We all have heroes. We may admire sports figures, musicians, movie stars, or celebrities of various aspects. We look up to those more successful in our chosen profession or business. We learn from them and try to imitate them. To emulate them is a desire to imitate their success. It may even be a family member, loved one, or a friend that you admire and consider your hero. Why not have heroes of the faith? Saint relics have a two-fold purpose in our life, and both are grounded in Sacred Scripture.
Relics help us grow in a stronger faith because they remind us how others were able to live a life devoted to Christ. They are also a means for God to impart graces to us. Sacred Scripture is full of encouragement to stay strong in our obedience and trust in the Lord. It’s also packed with events where God used ordinary materials to do extraordinary work.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (I Cor. 11:1) St. Paul reminds us that we are to imitate him (as well as other faithful saints) because they imitate Christ. It is easy to look at a person and believe we can live a life pleasing to the Lord because others have done it. We incorporate small ways into our life to remind us of those we desire to imitate. Saint relics serve the same purpose. They point us toward holy saints and serve as an encouragement to remain faithful. It is similar to wearing your father’s necklace after his death as a way of feeling close to him. It’s the same concept and reason we have photos on our wall or office desk of those we love to let us feel close to them or to give us strength when we need it.
Relics are also used as a means for God to impart graces upon us. Jesus used materials in this world to perform healings and impart graces. God also used materials such as clothing and cloths of the apostles to impart the graces of healing. In John 9:6-7, we see where Jesus spits on the ground, basically makes a mud cream, and then puts it on the blind man’s eyes. He told the man to go wash the mud off his face in the Pool of Siloam (which itself was believed to contain healing powers). Once the man washed in the pool, his sight was restored. Did the mud heal his sight? Absolutely not. Was his vision restored from the Pool of Siloam? No. His eyesight was restored by Christ, and Christ alone, using mud and water. Jesus also directly used his spit in Mark 8:22-26 when he spit on the eyes of a blind man and then touched the eyes of the man. Sight was restored for the man.
If we do not believe God sends a flow of healing graces through ordinary things, then we only need to look around us and within the pages of Sacred Scripture. One might argue that these miracles happened only because it was Jesus and He is God. That is not an accurate understanding of Sacred Scripture to believe that miracles only happened with Jesus.
In Acts 19:11-12, we read, “so extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”
It is important to remember that the healing and powerful graces that flow through relics are not some mystical magic, illusions, or superstition. Additionally, we also see in Scripture that it did not always mandate something to be physically touched in order for miracles to happen. Many were healed simply by Peter’s shadow falling on them as he walked by them.
“Thus, they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.” (Acts 5:15-16)
A relic of any saint does not guarantee miracles, healings, or any other significant grace. The relic itself does not contain anything special or extraordinary. It is only when the grace of God flows through it, at the will of God, for a divine purpose that it can become a tool for healing graces. (or other miracles intended by the Lord) Relics will always point our eyes toward the Lord. Every relic has the capability to increase our faith, even restore it at times when we falter or have our faith weakened, but not every relic will have healing or miraculous powers. It is important to distinguish between the substance of a relic and the potential power of the Spirit which can (and does, at times) flow through them for a divine purpose. Anything a relic is credited with achieving, in terms of healings or miracles, is the result of God and God alone. A relic is simply a chosen method for which the Lord oftentimes utilizes to flow his graces.