One of the things non-Catholics find most objectionable or scandalous about the Catholic faith is the use of relics. “Why do you kiss the bones of dead people? Isn’t that kind of creepy?” The doubter asks.
What they don’t understand is the physicality of the Catholic faith. This is a religion of blood and guts, grit and glory. We believe that God himself took human flesh of his Blessed mother. Jesus sweated, laughed and wept, ate, defecated, bled real blood, screamed in real agony and participated fully in physical humanity. This was too much for the gnostics who were scandalized by the physicality we propose. They withdrew in disgust from a God who became an infant human, who was born in blood, suckled at his mother’s breast and embraced all the gutsy gore of humanity.
Relics are a testimony to this physicality. A first class relic is a body part of the saint–a crumb of bone, a morsel of flesh, a hair or a particle of decomposed remains found in the coffin. We venerate these relics as did our brothers and sisters in the early church because we believe the saint is sanctified–made holy–not only spiritually but physically. Every hair of our head is numbered says the Lord, so every part of us will be saved–every hair, every toenail, every brain cell. The veneration of relics is therefore an echo of our promised sanctification.
The relics connect us with the saints and can introduce us to new friends in heaven. Not long ago one of our Upper School students presented me with a first class relic of St Gabriel Possenti. I had not heard of him before, so I learned more about him and also learned that St Gemma Galgani attributed her healing to his intercession. I felt compelled to ask for her relic and now have been given a strong devotion to both St Gemma and St Gabriel and have relics of both of them on my home altar along with my treasured relic of St Therese of Lisieux.
What have I learned through this? That the saints are a great treasure and that they are not “dead people” but alive in Christ. I love the youthful passion of St Gemma, St Gabriel and St Therese. Their youthful beauty and love for God inspires me daily and I know their prayers are powerful–that they pray with me and for me. This book I helped to get published tells the story of St Therese’s appearances on the battlefield of World War I and I am sure both St Gemma and St Gabriel are similarly involved in the spiritual battle.
Do the relics I hold on my altar make a difference? I think they do. When I light my candles and say my prayers I know they pray with me and for me.
Do not neglect the saints! They show us what is possible in the life of grace!