As the end of the liturgical year approaches, the Church directs our attention toward the end times, especially toward Jesus' second coming and the resurrection of the dead that will accompany it.
Paul offers us a glimpse of the end times in today's second reading, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Remember that Paul was writing to the Thessalonians because his time with them had been cut short by an attempt on his life. They had questions that he was addressing in his letter, and one of the biggest ones was “What is going to happen at the end?”
Take a moment to reread Paul's answer. “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
This sounds both exciting and mysterious, doesn't it? We can turn to the Catechism to help us understand Paul's words. Paragraphs 988-1004 explain the Church's teaching on the end times.
“We firmly believe,” the Catechism begins, “and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and He will raise them up on the last day” (989).
The Catechism anticipates our questions: 1. What is rising from the dead? 2. How do the dead rise? 3. Who will rise? 4. When will the dead rise?
1. The Catechism reminds us that when we die, our souls separate from our bodies. Our souls go to meet God while our bodies decay. Rising from the dead refers to a reversal of this separation. Our souls and bodies will be reunited through the power of Jesus' own Resurrection (997).
2. How will this happen? Remember that when the Risen Christ appeared to the disciples on Easter Sunday, He appeared in His glorified Body. This glorified Body was still His own Body, but it was changed. We, too, will have glorified, “spiritual” bodies at the resurrection of the dead. This remains a mystery to us now, but we believe that it will happen to us because Jesus has promised us a share in His Resurrection (999-1000).
3. The Catechism tell us that all the dead will rise. The good will experience a resurrection of life, and the evil will experience a resurrection of judgment (998). As Paul says, those who are still alive at the end will be caught up to the Lord to be with Him always. We can expect that they, too, will receive glorified bodies.
4. We don't know when the end will come. Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour, but we must stay alert and watch constantly for His coming so that we will be ready to greet Him with joy, wonder, and love.