23rd Sunday after Pentecost
As we approach the end of the liturgical year in this month dedicated to the Poor Souls, today’s liturgy quite appropriately places before our eyes the dogma of the resurrection of the flesh. In the Gospel, we see the Lord raise back to life a young girl twelve years of age after having been first laughed to scorn. Interestingly, when St Paul later begins to speak to the Athenians about the resurrection at the Areopagus, they too will laugh and mock. And in every age there are those who laugh when we speak of the final resurrection at the end of time, as if it were difficult for God, who created our bodies, to bring it back together again in unity.
The dogma of the resurrection of the flesh teaches us many things about God’s love for humanity and about the goodness of creation. Contrary to both materialists for whom there is only evolving matter and spiritualists for whom matter doesn’t count, the Church receives from the Lord the revelation of the essential goodness of all creation, both spiritual and material. Our bodies, our very own bodies, not those of another, will rise again on the last day to be reunited with our soul, and they will take part in the reward, for good or for bad, of the soul. This dogma clearly has vast implications for the way we live in the body given to us by Almighty God.
In the epistle, St Paul tells us that even now, our conversation, that is to say our life, is in Heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowness made like to the body of His glory. What that means is that if our life is indeed “in Heaven”, if we strive to live like the angels, in serving the Lord and leading a holy life, then one day we will recover this body of ours, which now weighs us down and ultimately dissolves, but then renewed, in glory, no longer bound by the frailty of this passing life, but made glorious with the qualities of glorified bodies, namely: impassibility (they will no long be able to suffer or die), subtlety (requiring no material sustenance), agility (capable of moving with the quickness of thought from place to place under the direction of the soul), clarity (full of lightsomeness and splendour, according to the soul’s degree of glory).
But there is another personage in today’s liturgy we need to turn our attention to for a brief moment. I refer to the woman with an issue of blood. The faith of this woman is outstanding. She does not ask to speak to the Lord. She does not need to touch Him. All she wants is to touch the hem of His garment, certain that if only she can do so, she will be healed. She succeeds in touching it and she is instantly healed, and hears from the mouth of Our Lord this apology of her faith: Be of good heart, daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole. Let us admire her, faith, but also her humility. The attitude is a touching one; let us be drawn to it, imitating it, and striving to be conscious of the privilege we have of touching the hem of Our Lord’s garments in the poor, little ones of the earth with whom the Lord has deigned to identify Himself. When we know how to stoop down to make ourselves the servants of other people’s needs, then we are touching the hem of our Lord’s garments, and receiving grace to be like Him, and we will one day hear that blessed word: Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the Kingdom that was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
But the gesture of this woman reminds us also of the humble attitude of consecrated souls who give their lives to serving the Lord in the silence and hiddenness of the cloister. Today we honour the memory of one of them, St Elizabeth of the Trinity, who passed to the heavenly Bridegroom on this day in 1906, in the Carmel of Dijon. When she was told as a little girl that her name means “house of God”, this was a revelation to her, and she would spend the rest of her short life (she died at the age of 26) letting herself be drawn ever more into the interior heaven of her soul where she was united with her Spouse.
Among her writings, we can read this phrase, which seems to echo today’s communion verse: “May my life be continual prayer and may nothing distract me from Thee”. The Lord heard this prayer, and He will hear it if we make it our own. There is nothing that can prevent us from being with the Lord, from making our life a prayer, if we only want it. Let it be so. May our life become a prayer, may we, like Elizabeth, become the praise of His glory, until the veil of our mortal flesh is withdrawn and we shall be brought into the eternal courts to sing the infinite love of God, with Mother Mary and all the Saints.