "appointed" by Jesus to mediate between God and the person.

And the problem remains, what exactly does the church mean when it claims that the bread is Jesus' flesh, and the wine is Jesus' blood.  Ann O, when you wrote that, what visual do you have of Jesus' flesh?  What does Jesus' flesh look like (not the disguise of bread)?

Yes, Fr. K, definitions definitely throw up roadblocks to many - beginning with "substance".

Katherine Nielsen wrote:

I think Crystal brings up something important when she spoke of the Church trying to force people into certain behaviors by denying or granting people Communion. When the sacrament is used as a carrot or a club this seems like an abuse of both Jesus and and the person.  It is not recorded in Scripture (to my knowledge) that Jesus ever withheld himself from anyone who came to him. We say that this is "protecting" the sacrament, but would seem that it actually weakens people's belief in it.

Yesterday, I had thought that I had responded to this, although I don't see it in the comments list so perhaps I never hit the Save button.  At any rate, the gist of my almost-comment was: for people who find themselves in a situation where they are not able to receive communion, I recommend that they seek spiritual direction, from a priest or another person who has the charism of being a spiritual director.

And now I see that our friend David G has written an extremely interesting article about Pope Francis, who, among his other manifold gifts, seems to have some serious spiritual direction chops.  Apparently the Holy Father has been monitoring my comments on dotCom so closely that he even discerned one that I didn't actually submit, and acted upon it.  Headline: "Did Pope Francis really tell a divorced woman to take Communion?"

What a blessing to have a pope with the heart of a pastor.

HT: Rev. Anthony Ruff at PrayTell blog.





My views on what Communion actually is, as far as I know, are wholly orthodox. But I feel that the Catholic attitude about Communion is very fraught, so I figure the safest thing to do is not receive. I'm covered by spiritual communion if I am "eligible," and if I'm not, I'm not adding to my sins by receiving when I shouldn't.

It's all well and good to urge people to see the priest for spiritual direction, but my priest simply declined to engage in the confessional. As I understand it, last time I went to Confession I got some type of conditional absolution because I was afraid of going to hell. Given that he is now very ill and hardly able to say Mass more than a couple of times a week, I'm not going to pester him with my problems.

I think for most Catholics that Communion is the whole point of the Mass, but one can find attendance without reception efficacious in many ways. I find it easier to try to be as Catholic as I can when I'm not worrying about being a hypocrite about receiving. I try to trust that these things will get resolved over time. 

Hey, guys --

Here's an article that appeared serendipitously today on Micah Matix' compiler, "Marilynne Robinsonm,  St, Thomas and the Wonder of Existence".  It's about her much-honored novel "Gilead" which many of you probably read, and how much she appreciates  being actually aware of the sheer existence of things.

By the way, Micah's compiler ("Prufrock")  appears daily and usually has some good stuff.  If you're not afraid of associating with conservatives, you might like it   No, it's not the same thing as the Prufrock Coffe Blog.

The Prufrock Press Blog

Jean --

I think you're right that Communion is the main point of the Mass, but it involves more than the one-on-one relationsip of individuals to Jesus.  It includes awareness of the unity of the whole assembly.  In my old age I have taken to watching the faces of people returning from the altar (somebody else here mentioned that).  Most inspiring.  My most favorite returning pereson of all time was the eight-year-old boy in the pew in front of me who, when he returned to his place knelt and, with head bowed, actually clapped his hands in joy :-)  (I bet that kid ends up a mystic!  Or maybe he is one already?)

The experience of the assembly makes it possible for Catholics, or at least some of us, to put up with the faults of the other Catholics, including those awful bishops, but also, needless to say, our own faults.  Another big reason to receive Communion.  Fortunately, we don't have to be perfect to receive, and that includes YOU.

I think the theologians desperately need to re-think the whole subject of sin and forgiveness.  I wish Francis would put it on his agenda.. He's great on the subject -- neither denies the reality of sin nor over-emphasizes it.  He had some choice words to say yesterday about "funereal Christians".  Said they are "bat-like" -- they don't want to get out of the darkness into the light :-)

Ann, I spend communion time praying for whatever cares those in line are taking to Christ. I'm not a real nice person by nature, and maybe it does some good for them and softens me up a little.

