Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Grandma's Relic

"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.

In spite of her handicap, my deaf Grandma was one of the best communicators I ever knew. It may not have come out all that clear to someone who didn't know her, but we understood her perfectly—that is, when we were really listening. "It's her," she would say. "She's in there," she would say. I knew she was showing me a very small, dried-up shaving of skin, labeled S. E.A. SETON in very small print, encased in a very small silver reliquary on a very small silver chain.

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.

Hence the relic. Even though the soul has gone off, the vessel—the body through which the saint touched the world—remains behind in the world. It won’t channel the essence of the saint, and is not worshipped as a god. It doesn’t contain magic powers, or supersede the will of God. What it contains is the holiness of the saint, because it is a piece of that person. A saint is holy; therefore a flake of his skin, chip of his bone or clipping of his hair is holy. The relic, then, is a tangible piece of holiness to which we can look for inspiration in our own walk with the Lord.

Grandma was—is right: it IS her; she IS in there.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...