"Crisis makes people return to their faith," says Father Carlos Martins. "To hold a relic of a beloved saint makes the faith real for people, because the touch of a saint is always a touch of tenderness."
Father Martins’ ministry is to carry that "touch of tenderness" to parishes across North America through his "Treasures of the Church" exposition. Incorporating both a multimedia presentation and exposition of actual relics, the exhibit gives the scriptural, catechetical and devotional basis for the Church’s use of relics and offers attendees the opportunity to venerate the relics of more than 150 saints.
At a time when religious liberty is being threatened and the truths of the faith attacked, the saints are a tangible source of solace to the faithful.
"The saints are God’s agents whom he sends to carry his love and mercy," explains Father Martins. "As members of his mystical body, they are an extension of him. They are his hands and feet that go out to touch his children and make them aware of his presence."
The exposition includes the relics of such beloved saints as Sts. Thérèse of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi, as well as those of lesser-known saints such as Sts. Conrad of Parzham and Zeno the Tribune. Of all the saints whose relics are included, Father Martins holds up Sts. Thomas More and Augustine as special intercessors for our time: "St. Thomas More was a brilliant lawyer and statesman who was martyred for defending the sacramental nature of marriage against King Henry VIII. St. Augustine, a doctor of the Church, wrote the beautiful City of God in response to the Roman Senate’s request — provoked by the sack of Rome and the anti-Christian sentiment that followed it — for an apologia for the Christian faith.
"These are saints who knew both politics and saintliness and who successfully married the two."
Father Martins, a member of the Companions of the Cross religious community, adds, "Many see the recent encroachment against religious liberty by United States politicians as an echo to that which was instigated by Henry VIII and opposed by St. Thomas More." The similarity makes Thomas More a saint to be "especially invoked" in these conflict-ridden times.
Stephen Krason, professor of political science at Franciscan University and author of The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic, agrees that "turning to saints for the intention of a religious revival in the United States may be just the thing for people to do."
To illustrate, he points to two historical events: the 1571 victory of the Christians over the Turks at Lepanto and the 1955 withdrawal of the Soviets from southern Austria. Both events came about through the widespread and resolute recitation of the Rosary. "History shows the power of concentrated prayer and devotion," asserts Krason. "We can’t shortchange the spiritual."
Indeed, the spirituality of a single individual can alter the course of history. Such is the case with St. Augustine. Augustine’s compelling defense of eternal truths, City of God, is a book that has had a profound influence on Western civilization. But if it is St. Augustine’s brilliance that has distinguished him as a defender of the faith, it is his brokenness, as described by the saint in his autobiographical Confessions, which has endeared him to Christians over the centuries.
"The saints know what it is to be human and imperfect — to be sinful, broken, finite. And, yet, they have overcome these shortcomings with the grace of Christ," says Father Martins. "Thus, they are attractive on two levels: They struggled with their imperfect natures, and, through grace, they achieved perfection in their natures."
Pope Benedict voiced the same idea when, in his homily at last year’s chrism Mass, he stated, "The figure of Jesus Christ seems too lofty for us to dare to measure ourselves by him. The Lord knows this. So he has provided ‘translations’ on a scale that is more accessible and closer to us."
The saints themselves are the "translations" provided to us by God, and our very kinship with them can help us to effect change in our country. Observes Father Martins, "The favorite saint to whom someone prays for the recovery of an ill child, for help with paying the monthly bills and for intercession that his job will be spared in the next round of layoffs is often the same one who is entrusted with the very important task of getting just laws enacted."
The priest adds, "Relics are important because they provide a way to get closer to these Divine translations so as to better intuit the Word which gives them being. As members of Christ’s mystical body, the saints are incarnate in Christ. They lead us to him. As physical expressions of their lives, relics bring us closer to the saints.
"Because the saints now serve as our models and intercessors, their victory has become a victory for all of us."
Celeste Behe writes from