During this month of November I plan to write a series of blog posts on death and dying, bereavement and loss.
Yesterday at OLR Greenville we celebrated Mass with the usual display of relics set up around the church. I am always very moved to see the faithful circulating to venerate the relics as the Litany of Saints is sung. Children and young people, parents and old people all reverently viewing and venerating the relics–and what a fine collection we have on display: a letter in St John Henry Newman’s own hand, first class relics of a first century martyr, Maria Goretti, Therese of Lisieux, Benedict of Nursia, Francis deSales, Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II and many more. Go here to view pictures of our church on All Saints Day.
Why the relics? One of the strapping young men in our RCIA program summed it up. I asked him what he made of the relics and All Saints and he said with glowing eyes, “Its fantastic! I love the blood and guts–physicality of the Catholic Church!”
He gets it. Most man made religion is dualistic. Heaven and Earth–the physical and the spiritual are divided. God is either completely transcendent as in deism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism or he is totally immanent–as in pantheism, panentheism and paganism. But in Christianity the transcendent, creator God takes human flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary and is Emmanuel–God With Us.
This infusion of the transcendent into the physical realm is magnified through the infilling of the Holy Spirit through the grace of baptism and lives lived within the sacramental system of the Catholic Church–she herself being the sacrament of salvation in the world.
These beautiful truths are exemplified in the preservation and veneration of relics of the saints. In relics we encounter the grounded, flesh and bones reality of the incarnation–made real in the lives of the saints. Here are real, historical men and women, young men, young women, boys and girls–made holy by the action of grace in their lives. Transformed not just spiritually, but physically and psychologically. The saints show us that this infusion of the transcendent into history is ongoing. It has happened and is happening in people’s lives today.
Furthermore, the promise of our baptismal grace assures us that this is the ultimate destiny of all the baptized. What a glorious vision in the readings from Revelation–the vision of a great multitude that no man can number from every race and nation, every language and people–those whose robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
This is our destiny–and it will be accomplished if we will it. If not in this world, then it will be accomplished in the next. The purification will be completed in purgatory for most of us, so in this month of November remember your departed and pray God’s mercy for them. Pray too for ourselves that we might be graced with the purification here knowing that the work of this purification is easier here than it is in purgatory.