Thursday, November 5, 2015

SAINTATHON 2015: Dem Bones: The Power and Mystery of the Holy Relics

The major relics of Saint Maria Goretti on tour in Philadelphia
Praised Be Jesus!

In recent weeks, the Catholic world has been abuzz, first and foremost for Pope Francis' visit to the U.S. and the effects it had on believers and nonbelievers alike. But a curious, little-known event coincided with the Holy Father's visit to the U.S. On Monday, September 21, the skeletal remains of Saint Maria Goretti, the youngest canonized saint in the modern history of the Catholic Church, made their first stop on their tour of the U.S. This tour is in honor of the Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis will proclaim later this year. Also in recent news, it was made known that the remains of Saint Thérèse and her parents would be exposed during the whole of the Synod on the Family.

But why? Many people ask this question. What is so special about the bones of the saints who have already entered eternal glory? Isn't the practice of relics something that was stopped after the Second Vatican Council?

Sadly, the veneration of relics has greatly declined after the Second Vatican council, especially in the U.S., and the practice of their veneration has become a somewhat obscure oddity to many faithful. The practice and preservation of relics is one of the most venerable and treasured practices of the Church. In the early years of Christian persecution, it was upon the bones of the early martyrs over which which early Christians said Mass, connecting those who were already experiencing the beatific with the worship of the Church still upon Earth. In the scriptures, a man was revived to life by touching the bones of the prophet Elisha.

It is normal when someone who we love has passed to want to keep a part of him or her near us, maybe a favorite watch, a prayer book, some piece of jewelry, an old shirt. These items keep us forever connected with those who have gone to their eternal reward and keep their presence close to us. In a same way, the saints' special presence is with us through their relics.

For a good part of human history, it has been the tendency of humans to keep some remains of the deceased as a connection to the world beyond, and to keep that person's presence ever close. A good example of this is the Victorian practice of keeping strands of the deceased's hair in a locket. In a very real way, this is the role the sacred relics of the saints play in the life of the Church.

A private collection of relics

I had the opportunity, when the major relics of Saint Maria Goretti came to Philadelphia, to bring along a few of my coworkers to venerate the relics. (Mind you neither of these coworkers is Catholic!) I had told Maria's story to them before, and to be honest, it seemed strange to them, something foreign; how could a little 11-year-old girl forgive her attempted rapist and murderer and than want him to be with her forever in heaven?

Well, we headed over to the church, and while we were waiting in line, they asked me to tell Maria's story again, and while we were before Maria's small body, something changed, and the experience deeply impacted one of my coworkers. It was like in an instant, Maria had touched her heart, communicating her profound suffering, and than her tender compassion and mercy. It was as if my coworker had sat down with Maria herself and Maria had given her an insight that was all her own. My coworker said to me, "I'm just so impressed that someone that young would be able to be that mature to forgive someone who would do that to her." From that moment, she took Maria as her favorite saint, and to this day tells people about Maria's story and her experience with her relics.

I give complete credit to this to Maria's intercession and an enlightening of the Holy Ghost in her soul, to have such an insight was truly a beautiful and enlightening gift to behold and deeply impacted me, solidifying in myself the power and importance of relics. I have had my own experience with relics: After praying to Saint Thérèse in choosing a confirmation name, the relic of Saint Thérèse brought the night of the end of my novena, giving me the answer to my prayer to choose her as my patron.

My relics

The ministry of the saints does not end with their death. It is a fundamental teaching of the Church that the saint continue to minister to the Church in the glory of the beatific vision, The Communion of Saints truly is a ministry of Christ making himself present through all the levels of the Church. The Saints continue to be a part of our lives, and they want to be active participants in our lives, continuing to make Jesus Christ known through their presence, intercession, and ministry for us. The relics play an integral part of this ministry, The saints want to be so much a part of our lives, a part of our journey, that through the wisdom of the church, the saints continue to their mission physically through their own bodies to the entire Church. It is well known that Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wanted to be a missionary more than anything — hence why she is patron of the mission — but she passed before her community sent her to the convent in Vietnam. In God's providence, Thérèse has become a missionary to the whole world through her relics, which have visited every continent in the world, where she continues to make Christ ever more present in the lives of millions of people.

Relic of Saint Thérèse
Think of the holy relics, and think about how those in heaven want to be so much a part of our lives, both physically and spiritually, and are always waiting and willing to minister to us to bring Christ to the forefront and center of our lives.

Almighty God,
your saints are one with you
in the mystical body of Christ: 
give us grace to follow them 
in all virtue and holiness 
until we come to those inexpressible joys 
which you have prepared for those 
who truly love you; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God now and for ever.