My sister and I went to a nearby parish last week to view the Treasures of the Church road show of relics. You know, relics–bits of bone or flesh or garments or hair of saints, or items that touched those items. It seemed like the thing to do, since I’m hip-deep in writing a 365-day devotional on women saints for Franciscan Media. Just a reminder: While we Catholics don’t pray to saints–we only pray to God–we do pray with them, and relics are one way we do it.
While the hour-plus introduction didn’t do a lot for me (I have a problem with the stories of how people were miraculously cured by touching a relic; it seemed like setting folks up for disappointment and misunderstanding what a “cure” might actually consist of), seeing and touching the relics were something else again. I’d never held a relic before; we didn’t get opportunities like that in catechism class when I was growing up, and then I was gone from the Church from the time I was fifteen until I was forty-nine. But the experience of a roomful of people gathering around the relics of people from the Blessed Virgin to St. Paul to Kateri Tekakwitha verged on sacramental.
The priest had promised us that one of the 150 or so saints would speak to us; in my case, it was St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a convert and the first U.S.-born saint. The theca (relic holder) felt warm to my touch, and not the kind of warmth that results from other people holding it. It was interesting; while I admire her and her discovery of Catholicism via friends in her grief after her husband’s death, this saint has never spoken to my soul the way St. Teresa of Avila does. But maybe for right now, she’s the one I need to listen to.