Relics of the Saints, Treasures of the Church

Relics of the Saints, Treasures of the Church March 3, 2018

*My conversation with Fr. Carlos Martins, CC is embedded at the bottom of this post.*

Encountering the Saints in their Relics

Now, this is the story all about how my perspective got flip-turned upside down. My first up-close and personal encounter with the relics of the saints came in Philadelphia. The World Meeting of Families had just concluded, and the crowd size surged in anticipation of Pope Francis’ arrival. I, and 48 pilgrims from middle-America, and endured 24 hours on a chartered bus to experience it. We only had three days in town, and we were going to make the most of it.

On the first day, we traveled to three of the many beautiful parishes in Philadelphia. We started at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, then to the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, and lastly to the Miraculous Medal Shrine. It was to be a lovely day of spiritual pilgrimage.

Face to Face with the Unexpected

St. Rita’s was lovely; several small reliquaries containing minuscule fragments were on display. While I knew these relics contained a bone fragment, or strand of hair, or some other bit of DNA from the saints, they were small enough to compartmentalize in a safe spot in my brain.

There was no such luck at the Shrine of St. John Neumann. In the basement chapel, under the altar of the main church, lay the remains of St. John Neumann – clothed in bishops vestments, and covered with a wax face.

The remains of St. John Neumann at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philly.
The remains of St. John Neumann at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philly. – Personal Photo All Rights Reserved

I’d brought my pilgrims to this shrine. I’m the one who put it on the schedule. It was all my doing. But I’m not sure I expected this. As I walked in the long line, waiting to come and venerate his relics I had quite the conversation with myself. I knew that the veneration of relics was an ancient practice. But this just seemed weird – I was going to get to the front and then kneel in front of a body to pray.

The Catholic Church

But this wasn’t just a body. This body belongs to a saint. He is part of the universal Church. Yes, his congregation is gathered around the throne of God and not in a parish, but he is still part of the one Church. He, together with all the saints, prays for those of us who are still sojourning on this earth.

I didn’t have an emotional experience before his body, but I came to a new understanding of the Communion of the Saints and the Resurrection of the Body. At the end of time, St. John Neumann’s body will be resurrected. He won’t get a new body. He’ll get this body made new. The same goes for me and you and our bodies. His body is no less his even though his spirit does not currently inhabit it. His body is no mere shell, it is an integral part of him, and will be returned to him.

And yes, this is crazy talk. All mystery is.

I’m no Expert, but…

I’m no expert on the topic of relics. In fact, I’m quite the novice. But luckily, I have a radio show where I have the opportunity to talk to experts all the time. I invited Father Carlos Martins, CC of to join me for a conversation to explore the topic of relics, their scriptural basis, and many common questions that relics engender.

Some of the questions you submitted questions through social media didn’t fit into the broadcast, but we kept the interview rolling and have made that extra segment available to the public on my Patreon page. For those who support the show through Patreon, that same segment is available in a video segment.

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