The relic of St Francis Xavier – Catholics are a weird bunch

POPES-SAINTS
Kathleen Evans carries a relic of St Mary MacKillop as Sr Niesha Allport and Ronald Campbell carry a candle and flowers during the canonisation of six new saints led by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 17 October. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

St Francis Xavier is dropping by our parish this week, and I can’t wait to go and meet him. Our parish is lucky is be one of the first stops of the saint’s relic on its Australian journey for the Year of Grace.

The last time I venerated a relic was when praying in the Mary MacKillop chapel a couple of months ago. I imagine that St Mary of the MacKillop of the Cross’ wish is for this pilgrimage to be a great success in bringing many Australians closer to God.

I invited a friend, who is not a Catholic, to come and pray by St Francis’ relics while they are here. He was very keen, as he has an affinity with the saint. But then I mentioned that the relic is his right arm or hand and my friend was shocked.

“You’re joking. No. I couldn’t do that,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. “It’s ok, it’s all very tasteful. It’ll be closed up in a box,” I half-joked.

But the notion of encouraging people to cart bits of deceased saints around for others to admire was too much for him.

He could understand and respect the tradition, but thought it an inappropriate practice in the modern-day setting.

He felt that it was desecration and showed a lack of respect for the saints we love.

The first thought that came to my mind was that it’s not so
different to a person donating his or her body parts to medicine or science for the greater good and to enrich the lives of others.

But the main point is that I think that the saints themselves would most likely not see it his way.

Apart from the veneration of relics having a Biblical basis (the healing of the women who touched the hem of Jesus’ coat, and the healing of the man who touched the body of the prophet Elisha), I would think that the most important thing in all the world for a holy person is that as many people as possible might come to know God’s love as he or she does. Whatever the cost to themselves.

Surely holy people, almost by definition, during their earthly lives have a passionate, insatiable love for God and for all people?

Wouldn’t a holy person be happy to do anything, have anything done to their belongings or even their physical body after death, which might bring people together before God with the best intentions? To make them think more of God and to be more open to the workings of God’s grace?

I told my friend that Catholics are a weird bunch, and it’s true. Later I reflected how one thing that marks us out from some others is our earthiness, our willingness to touch holy things, see things, make pilgrimages, all those bells and smells and other things, along with believing certain things intellectually.

And God uses this. God is great like that, using whatever we are willing to give, giving whatever we are willing to use, working symbiotically with us all the time in order to inspire not only our intellectual commitment but our devotion and love.

When Australia hosted relics of the gorgeous St Thér?se of Lisieux in 2002, thousands of people flocked to see and pray with them. The priests were overwhelmed by the demand for confessions into the early hours of the morning, and there were many conversions.

For myself, praying with St Thér?se alongside Peter and one of the priests who six months later celebrated our wedding was a special grace. I like to think of her as a patron of our marriage, plus we named our first child Naomi Thérese.

St Francis Xavier is the name of parish we grew up in and married in. And he is a patron saint of Australia, which makes him special as well.

This time I will unashamedly asking St Francis for his assistance with lots of special graces, including for my friend who can’t bring himself to come, and especially for our little one due in November.