Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Rub of the Relic



The Rub of the Relic

There is a statue of St. Peter outside the chapel in Oscott College, the toe has had to be reconstructed, as students who filed past into chapel would rub the toe of the seated figure of Peter with the keys in his hand. I often thought: Is the toe being rubbed for luck? Or out of affection? I reconciled that it was the affection that prompted such a practise. I suspect for centuries there were those who would want to get their hands on bits of the true cross. Perhaps for affection or to be closer to Christ. Going to the Holy Land on pilgrimage did bring the gospel to life, standing on the same streets where Jesus walked did bring home parts of the New Testament. When I went to Auschwitz for a visit the horror of the place was obviously not as intense as it would have been for those who were there but it did make the heart sink and the thoughts race and prayers flow. Recalling the past and remembering is part of our human coping system and part of the learning process.
Relics of saints have been revered for centuries. I understand wanting to keep a part of a loved one, such as a picture or an item of clothing or some little trinket that reminds and recalls the memory of the loved one who has died. Relics of holy saints can be revered and held with great care. I understand the piety of relics I am not against them! When they dug up the grave of Blessed John Henry Newman they found no trace of his body I was quite relieved, the humility of the man and all that! If they had found his bones they would be in a casket somewhere at the Oratory I suspect. Bones, bits of memorabilia, possessions, as relics that is understandable. A devotion to a saint can spring up and wanting a piece of the saint is a natural reaction to that devotion. I liken this to when I was a child, the football stickers I had to have, the album had to be complete and some stickers were rare, a marketing ploy no doubt, don't print the same quantity of all so that people buy more packets to complete their sticker album. Except the drive to get a piece of the saint comes from wanting to follow their example to be inspired to follow Christ.

Relics have a place in piety only if they point us towards Christ. Rubbing a relic is done out of affection and not for luck. Now the relic of the heart of St. John Vianney is coming to Oscott College on the 8th of July. The incorruptible heart...will be on display. I find this kind of creepy! I cannot get my head around the idea of the heart being removed from the body and brought around the world for people to see. Why? I feel like a spiritual tourist of sorts if I go to see it, ticking an item of my to do list. Breakfast at Tiffany's, the Shakespeare Theatre, the Olympic Torch, Nelsons Column, the heart of St John Vianney and so on. It is an attraction of sorts, a macabre one at that. Curiosity may once have drawn me in but no I have no desire to want to see the heart of John Vianney in a casket any time soon. I don’t feel guilty for holding this point of view! There are those who take an opposite view and will pay respect, show devotion, venerate the heart of this dear saint and I do not say they are wrong in doing so.


If the heart of a saint in a casket is meant to inspire vocations to the priesthood, then perhaps good may come from its veneration. No magic will exude from it though, it does not have mystical powers, it is not going to change the hearts and minds of the world though. How do we promote the priesthood in our own age? Do we advocate going back to the spirituality of St John Vianney? The priesthood is competing in a modern setting. If I acted with the same zeal as St John Vianney or with the same methods I would have been removed from my parish by now and facing complaints galore from church and state! The world is not the same, the faith is competing with an explosion of technology, a monsoon of negative press, some of our own making, scandals, divisions, apathy, etc.

Challenging times it is for the voice of the church to be heard. If you want an increase in vocations to the priesthood then it cannot compete with a career led education philosophy. Priesthood is about Christ, it is about humility, weakness, being battered, becoming low, being misunderstood, rejected, despised, it is not that attractive an option! Priesthood is about courage, it requires more courage than can be given to it at times. I am a priest by the grace of God, despite my efforts to contrive to be a failure, good comes from my ministry. The goodness of bringing the presence of Christ to death, to sickness, to suffering. The goodness of sharing Christ in the joy of the sacraments, in the great mystery of the sacrifice of the Mass. Being a priest is about ordinary things, there is no magic involved.

The relics may be rubbed by all means perhaps it will make a difference, even so the lapsed, the lost and straying wounded sheep are still out there, how to reach them is the struggle and part of the woundedness of being a priest.
So on Sunday I will pass the opportunity to see the heart of St John Vianney. I will ask for the intercession of his prayers, I will celebrate Mass, I will light a candle. I will pray that God’s will be done in as much as I am able to cope with it and pray for the strength to allow Christ to influence my living.

1 comment:

Olivia said...

Right on! I share your point of view. Last year, I too, decided to skip the adoration / viewing of the relic of St. John Bosco. Just couldn't bring myself to see the wax replica of the saint, with a real forehand (bones whatever)... too creepy for thought and deed!

Big day coming up!!!!

Prayers and Blessings