God love him. Fr. Richard Neuhaus was such a brilliant, holy man and he had such a poetic way of exploring some of the deepest tenets of our faith. In his book As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning, he ponders the union of body and soul:
Which brings us back to the idea of death as the separation of soul and body. The notion of some of the anciencts and the Enlightenment rationalists that the essential “I” is not involved in the death of this body struck me as preposterous. It is this body that was washed in the waters of Baptism, that has received times beyond numbering the Body of the crucifie and risen Jesus, that was anointed with the sacred oils in ordination and the final Viaticum. It is this body, now in pitiful ruins, that participated in the yearnings of my loves, the bracing joy of early morning walks, the holding of Albert as he died, and all those nights of languoruously falling into sleep. Not to mention the sounds of Mozart and the taste of a surprisingly fine Merlot at the Italian restaurant up the street. The body remembers. Even my thinking is sensuous; as I lay there going back in memory my recollections are tactile, touching the burlap of disappointments and running my fingers over the velvet of joys recalled. This body and I, this body that is inseparable from me, together we have been this life. That medieval pope was right. And Thomas Aquinas was right. No matter what the joy of the beatific vision, I think, it will not be perfect until my body and I are together again. Or, put differently, heaven will be perfect, but I, body and soul, will not be perfectly present to the perfection until then.
Thomas again: “The soul united with the body is more like God than the soul separated from the body, because it possesses its nature more perfectly.” God is Spirit, and therefore one might think that the soul, which is spirit, is more like God when divested of the physical encumbrance that is the body. But, no, we are most like God when we are most what we are by nature, which is to say, when we are most fully what God created us to be, and God created us to be soul and body. We are embodied souls, some say, while others prefer to say we are ensouled bodies. In fact, we are soul and body. To truly say “I” is to say, at the same time, soul and body.
Just beautiful, no?
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