Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Relics: Creepy Coolness

Tomorrow, the arm bone of St. Jude, one of the original 12 apostles, will be at St. Francis Cathedral Basillica for all to view. I'm geeked. 20 years ago, I'd probably have gone along just to see something as creepy as a 2000 year old arm bone. Tomorrow, I'm going because of this reason but also much more. Being a history buff, I find very few things that are more 'historical' than the remains of a man who walked, talked, ate, and preached with Jesus Christ. St. Jude is the patron of lost causes--a powerful intercessor--and asking him to pray for a few of those causes is what i've got in mind. This brings me to the reason I'm writing--to put the Catholic tradition of venerating relics in its proper perspective and to explain the teaching in the simplest manner I can.

1. Relics are not magic. As such, the Catholic Church puts no stock in the superstition that relics are magical or possess the ability to cure/heal of themselves. All the Church says is that, according to Scripture, they have been, and can be an occasion or instrument through which God performs miracles. In fact, the Council of Trent said that the bodies of the holy martyrs and saints are to be venerated because 'many benefits are bestowed upon men by God through these bodies.'

2. Relics are instruments of miracles in Scripture. In Exodus 13, we see that the Israelites venerated the bones of Joseph. In 4 Kings, we see the bones of Elisha the prophet actually revive a man simply by touching him. In the New Testament, we see many being healed by touching not the Lord Himself, but the hem of his garment. My favorite is in Acts 15 where Peter's shadow cures the sick as did the handkerchiefs of the apostle Paul in Acts 19. But the Church teaches that ALL these things occurred because of and only by God's power. Finally, consider how Christ's dead body was treated after being removed from the cross. Customary practice was to leave the body to be taken down by the Romans. Instead, many people donated a tomb, spices, and other things including anointing His body and even visiting the tomb regularly.

3. The veneration of relics is a historic tradition of the Church. As far back as the 2nd century, we see accounts of this practice. Polycarp, one who sat at the feet of one of the original 12, was burned at the stake. His followers, in the extra biblical book called the Martyrdom of Polycarp (considered by many to be inspired but didn't make the final cut), relay that they 'took up his bones, which were more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold'. They placed Polycarp's bones in a suitable place and assembled regularly there to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom. One anti-Catholic historian, Adolph Harnack, admits that NO doctor of the Church ever restricted veneration of relics but rather openly practiced it.

4. The veneration of relics is not worship, adoration, or prayer. Catholics do not pray to a piece of bone. We do not ask the head of a deceased martyr to pray for us. Veneration entails honor and nothing more, much like looking on a picture of a dearly beloved family member who has died to remember his/her place in our family. As St. Jerome explains, "We do not worship, we do not adore, we do not bow down before 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." In short, veneration of relics is nothing more than honoring God's creation. A good analogy is that of an artist. Were you to walk into a room filled with Picasso's art and Pablo Picasso is sitting at a table in that room, would you approach him and admire his person or would you praise his work? Honoring God's creation honors He who created it.

5. The Church takes great effort in attempting to verify their authenticity. Still, the Church does not declare any relic as authentic. And really, why should it? The veneration, after all, is aimed at the person, not the relic itself. Some relics are beyond doubt, others are probable, and others less so.

6. Veneration is a matter of the heart. Catholics are accused by many of worshipping relics or believing they possess magic that they can unleash to aid themselves. This would require looking into the heart of the Catholic which, last time I checked, could only be done by God. To accuse is to assume the role of God in determining that the little old lady praying in front of the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette is assigning worship to it. In short, this is an unfair accusation. Only the 'venerator' and God know for sure. And as such, those who would judge a person for idolatry ought reconsider.

St. Jude, patron of lost causes, pray for us.


Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

I love relics!'
Thanks for the post!

9:32 PM  
Blogger rob clemenz @ saintsforsinners.com said...

I found a relic of Saint Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney ( Cure d'Ars ) in Saint Remy and am unsure what to do with it. It is basically a locket.

2:03 AM  

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