Texas has been blessed to get a unique saintly visitor this week. The Pilgrimage of Mercy has been traveling the country in preparation for the Jubilee of Mercy, and the bones of St Maria Goretti are traveling for the faithful to venerate and ask for her intercession.
I went to visit her in Dallas, but she also visited Tyler, and the Houston area. A group called Treasures of the Church helped bring St Maria Goretti for her first trip ever to the United States. Visit their website to learn more about relics and their mission.
Why St. Maria Goretti?
She is a miracle worker as a saint, and her relics have proven especially powerful in intercession for healings. This could be because of her heroic act of mercy at the hour of her death. She chose to forgive the man that tried to violate her and murdered her, then she even shared her desire for him to be in heaven someday.
I was not in need of any physical healing, but I know that I shared in the same peace that so many have felt as you pray with the saint in her reliquary. I have faith in her prayers of intercession for all the other intentions I took with our heavenly friend.
Catholics speak a lot about death in the month of November as we celebrate the All Saints, All Souls, then end the liturgical year. Such vivid reminders of our mortality can be a little overwhelming if not viewed from the appropriate perspective. This is often why secular Halloween focuses more on the fright and terror as opposed to the joys of All Saints Day.
All across the world, the Church celebrates our loved ones passed in different and unique ways this month and throughout the year. I’m not going to lie, many of these traditions can look very strange on first impression. Although, these traditions come out of our reverence for the bodies the saints left here on earth.
“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones.”
We Catholics don’t shy away from the mixing of the spiritual and material world, in fact our entire faith life experience is deeply immersed in this mix. Many of our other Christian brothers and sisters have trouble with this mix and prefer to only focus on everything spiritual. This is the source of many of our disagreements.
Relics are likely the most mystifying and misunderstood of these material elements.
What is a Relic?
Relics are bodies, bones, ashes, clothes, and personal possessions that belong to the saints of God. The Church has used relics since the beginning of Christianity and even in the times of the Old Testament as holy objects of healing, intercession, and veneration.
We believe that the source of the power of these holy objects is not because of the saints themselves, but because of the generosity of God to work through them. We don’t use them as magic tricks because that would be superstition.
Is this worship of saints?
“We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to 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.”
– St Jerome
We venerate (to honor, regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference) the saints, and never worship them. Worship is reserved for God alone, and He is the source of the power and good. We pray (ask) saints for help and intercession. Read more about Conversations with Saints.
Are relics in Sacred Scripture?
The use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life: “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” (2 Kings. 13:20-21).
A woman was cured of a hemorrhage by touching the hem of Christ’s cloak (Matthew 9:20-22). The sick who were healed when Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:14-16).
“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” (Acts 19:11-12).
How is this not superstitious?
Superstition is a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation. There are many cases when well-intentioned people can misuse or abuse relics, but this can happen with all holy things. Some of them can be used in superstitious ways, but that is not what the Church supports.
We cannot demand miracles from God because it is only up to His will. We believe in the power of faith in Our Lord, and trust in His mighty works. There have been many great deeds done through relics, but it’s only at the discretion of the Lord.
Are there fake relics?
Not all items claiming to be relics are real. There were many fake relics that came about in medieval times that were forged by people that were looking to somehow make a profit from pilgrims visiting them. The Church teaches that it is wrong to do so and no one is allowed to sell relics or blessed sacred objects.
Even though there are fakes, it doesn’t diminish the authenticity or holiness of the real relics.
Do you have to believe or practice this?
Practicing in this form of devotion is a choice. I also wrote about whether or not Catholics have to believe in miracles earlier this year. The same principles apply here.
“By inviting us to venerate the mortal remains of the martyrs and saints, the Church does not forget that, in the end, these are indeed just human bones, but they are bones that belonged to individuals touched by the transcendent power of God. The relics of the saints are traces of that invisible but real presence which sheds light upon the shadows of the world and reveals the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst. They cry out with us and for us ‘Maranatha!’ – ‘Come Lord Jesus!’”
-Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Young People at Cologne, 2005