Why do we venerate relics of the saints?
By Father Anthony Co
My father loved to walk around in the woods. While in the woods he would often find neat-looking branches or discarded lumber. At home, he would whack on them with a Filipino machete to turn them into walking sticks or other things.
When my dad died there were only a couple of things I wanted to inherit. The first on the list was his strange-looking homemade walking sticks and chopped wood collections. When I look at my dad’s sticks they remind me that my dad was creative, playful, and a little weird. I love that about him! And every mark on the wood happily reminds me of how he helped form me into the person I am today.
We are all called to become saints. Some are called to be canonized saints. Just like my dad left behind items that remind me of him, so, too, canonized saints. We call these items “relics.”
If my dad was a canonized saint, his weird sticks would be considered “third-degree relics.” His hunting vest would be considered a “second-degree relic.” Anything of his body would become a “first-degree relic.”
The saint reminds us that God’s promises are true and the Kingdom of Heaven awaits us. This is why Christians throughout history have been drawn to the relics of saints.
Early Christians, especially during times of persecution, would gather around the tombs of martyrs to offer Mass and remember God loved them. Later Christians would make pilgrimages to the locations that cared for these precious relics of saints.
SAINTS AS BEST FRIENDS
Honoring a relic is much like prayerfully honoring the wood cross on Good Friday. When we approach the cross we call to mind the love of Jesus. Then we either kiss the cross, touch it or offer some other sign of love. When we approach the relics of saints, we can offer similar gestures of love.
The more deeply we love others, the more we want to hold onto memories or items of them. The less we think about others, the less we are concerned about these reminders. That’s why it’s easier to appreciate the relics of saints when they are our best friends, or we want them to be.
Think about this — there seem to be several levels of devotion we can have for a saint. One level is very basic: we periodically ask the saint for their prayers. We reach the next level when we occasionally ask the saint for prayers and we know a little about his or her life. The highest level of devotion is when we frequently ask the saint for assistance, we value the things the saint values most, and we consider them best friends.
Understanding the reverence we show to relics is easier when we have a best friend that is a saint. If we don’t or don’t want one, kissing the index finger bone of a 13th century saint might seem odd.
So the question is: Do you want a saint best friend? If so, you have an opportunity coming up to venerate the remains of Blessed Carlo Acutis and St. Manuel Gonzalez Garcia throughout the Diocese of Peoria.
Please make a pilgrimage to visit Jesus and his best friends, Carlo and Manuel.
You can find the schedule here.
FATHER ANTHONY CO is the pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Urbana, and St. Mary, Champaign.