My love/hate relationship with relics by Bonnie Rodgers

I admit it, I have an actual love/hate relationship with relics.

We Catholics are body people: by virtue of the incarnation and the consecration of the bread and wine, by the priest through the Holy Spirit, we respond "Amen" (I believe) to " Body of Christ". Our sacraments and rituals involve tactile and sensory action. Body stuff . It's what we Catholics do. Seriously. Jesus spit into dirt and made a paste to smear on a blind man. The dignity of the human body is essential , Our spiritual works of mercy have a complimentary corporal work of mercy,

It's no small wonder then, that from very early on in our Christian history that the bodies of Martyrs for the faith were held in such high regard that their remains were gathered up. An example of this is shown in the mid second century - the bones and ashes of Polycarp, who was burned at the stake, were gathered up, revered and continued to be a source of solace and inspiration to the Christian community.

I am a pragmatic person with a huge sentimental streak. I wear my mother's high school ring, because we both went to the same high school, and I wear my grandmother's wedding ring. I never met my maternal grandfather but I keep his drumsticks. I love connecting to my past and I love connecting to our Catholic past and our Catholic faith.

But, truth to be told, relics sometimes creep me out. I have a love/hate relationship with relics. Until I chose this topic, I thought Catholics were the only ones to venerate relics, but ours is a long standing tradition of using relics to get our faith to connect us to the lives of saints and martyrs. (I am a little confused by this sentence: you mention you thought Catholics are the only ones to venerate relics, but do not mention who else did, or connect it to your next thought other than it being a long standing tradition - I would suggest either removing the first part or mentioning what other faiths venerate relics) It's a great idea for us to remember predecessors of the faith. The light of Faith shines through them; this is why I love stained glass. But relics just might be a little too up close and personal. Relics can make me a tad uncomfortable, in kind of a comforting way.  The uncomfortable part comes from that "Oh, yuck!" reaction, and the comforting part comes from the,  "Wow, in our lineage of faith someone gave their all, and I'm connected to that brave soul" response. I am always impressed with people's appreciation of relics.  Every time any St. John Vianney relics are available to the public, people wait in line for hours to venerate them. I'm the type of reader that skims the ads and every time I read  John Vianney's incorruptible heart is coming, I read it as "his head" and think, "that is so gross." It calls to mind the scene in Game of Thrones, where the young, creepy King Joffrey forces his betrothed to look at her father's head on a spike. (I would suggested adding another sentence here to connect that thought other than that both have heads. What does seeing the head mean to Sansa/to Joffrey, does it connect to how Catholics look at John Vianney's heart?) I then reel myself back to reality, abandon my gruesome thoughts, and remember that Saint John Vianney inspires all of us. His legacy particularly inspires the priesthood and our understanding of what the priesthood means to us as Catholics, especially the connection to the Eucharist that inspires people to wait and wait.

A few years ago, I had the delightful opportunity to meet Father Carlos Martins, of the Companions of the Cross. Father Carlos, designated as a Curate of Relics, travels with many relics in a specially designed case and is trained to host an exposition of relics, which gives attendees the experience of connecting to these Holy Ones who have gone before us. He is a subject matter expert and when he visited the CatholicTV studios, he was relaxed and confident during our interview. But, then we talked about doing a second interview, and he became a bit anxious because they were still other relics in the car. Turns out that there are certain criteria in order to maintain the Integrity (is this meant to be capitalized?) of the relics. I was going to offer to go and move them but my inner struggle was "I'm not really sure I want to touch them!". Father Carlos assured me that as the Curate he was responsible for checking on the conditions. Whew.

In my work at CatholicTV, I have the pleasure of showing  guests around the studios, (a former Dominican convent)  and popular stops include relics of St Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who is our patroness.  People stand in awe, caress the pyx which holds each relic and offer prayers of intercession and thanksgiving. And sometimes I am thinking, ooh – I love St Therese and she’s granted me many beautiful blessings but I’m not sure about handling her. I am so humbled by people’s reverential handling of the relics then I shudder a bit, thinking  of the Hannibal Lector character in the Silence of the Lambs ripping off skin and body parts. The Catholic sensibility of the dignity of the body comes through in Saint John Paul the second  teachings on the Theology of the Body and the appreciation carries through in our treatment of the deceased, I need to get better at remembering that when it comes to relics. I’m coming around though, after all, “we are all one Body.”

 

Bonnie Rodgers is a creative communications professional with over 10  years of experience in television production, advertising, branded content, public relations, and marketing. Bonnie has served as Pastoral Associate and retreat leader for Faith Formation in parishes. Prior to pastoral work, Bonnie spent more than 20 years as Project Manager for IT Disaster Recovery and Contingency Planning at Verizon Communications with previous assignments in Data Center Operations and consumer marketing support. Bonnie holds a Master’s degree in Ministry from St. John’s Seminary in Brighton (MA), and B.S. in Management from Lesley University in Cambridge (MA). Bonnie and her wonderfully patient husband, Dennis,  live in the great Boston area and have three amazing adult children.


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