Saturday, February 26, 2011

Relic of St. Mary Magdalene

As much as I love the Church, one of those things that I'm still trying to more fully understand is the devotion and veneration of relics.  Reading up on it a bit, I can grasp that the bodies of saints as former temples of the Holy Spirit through which many blessings of God were poured out ought to have a special place particularly in light of undertsanding our bodies via the Theology of the Body.  However, in practice, I'm not quite sure what to do with that.

A relic of St. Mary Magdalene (a piece of her tibia) was at Vallombrosa on February 20 making its California tour and I had the opportunity to go and see it.  This was my first time seeing a first-class relic and I had no idea what to expect.

Vallombrosa had provided some history on the relic and so it was nice having an explanation of the timeline all the way back to St. Mary herself.  When it comes to relics, I often find myself wondering how people really know it actually belonged to the saint.  I'm skeptical that some dude dug up a body part, made some outrageous claim, and then here we gullible people are, centuries later, wanting some affirmation of our faith and venerating it.  I don't really believe that, but the thought does cross my mind.  However, knowing how the Church moves and how careful she tries to be when it comes to claims like this helps that.

Entering the chapel where the relic was on display being venerated, there were many people praying before it (her?).  As I waited to go up to it, I was watching what other people were doing.  Most people went up to it, looked/stared at it, presumably praying in their heart, and then closed with a sign of the cross.  Then it was my turn.

"Wow!  That's a big-ass piece of bone."  That was my first thought.  Oops. 

"Hi! ..."  That was my second thought.

I hope I still looked reverent like everyone else.

Not having a lot of experience with non-living human body parts, I was surprised by how dark the bone was.  At the same time, I found myself struck by the fact that this was part of St. Mary Magdalene herself!  This flashed me back to a self-imagined dramatic, epic montage of the Bible stories of St. Mary.  Snapping back to reality, but with gravity still there, I had a deep sense of my faith connection being here in the 21st century going all the way back to the time of Jesus.  I felt privileged to be a part of such a rich history and even empowered to be able to continue on the battle of faith.  I closed with a quick prayer asking St. Mary to pray for me to continue to grow in my understanding of her, this whole relics thing, and following Jesus better.  Not the most eloquent, but it was me.

I think that might be what it's all about.

Procession of the relic of St. Mary

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