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Relics themselves don't do magic

They do not contain a power that is their own. Any good that comes is God’s doing.

  • C.M. Paul, Rome
  • Italy
  • May 31, 2011
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Isn’t it funny that we fall head over heels to get close to celebrities, collect their autographs, shake their hands or fall at the feet of gurus and sadhus, place the dust from their feet to our foreheads and prostrate ourselves to beg for their blessings?

Do we not treasure something given to us by our great grandfather or mother? We don’t scorn friends who boast of such, do we? But some of us, those who think themselves to be wiser, may laugh at the craze of common folk to venerate the relic of Don Bosco that is on India pilgrimage since April 29 and to last till November 30, crisscrossing India and making an average of three stops daily.

So, what is a relic? It is something connected with a saint or blessed, including a part of the body (e.g. hair, or a piece of bone), clothing, or an object that the person used or touched. In the case of the pilgrimage of the Don Bosco relic, it is the bones of his right hand that are encased in the chest of the statue.

It is not the kind of relic or how big it is that is important but rather the faith and prayer that the relic occasions. By the communion of saints, it is that person who is close to us, blessing and praying for us.

Scripture and tradition are two important elements that enlighten our Catholic faith. For those of us who need a Biblical backing for the veneration of relics of holy men and women we have umpteen citations.

The Bible teaches that God acts through relics, especially for healing.  In fact, when surveying what Scripture has to say about sacred relics, one is left with the idea that healing is what relics “do.”

"Moses took Joseph's bones with him: because he had adjured the children of Israel, saying: God shall visit you, carry out my bones from hence with you." (Exodus 13:19)

“Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, struck the water of the Jordan and it divided so that he could cross. (2 Kings 2:13-14)

“Elisha died and was buried. Moabite raiding parties invaded the land at the beginning of the year. One day some men were burying a man when they spotted a raiding party. So they threw the dead man into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the dead man came to life and stood on his feet.” (2 Kings 13:20-21)

“A woman was healed of her hemorrhage simply by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak.” (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48).

Jesus once used his own spittle mixed with mud to cure a blind man. (John 9:1-7).

“The people recognized Jesus so they sent for the sick people in all the surrounding country and brought them to Jesus. They begged him to let those who were ill at least touch the edge of his cloak; and all who touched it were made well. (Matthew 14:34-36)

“The sick were carried out into the streets and were healed when St. Peter’s shadow fell upon them.” (Acts 5:15)

“When handkerchiefs or aprons that had been touched to Paul were applied to the sick, the people were healed and evil spirits were driven out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12)

In each of these instances God has brought about a healing using a material object.  The vehicle for the healing was the touching of that object. The cause of the healing is God. The relics are a means through which He acts.  In other words, relics are not magic.  They do not contain a power that is their own; a power separate from God.  Any good that comes about through a relic is God’s doing.  But the fact that God chooses to use the relics of saints to work healing and miracles tells us that He wants to draw our attention to the saints as “models and intercessors,” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Catechism for example, never mentions about relics. Yet, in  # 2683, it says, “Their [the saints'] intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”

Thus, veneration of relics is strictly scriptural, and early Christians saw things in the same way as the ancient Israelites and those in the New Testament.

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Salesian Father C. M. Paul is a regular ucanews.com reporter. He was editor of the Kolkata-based Herald ((1989-1991) and director of the Rome-based Salesian News Agency as well as served two-terms as president of Signis-India.  He has a personal blog, NewsGrab.

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