Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to pray in the presence of the incorrupt heart of St John Vianney. St John Vianney (SJV) was a 19th century French priest who is now a strong patron for all priests among the saints in heaven. His heart his currently on tour throughout the United States. As I was sitting there praying, I could not help but think how weird this must seem to 99.9% of the world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. We are literally carrying around the heart of a dead man in a gold box. Why are we parading this dead guy’s heart around the world? While the heart seems to make more sense than an arm (*cough* St. Maria Goretti *cough*), this seems like some kind of weird, earthly worship of the dead. Even more so… why do we have this dead guy’s heart in the first place!? In order to understand why we, as Catholics, venerate the relics (body parts) of saints, we must first understand death, resurrection, and the timeline of events.
We define death as “the separation of the soul from the body” (CCC 997). We are all destined to die; our bodies are buried in the ground while our souls move onto better or worse things. We are plagued in our culture by the belief that the soul is what matters and the body is simply an earthly vehicle. Many Christians also believe that the soul goes onto heaven while the body is left to rot in the ground. However, we still grieve at the death of a loved one because there is something unnatural about it.
Death is not natural. Our bodies are not supposed to be separated from our souls. Our body is just as much a part of us as our soul is and without it, we are incomplete. Through Jesus’ life and revelation, we find our hope that physical death is not the end. We see this in every Christian funeral that we go to: we put our beloved dead in these big pretty boxes to prepare them for their future rising. We are trying to preserve the body from harm as much as possible. This is where the zombies come in.
Zombies are extremely popular in our culture. We have been preserving bodies in boxes for hundreds of years and who’s to say they all don’t rise at once and take over the world!? The army of the dead is terrifying and has been the centerpiece of many popular TV shows that depict it as the end of the world. The dead are going to rise and it will be the end of the world as we know it. As Christians we believe that this is going to happen! (sort of).
Jesus says to us “he who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life; he does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life” (Jn 5:24). He offers us eternal life that comes after death. The very next chapter he tells us, “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). In this eternal life Jesus says that he will “raise” us. Now some could say that this is just a raising of the soul to heaven, however, Jesus’ own life shows us differently. Jesus shows us that this is not just a spiritual raising.
Jesus himself died a real human death, then rose from the dead. His body physically rose from the tomb. This was his actual, physical body, yet there was something different. During this Easter season we celebrate and hear the stories of Jesus coming to his disciples after his resurrection. Jesus could eat, walk, and even make contact with his disciples… this is pretty normal. Additionally, he could pass through locked doors, disappear, and hide himself from being recognized… not so normal. Jesus could do things with his body that he could not do before his death. Jesus came to possess a glorified body after his resurrection. This new body did not belong to this world. He was reunited with his earthly body and then physically rose in the Ascension to be seated on his throne in heaven.
Jesus tells us that he is the way, therefore where he goes, we must follow. St. Paul recognizes that we must follow Jesus in his resurrection, “how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor 15:12). St. Paul sees the resurrection of the dead as a key belief of our faith. We will all be raised just as Christ was raised with a glorified body. We will not be zombies, but rather, we will be more alive then we have ever been. “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 15:51-52). But when is this last trumpet? When will we be raised from the dead?
The Last Day
The great resurrection of the dead will come on the “last day” as Jesus told us. No one really knows when this will be so we must be prepared. We see funny stories of doomsday preppers who are preparing for some nuclear fallout or zombie apocalypse. Christians should be prepping just as much for the end of the world. Not by building bunkers and stocking up on canned goods, but by seeking the Lord with all of your heart, mind, and strength.
So, why the heck are we parading the heart of St John Vianney around the US? Because it is in this incorrupt heart that we see a glimpse of what we hope for. God has preserved this heart and left it untouched by the decay of death. God is preserving the heart of SJV so that his body and soul can be reunited on the last day. It is in this heart that we see God’s defeat of death. Death has lost his grip on this world and no longer lays claim to the saints of God. St John Vianney’s soul is glorifying God in heaven while his body is glorifying God here on earth. May we come to believe, through the intercession of St John Vianney, that Jesus will raise us up on the last day, glorifying us both soul and body.
St John Vianney, pray for us!