Fragments of the bones of Saint Peter have left the chapel of the Apostolic Palace in Rome and were sent home with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Pope Francis bothers conservative Catholics yet again, few of whom have actually been pilgrims to Rome and far fewer have actually seen the fragments Paul VI requested for prayer during his papacy.
We’ve discussed relics here years ago with our examination of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. Their importance lies somewhere between ignoring them or cultivating ignorance of them and a vehement defense in terms of collecting and hoarding them.
Think of this … A person snaps a picture of a loved one. They put it on social media, or even print out a copy for their purse or wallet or workspace. People today make a matter of collecting images, sometimes even to the detriment of actually enjoying the experience of the moment and savoring the relationship live and in person, as it were.
If I were to piece off a few pixels of an image of my wife, it would have little meaning for me, and absolutely none for anyone else. The ubiquity of electronic images makes even the thought silly. I can put a picture of my wife everywhere: on the phone, computer, laptop, desk, instrument case, facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat, etc.. The “relic” of her face can be endlessly reproduced. If we weren’t married, it might even be creepy.
The Church honors relics if they are easily discernible as something: a body part, a piece of clothing, a book they read or used. Chopping bodies into pieces is not consonant with respect for a body. Given the proclivity toward capitalism, selling off such particles strays deeply into disrespect. If not creepiness.
Unlike some (including this commentator) I applaud and approve of a brother-to-brother gesture, Peter to Andrew, of giving away something Paul VI thought significant. It is a good sign that people are both encouraged and upset. It means the object as well as the gesture has significance.
In my own family, my wife possesses an authenticated relic of St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars. We won’t be bequeathing it to our daughter. We’ve already discussed the importance of the patron saint of parish priests. At some point before we die, we will give it to a priest or seminarian who is more in need of it than the young miss. It’s not going to cause any family upset. That’s just the way it will be.