Jean - I'm sorry you have had such a bad experience with your pastor.  I think your experience illustrates something that I might have made more clear in my comment: quite a few priests don't have the charism of being a spiritual director, and seeking one-on-one spiritual direction from one who isn't very good at it and/or doesn't have the necessary formation to be one, is a spiritually profitless exercise for everyone concerned.  Sometimes the confessional isn't the best place for it, either.  How does one go about finding a good spiritual director?  I don't know, except word of mouth, and trial and error.  It was hit and miss for me, too.


My impression is that spiritual directors are scarce and therefore reserved to those who think they might have a vocation to become a priest, monk or nun. 

 Crystal, Anne, et al:  If you live near a Jesuit institution, parish, university, you are bound to find someone with a strong gift of spiritual direction.    A major part of their charism is guiding people in prayer by means of St Ignatius'  Spiritual Exercises, in their retreat houses and in individually sought spiritual direction.   Some of the comments in this discussion sound redolent of Ignatian Spirituality, which can be very helpful.

Moreover, some Jesuit parishes have done much to train and equip lay spiritual directors, in order to make the charism, the practice more accessible to people -- now and certainly in the future, as religious orders lose numbers, sadly.    There are some wonderful, talented women directors in my locale and maybe yours.

Retreat houses in your area would also be a resource to get in contact with a spiritual director.  Different religious orders have members who are adept at guiding and instructing individuals in their prayer.  Certainly the Carmelites, Dominicans, maybe the Franciscans and Servites.   Learning how to find God in personal prayer has become widespread since Vatican II -- not just for religious but lay folk too.

It is important to seek out those who have expertise in the area of one's concern.    Orders whose charism it is to include a good deal of daily prayer, meditation, contemplation are likely  to help you find what you need than the local parish priest.   Our parish pastors are loaded with other kinds of responsibilities and may not have had the time or opportunity to develop the kind of expertise for which you are looking.

Seek and you shall find.


Thanks. Yes, Jesuit institutions are a good place to look for spiritual directors, and one can also find thm online if ou don't live near such a place.  The Jesuit who helped me with the retreat did it for free via  email  :)

Crystal --

Are spiritual directors now charging for such direction???  

Priests would not "charge" per se.   As lay people are more and more part of the field of spiritual direction, an offering of some kind is generally in order, depending upon the situation.     A good deal of study, equipping, supervision,  even certification, are  required of the lay director, which are not paid for by a religious order or the church for most of them.      In my experience, people regard directors in somewhat  the same way as they do a therapist, a consultant.      It varies in individual instances.    If one were to visit a director to make the entire Spiritual Exercises over many months, that would represent a lot of time and labor; most people would feel a donation of some kind is appropriate.   If the director is part of the staff of an institution, he or she has some financial support from that; if the director serves from home or on an ad hoc basis,  it would be appropriate to receive an offering.   As the field of lay spiritual direction is realtively "new", the protocols for it (and acceptance of it on the part of laity anc clergy), are in the "development stage". 


Yes, some do.  I think it depends on the director and what their job is.  If one worked at a retreat center, direction would be his job and it might probably be charged for, but if he worled at a college or in a parish, he might do it for free.  No one who I've asked for spiritual direction has ever charged me, though.

Oh, I should have read Claire's comment before I answered - what she said.  I've looked into making a Spiritual Exercises retreat at Jesuit retreat centers and it seemed very expensive, to me at least ... a directed retreat of a few days can cost hundreds of dollars, a 30 day retreat can cost thousands.

Crystal,  I agree with you that it has become very expensive to stay at a retreat center for 30 days to make the Spiritual Exercises that way.   One is paying for room and board,  as well as the retreat.  But, there is a "Retreat in Everyday Life", sometimes known as the "Annotation 19 Retreat".   In this format, one would do the praying and processing of the Exercises  at home and meet with the director once a week or so.   I'm not sure what kind of remuneration would be expected, whether the director is a priest or a lay person.  It takes several months to make the full Exercises this way and is quite a discipline.   Not everyone wants to or can set aside the time to pray so intensely.   For those who can, it's a blessed experience.  It may be that this Retreat in Everyday Life is offered online by the Jesuits nowadays.    They are zealous to bring Christ to a hungry world with every tool available.     God bless you in your search for intimacy with him.  "When you seek me with all your heart, you will find me...".

Thanks, Claire  :)

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