Yep, there’s a first time for everything and I finally did it!
I kissed a relic… And I liked it.
So I was at Mass on the Feast of St James the Greater (25th July), the first bishop of Jerusalem and the first Apostle to be martyred. After mass, the priest invited us to come and venerate this relic of St James. What exactly the relic was, I couldn’t say. I think it might have been a sliver of fabric, housed in a gold “monstrance”-like object.
I didn’t know if I was ready for that yet. Kissing relics is kind of like moving to second base. It’s a big step. But were my Catholic faith and I ready to go that far?
Relics have to be one of the more bizarre elements of Catholicism for any recovering Protestant. To me, they were one of the things that was obvious wrong about the Catholic Church. Everyone knows fragments of bones or wood or fabric can’t do anything. Obviously. Except again, Scripture and history were conspiring against me. The relics of saints and martyrs have been venerated for centuries and the Bible explicitly tells us that often God choses to heal us through very real stuff – touchy, fleshy, stuffy stuff.
In the Old Testament, we read that,
“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.” (2 Kings 13:21)
And it’s in the New Testament as well. Like when Jesus heals that poor woman who has been bleeding for ten years.
“When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped…” (Mark 5:27-29)
It continued post-Resurrection too. As St Luke records,
“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” (Acts 19:11-12)
None of these objects (bones, cloaks or even the holiest of handkerchiefs) healed people by themselves. They’re not magic. Rather, God chose to work through these objects, in response to the faith of the sick and suffering. We can ask why but honestly, it’s just how God works. He took on flesh, becoming man and being born of a woman. He died and rose again from the dead, with a body. It all means matter matters.
And relics are no different today.
So then and there, I decided to go forward, albeit at an almost funerary pace in an orderly queue. (It’s funny isn’t it, how the most dramatic things can seem so mundane? I’ve seen more anticipation in queuing for a train ticket.) But slowly, we shuffled forward in faith. I asked St James to pray for me and God to give me even a sliver of the courage of this First Martyr among the Apostles…
Then I kissed that sliver, that tiny relic of the martyred Apostle.
And I did so, but not to adore.
“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 (347-420), Ad Riparium)
It all felt very ordinary, even though I’m not in the habit of kissing glass or relics. And yes, it was kind of weird. Ok, it was very weird.
So maybe I didn’t actually like it… But I do love Him.