Note from the Vatican and John Paul

Communion with God, the gift of his Spirit, more and more becomes for the chosen people the pledge of a life that is not limited to earthly existence but mysteriously transcends and prolongs it forever.

In the harsh period of the Babylonian exile, the Lord rekindles his people’s hope. He proclaims a new and definitive covenant that will be sealed with an abundant outpouring of the Spirit (cf. Ez 36: 24-28): "Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live" (Ez 37:12-14).

With these words God announces the messianic renewal of Israel after the sufferings of the exile. The symbols used are well suited to suggesting the faith journey that Israel is slowly making, to the point of intuiting the truth of the resurrection of the flesh which the Spirit will accomplish at the end of time.

This truth becomes firmly established in the period shortly before the coming of Jesus Christ. Christ vigorously confirms it and rebukes those who deny it: "Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" (Mk 12: 24). According to Jesus, belief in the resurrection is based on belief in God, who "is not God of the dead, but of the living" (Mk 12: 27).

Moreover, Jesus links belief in the resurrection to his own person: "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (Jn 11: 25). In him, through the mystery of his Death and Resurrection, the divine promise of the gift of "eternal life" is fulfilled. This life implies total victory over death: "The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear the voice [of the Son] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life ..." (Jn 5: 28-29). "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6: 40).

Christ’s promise will thus be mysteriously fulfilled at the end of time, when he returns in glory "to judge the living and the dead" (2 Tm 4: 1). Then our mortal bodies will live again through the power of the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us as "the pledge of our inheritance, the first payment against the full redemption" (Eph 1: 14).

However, there is no need to think that life after death begins only with the final resurrection. The latter is preceded by the special state in which every human being finds himself after physical death. There is an intermediate stage in which, as the body decomposes, "a spiritual element survives and subsists after death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the "human self subsists", although lacking the complement of its body.

Believers also have the certitude that their life-giving relationship with Christ cannot be destroyed by death but continues in the hereafter. Christ in fact said, "He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (Jn 11: 25). The Church has always professed this belief and has particularly expressed it in the prayer of praise she offers to God in communion with all the saints and in her prayer for the dead who are not fully purified. On the other hand, the Church insists on respect for the mortal remains of every human being because of the dignity of the person to which they belonged and because of the honor which is owed the bodies of those who became temples of the Holy Spirit through Baptism. Particular evidence of this is the funeral liturgy and the veneration given to the relics of the saints, which has developed from the earliest centuries. The latter’s bones, St Paulinus of Nola says, "never lose the presence of the Holy Spirit, whence a living grace comes to the sacred tombs."

thus we see the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of life not only in every stage of our earthly existence, but equally so in that state which, after death, precedes the full life that the Lord has promised even for our mortal bodies. All the more so, thanks to the Spirit, we will make in Christ our final "journey" to the Father. St. Basil the Great notes, "If anyone reflects carefully, he will understand that, even as we await the Lord’s appearing from heaven, the Holy Spirit will not be absent, as some believe; no, he will also be present on the day of the Lord’s revelation, when he will judge the world in justice as its blessed and only sovereign."

Condensed from L’Osservatore Romano on the Vatican Web Site. 1998 English Edition of L’Osservatore Romano, 4 November 1998. You can receivce the English edition by e-mailing a request for a stubscrption to Dmedinger@aol.com or by calling (410)547-5380. The subscription rate is $151.00 U.S.

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