"Gina, Look! Zgin, see? Liz-bet. See?" My grandmother was responsible for my first real encounter with a first-class relic. I remember my mother being very impressed, but it wasn't until recently that I really got a grip on the treasure that Grandma was trying to show me so earnestly, and not because of her muddled, unclear speech.
Of course, my 13-year-old sensibilities (or lack thereof) assumed she was talking about the sliver of skin, not the actual person. I was curious at the time—why would Grandma want to carry around a sliver of skin with her? Did it smell inside that little sliver case? Was that dark brown speck in the middle of it dried blood? Part of me was a bit grossed out, and it would be many years before I understood exactly what Grandma was trying to tell me. Honestly I hadn’t thought about Grandma’s relic at all over the years until this past Tuesday, the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, when Grandma’s voice came blasting out of the past as I read my Magnificat: “It’s her; she’s in there.”
A relic, tiny though it may be, is a piece of a saint. To paraphrase a rather controversial contemporary figure, Christopher West, in one of his presentations on the Theology of the Body: when we say, “look at him or her”, what else is there to look at but their bodies? The body is the vessel of the soul, but the body is not just a shell. The soul isn’t the fullness of the human being apart from its body. We are a living, breathing being, BODY AND SOUL. What was once fully united death now divides, and the body remains behind in the world.
Grandma was—is right: it IS her; she IS in there.