This weekend Pope Francis made history. To commemorate the end of the year of faith he brought out the bones of Saint Peter and displayed them for the first time. By all accounts it was a powerful experience. I had felt a little disappointed that I couldn’t fly off to Rome to be part of the festivities, but then a little moment of grace came my way. Here in Washington D.C. the national shrine also has relics of Saint Peter. They have a bone fragment, a fragment of his cross, and a fragment of his chair. In an act of solidarity with Rome they too put our the relics on display, and I was able to sit with St. Peter for a few moments yesterday evening.
Some Christians have difficulty understanding the practice of venerating relics, and it’s certainly something I struggled through in my journey to the Catholic Church. I have often wondered what would make a good defense of the practice to those outside the Church. Last night it finally really clicked for me, and like most things in the Catholic Church, it’s something you need to experience for yourself.
I felt a lot of things sitting in front of these relics, but if I were to summarize my experience it would be this: in the presence of the relics I was deeply moved to worship Christ.
Here was a man, like me, a man with a family, a man with a temper, a man who feared, and cried, and boasted and sinned time and time again. He was a man. Yet, through him Christ established a Church. Through him the Gospel was opened to gentiles. Through him we have the first confession of the faith that we celebrated this past year. Upon the foundation of this man’s life the Church began to break down the doors of hell with the grace of Christ, open the eyes of the blind, set the captives free, and release those in darkness.
He was just a man.
Being with Saint Peter in this special way brought me to tears. I was amazed by the way that the grace of God could have such an impact on a life. I was humbled by the realization that the same spirit that inspired and empowered Peter was sealed on my heart in baptism. It was a moment of grace. When I was done praying my three year old son asked me what was going on. I told him that we were with a very, very special man. He asked me “why?”The best explanation I could muster for my little boy was that Jesus was Peter’s best friend.
Jesus was Peter’s best friend, the thought pierced my heart. He was a man, like me, a man with a family, a man with a temper, a man who feared, and cried, and boasted and sinned time and time again. But Jesus was Peter’s best friend and that made all the difference.
I want that to be my legacy, and my son’s legacy too. Saint Peter Pray for us.