Do souls or spirits have a shape or form? How will we notice and recognize our loved ones who have gone before us?
— Roger in Edwardsville
How do you find out what a star is made of? We do not have access to stars lying around that we can pick up and examine! Ah, but the light that twinkles across the dark sky transmits to us countless details about that fiery ball of gas, heated, and lit with nuclear fusion. We can tell its composition, weight, density, spin, age, temperature, distance, direction, and so much more, all from a little blip of light!
When we have a question about the heavens, we find our answer in what comes to us from the heavens. Spiritually-speaking, the same logic prevails. When we have a question about the Kingdom of God, we will find the answer in the King. When we struggle to imagine eternal life, the solution is discovered in the Eternal One. When we wonder what we will be like in Heaven, we have only to look to the one who has come down from Heaven and returned ahead of us to Heaven.
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. – 1 Cor 15:47-52.
Paul speaks to us of a tremendous mystery. How will we exist, abide, be, in Heaven? He tells us two essential truths: We will be who we are, but we will also be changed. God created human beings out of the dust of the earth and the breath of God. We are bodily and spiritual, matter formed into man, and this will remain true in Heaven. We will receive our bodies anew, resurrected, alive-again, imperishable, and yet we will be also utterly transformed, different, spiritualized, divinized, transfigured.
Perhaps this last word points us back to Jesus. His transfiguration illuminates what happens at his resurrection, and when we look upon our Savior after Easter, we are immediately struck by the truth Paul outlined above: Christ remains who he was, but he is also different, changed, transfigured. His Disciples talk to him, eat with him, and are transfixed by his words and love and forgiveness, but Our Lord also walks through doors, disappears from view, and at times is oddly unrecognizable at first.
What is happening here? It seems that Jesus is recognized after his resurrection less by his bodily appearance — though he has that! — and more by his actions, his love, his words, his presence, and his gaze. I think in Heaven we will be recognized in the same way. Certainly, before the resurrection of our bodies, but in some way also when we, like Christ, will have glorified bodies.
Less by our looks, more by our love. Less by our bodies, more by our being. Less by our own light, more by the light of Christ shining in us.
For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13.
In Heaven, when we are seen in our entirety by God, we will come to see him face-to-face, and, in him, we will come to see each other fully as well; unmasked, unveiled, fully visible, and fully loved. Love never disfigures or distorts; it only allows for ever-greater recognition and revelation! And Heaven is perfect and complete love.
Father Dominic Rankin is master of ceremonies and priest secretary for Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, is an associate vocations director for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and has a license in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute in Rome.