Recently, the family “Cedar Chest” was opened and I was allowed to comb through some of the family heirlooms and artifacts. The “Cedar Chest” is not opened very often, making the moments when it is unsealed unforgettable. It is truly a unique experience, it’s almost like reaching through time when I read the correspondence between my great-grandparents and their relatives and friends and explore the photographs of past generations. Of course my favorites are my Grandpa’s War Medals from WWII, his sailor suit and jacket and my Great-Grandpa’s field-glasses from WWI. I will always remember beholding Grandpa’s dog tags and his discharge papers with “The President of the United States thanks you for your service.” Wow! And peering through Great-Grandpa’s field-glasses from WWI is also thrilling. It’s like looking through history when I lift them to my face; just to think what he saw when he looked through those very field-glasses almost 100 years ago.
So you may be wondering: “All this family stuff is nice, but what’s it got to do with me” or “What tangent did he get onto now.” Actually, my reason for writing about all of this is quite simple, I think it lends a perfect opportunity to explore some of the misconceptions concerning the Catholic Church’s teaching on relics and the Communion of Saints.
Many people, even some Catholics, do not understand the why we venerate relics. No, we do not worship the saints nor do we adore their relics as idols. We venerate the saints and honor them for the intimate bond they shared with God. Our admiration of the saints does not taking detract in any way the glory due only to God. Rather, God is glorified through His saints and just as Mary’s soul “magnified the Lord (Luke 1: 46),” so to the saints make God’s glory more manifest to us with their prayers and intercession for us.
All of the Glory must revert back to God. We know that the saints have a tremendous love for God and lived their lives dedicated to His service. When we venerate something of a saint – an article of clothing or a possession – we do not believe that the article has any power of it’s own. Rather, we hold on to it because it reminds of us of the sanctity its saintly owner and his or her love of God – it spurs us on to conform our lives to theirs.
The Catholic practice of venerating relics is itself a biblical practice. Note the following passages from Sacred Scripture:
2 Kings 13:20-21: “So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet.”
Acts 19:11-12: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (cf. Matt. 9:20-22).
Other citations include: 2 Kings 2:11-14 & Acts 5:15-16.
All of the saints in Heaven, the poor souls in purgatory and us, the Church Militant on Earth, share a strong bond – like a family bond. However, this bond is much stronger than any genealogical bond shared by families – it is the bond of the Communion of the Saints. Each member of the Communion is united by the prayers and example of the other members. Those who have lived in an exemplary manner and have “broken the ice” and “blazed the trail” for us to God, we highly honor. We accept their prayers and support as we all strive towards the Beatific Vision and we cling to the relics which they have left us.
To close, I will sum this all up by saying that in just the same way in which the U.S. Flag that was draped over my Great-Grandpa’s casket fills me with patriotism for this great country so to does Mother Teresa’s rosary fill me with love and adoration for my God and Savior.