Sunday, 6 September 2009

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury, Relics

Mk 7:31-37
Two weeks from now the parish is organising a trip to venerate the relics of St Therese of Lisieux. St Therese is not only one of the holiest saints of modern times but one of the most popular; a casket of her bones, her relics, are on tour through England this month and will be in Taunton where we will go to them.
This said, I suspect that some of you here maybe a little wary, if not suspicious, of this Catholic practice of venerating relics. So, I want to say something about them.

The first thing I want to say about them is that they are very Scriptural. A relic is simply defined as something that has been in contact with a saint, and typically something associated with miracles worked through that saint. And we see this in the Bible:
In Acts 19:12 we hear of how handkerchiefs that had been in contact with St. Paul's body were carried to be used to produce miracles. Similarly, St Peter’s shadow healed by its touch. In the Old Testament we also hear of miracles associated with relics, in 2 Kgs 13 the body of a dead man was touched to the bones of Elisha and Elisha’s bones brought the man back to life.
So, miracles associated with the relics of the saints is something very Scriptural, and it is also very Scriptural that the good people of God should SEEK out the relic of the saints in order to have a miracle.

But there is another thing I want to say about relics, and that is the fact that they are very human. Of our nature: We are physical as well as spiritual, we meet God through physical signs and symbols, and it is only natural that could include physical things like relics. And we might even say of our fallen nature: we seek the sensational, wonders, miracles, etc, and it is only to be expected that God should seek to reach out to us through these things too.

Let me refer to a slightly different example: long after a friend or relative has died, it is a natural thing for us to visit the graves of those whom we love. We know that our loved ones are no longer there, we know that their souls have moved on, but, their graves and their bones remain in THIS world as our natural physical contact point with them, remain as the place where we go to sense closeness with them. And this is natural and good.

And it is no different with the saints. When people want the help of a great saint they go to the place where that saint was buried, or to a place where that saint lived, or, in relics, to things that had contact with that saint -just like people in the Bible wanted contact with the miraculous St Paul by having contact with his handkerchiefs. The point is not that the handkerchief is a particularly significant item, the point is that it had contact with a particularly significant person, a saint.

Finally, why am I saying this today? One reason is to encourage you to join the pilgrimage to venerate St Therese’s relics. More generally, I am saying this to try and remind you that miracles happen today. In today’s gospel text (Mk 7:31-37) we heard one of many many examples of how Jesus worked miracles when he walked in Palestine. And Jesus works miracles today.
We don't know why he does do this miracle and doesn't do that one -just as we don't know why He didn't cure every single person in ancient Palestine.
But we do know that He tells us to approach Him in faith, that miracles normally occur in the context of that deeper healing of the soul that is faith in Him, so that the Gospels tell us that He refused to work miracles in a certain place because of "their lack of faith" (Mt 13:58).
And we know to that He tells us to "ask and you will receive"(Mk 11:9; Mt 21:22, c.f. James 4:3).
And, to come back to the relics, we know that He chooses to associate the granting of His miracles with the places of pilgrimage and the relics of pilgrimage associated with those saints who were close to Him on earth and are now close to Him in heaven, who are close to Him now in heaven because they showed us while they were on earth how we too can be close with Him.

Roman Catholic classification and prohibitions
Saint Jerome declared, "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are" (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).
First-Class Relics
Items directly associated with the events of Christ's life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.).
Second-Class Relics
An item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.), owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc.
Third-Class Relics
Any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth.
The sale of relics is strictly forbidden by the Church.

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