1 November 2014

The Veneration of Relics

(Gospel e-Letter - November 2014)

A relic held by a bishop,
touched by devout Catholics.
An anomymous 'St Pacificus'
in a church in Gozo, Malta.
Wrist bone of St Paul, Malta.

Relic of St George
carried in procession.
The veneration of relics is not just a bizarre religious practice of Medieval Catholicism. It is still practiced today. The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges the veneration of relics as a form of piety and popular devotion among the faithful (para. 1674).

In my country one can find scores of relics exhibited in churches; they are also carried in solemn religious processions. They include bones and blood, or some object or piece of cloth that had touched a saint (though the authenticity of some of them is doubtful). Devout Catholics kiss and touch them, just as I used to do when I was a child, in the hope that through them and the intercession of the saint, God will grant them a grace, a healing or even a miracle.

Burying the Dead

It is not unnatural for us to keep mementos of our departed loved ones. But the veneration of relics goes far beyond that. The bones of the dead ought to be buried rather than displayed in public. 2 Kings 13:21 is often misused as evidence for relics. ‘Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.’ If anything, this scripture argues against the Catholic practice. The prophet’s remains were accidentally exposed because they were burying another man. Unlike the practice in the Catholic Church, Elisha’s bones were not enshrined on some altar but buried in the ground, where they ought to be.

Why don’t we rather leave the remains of the dead resting in their graves until the glorious day of the resurrection, and concentrate on building a love relationship with our living Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, animated by the Spirit of God and guided by his holy Word?

Miraculous Signs

God certainly performed miracles, signs and wonders though his prophets and apostles, and even sometimes through material objects (Acts 5:15; 19:11-12). They performed marvelous miracles for a very special purpose – the miracles served as signs that they were indeed God’s authentic messengers of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3,4). The physical connection (their touch, word, clothes and even their shadow) showed without any doubt that they were God’s chosen spokesmen and that their message was the revelation of God.

God’s people are fully convinced that the prophets and the apostles are God’s messengers, and that their teaching recorded in the Holy Scriptures by the Holy Spirit is the authentic message from God. Hence we do not ask for more signs and wonders. We have God’s Word and through it we have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we are blessed with all spiritual blessings.

Reaching God

The apostle Paul said nothing to Christians about preserving and exhibiting his bones and clothes in reliquaries. His burning desire was the proclamation and defence of the gospel message by which men and women may come to know the true and living God through Jesus Christ. It is the gospel that we must preserve and cherish! If we believe the gospel and trust in Christ for salvation, we would be as close to the Father as we could possibly be. A splinter from the cross, a piece of cloth from Mary’s veil, Paul’s wrist bone or the arm of Saint George cannot get us an inch closer, even if they were genuine.

These things are worse than useless for they engender superstition and bring scorn on the sufficiency of Christ. They undermine the child-like faith that Christains should have in their perfect Priest and Mediator. The point of contact between God and us are not clots of dried blood and bones of the saints, but the blood Christ shed on the cross for the redemption of his people. Christians can enter before the throne of grace through a new and living way. In Jesus we have free access to the Father and are fully confident that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.