Holy Relics are Tokens of Love

All the talk about relics and what we leave behind should make us examine our own lives to discern how far from the mark we are.

Fra Angelico, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (c. 1423-24)
Fra Angelico, “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” (c. 1423-24) (photo: Public Domain)

This past week, I’ve come into contact with reminders of actual saints more than a few times. 

One of my kids asked for some money for Monday. I dug in my purse. In my wallet, I found a relic from Padre Pio I’d placed there for safe keeping after giving away another relic to a woman planning to visit a family facing the possible death of their son. It wasn’t that I wanted to give away that treasure, but that I heard clearly in my head when she told me of where she planned to go, “Relics are to be shared, not hoarded,” and I wanted to be ready should such a situation arise again. 

I wondered if the personal photograph of Saint John Paul the Great from my scrapbook counts as a relic. They remain two of my treasures, but I also have a rosary my father used. While any rosary, and frequently my fingers, can serve for saying the devotion, I feel strongest and most able to complete the prayers when I hold his rosary in my hands. Since he taught me the Rosary, it is a way for us to pray together three years after his death.

One friend online mused about how wonderful and odd it is that we Catholics carry about bits of cloth and hair and even bone, from people we know held a special relationship with God. We build churches with skulls, we venerate the incorruptible, and we have first-, second- and third-class relics. And we have story after story after story, a whole heaven full of stories of prayers and their effects. 

If one does not know the truth vetted in Scripture behind relics, it can seem almost superstitious to attribute healing or access to God via an object. Yet we know it is our faith united with that of the saint who is not dead, petitioning Christ, asking which allows Jesus to work in our lives, to heal and restore body and soul. 

Truthfully, if we mean what we say when we profess the creed, we’re asking to become what God always willed: Saints. Our bodies will be first-class relics, and the things we touch or use, second- and third-class relics. All the talk about relics and what we leave behind should make us examine our own lives to discern how far from the mark we are. 

I immediately felt the need to start pitching things. Not out of vanity, but out of the hope should I one day be so blessed as to have a child called something even higher than blessed, that no one is carrying around a sock with a hole in it on the off chance it harkens back to someone who lived a holy life. The cleaning frenzy spurred me to clear out the laundry and the papers, shoes and toys from the main room. 

“Why are you doing this Mom?” one of my girls asked. “I don’t want to be the Patron Saint of Clutter.” 

“Too late.” She said. Smart aleck kid. 

Many of the things venerated after a saint’s death reflect the quality of the person’s life and typify the way in which the saint illustrated heroic virtue. Simplicity by the nature of a bedroom, poverty by the use of shoes or pencils down to the nub, and scholarship and love of God’s word via books and words are just a few of the ways saints leave behind reminders of how they loved God in all things. 

I’d begun recycling the papers from the weekend, but fished out two drawings from the pile; one showed me with a crown and said, “I love my Mommy” and the other showed me as a Wii Mom and said, “To My Amazing Mom.” Two drawings from two different daughters including the smarty girl, second-class relics of their love for me. I’m keeping them as a reminder like my dad’s rosary, to treasure these sorts of moments that are forever but aren’t always. 

What would be the relics we’d want left behind? I wanted things which showed love and devotion like the pictures and the rosary. The interior should be cleaner than the exterior. I stopped cleaning when I mused, "Well, that 'might' be easier." You can see where the kid gets it.