April 6, 2012

+++ On holy relics, redemptive suffering and Divine Mercy

Today is Good Friday.

Of course it is the day on which we focus our prayerful meditations on the supreme sacrifice of our Lord and Savior. However, it is also the first day of the Divine Mercy Novena, as requested by Jesus Christ to Saint Faustina Kowalska. Though I try to say the The Chaplet of Divine Mercy every day, the nine days from Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday are particularly designated for the Novena that concentrates our thoughts on Our Lord's sorrowful passion and His Divine Mercy.

First class relic of
Saint Faustina Kowalska
"The Diary" of Saint Faustina and the Chaplet have become all the more a part of my prayers because I have  been entrusted with custody of a first class relic of Saint Faustina, an extraordinary woman who became a role model for redemptive suffering and unfailing faith. (Admittedly, regarding relics, some frauds and abuses have existed in the past. However, the sale of relics is now forbidden. Consequently, the incentive to deceive has been greatly reduced.) 

For those who are unfamiliar, I should mention a brief foundation for the Catholic practice of venerating the relics of saints. Even some Catholics are uncomfortable with the tradition, though both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture support it.
In 2 Kings 13:21 we read: "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." 

That account lays a basis for the veneration of first class relics: remains of a saint's body.

Second class relic of
Saint Andre' Bessette
Then, in the New Testament, we find: "And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed." (Matthew 14:35-36) 

So, the veneration of second class relics -- a saint's (or, in this case, Our Lord's) personal effects, such as clothing -- also have a Scriptural foundation. More accounts of the healing power of touching Jesus' cloak are reported in Mark 6:56 and Luke 8:43-48. 

Pictured, at left, is a second class relic from Saint Andre' Bessette. Behind the silver medallion lies a scrap of the saint's woolen clothing. At right, is a collection of first class relics from various saints.

First class relics of
various saints.
As explained in greater detail HERE, "Few points of faith can be more satisfactorily traced back to the earliest ages of Christianity than the veneration of relics." Written evidence dates as far back as the year 156. However, the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the veneration of relics is summed up in a decree of the Council of Trent (Sess. XXV) which recommended the veneration of those "holy bodies of holy martyrs and others now living with Christ -- which bodies were the living members of Christ and the 'temple of the Holy Ghost...'" (1 Corinthians 6:19) Further, the decree condemned "filthy lucre" associated with the sale of such relics and strongly denounced those who condemn such veneration. 

Many accounts have associated the veneration of relics of saints with healings and other miracles. However, one can never lose sight of the fact that such objects have no value or power in and of themselves, but only that which is granted by Almighty God. Relics are not worshiped or adored. God is the Great Healer, the Great Miracle Worker, and such objects may only have Spiritual value when they encourage us to draw closer to God by imitating the heroic virtue or faithful lives of these saintly role models.

We are all members of the Mystical Body, of which Christ is the head. Condemned souls, alone, have removed themselves from the Mystical Body. So, whether living or dead, those in God's favor continue to participate in the communion of saints. Consequently, just as our prayers for each other on earth have value, the prayerful intercessions of saints are extraordinarily efficacious. (Read more on the communion of saints HERE.)

That brings me to the heroic virtue of Saint Faustina Kowalska, a role model for redemptive suffering during her sickly life, just 33 years long. She endured progressively debilitating tuberculosis, but her infirmity was even doubted by her peers. Still, she welcomed suffering so that she might unite it with the passion of Jesus Christ, offering it up as a merciful sacrifice for the good of others.

Redemptive suffering (read more on the topic, HERE) is a particularly Catholic concept. But Protestants should know that there are Biblical foundations for the belief:

  • "Whoever follows me must take up his cross...." (Jesus' words in Matthew 10:38) 
  • "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ;" (Colossians 1:24) 
  • "... although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." (2 Corinthians 4:16) 
  • “This indeed is a grace, if for consciousness of God anyone endures sorrows, suffering. unjustly." (I Pt 2: 19). 
  • “For the Spirit Himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.” (Rm 8:16-18) 

Approaching the last year of her life, Saint Faustina received an important message from Jesus Christ on Good Friday of 1937. In it, He described His desire that we offer The Divine Mercy Novena (found HERE) on the nine days, each year, prior to Divine Mercy Sunday. This Novena request added additional prayers and intentions to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy (found HERE) that Jesus Christ recommended we pray throughout the year. 

So, if you are so inclined, your Divine Mercy Novena should begin today. 

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, may God have mercy on us and on the whole world.