This weekend we have at all the Masses the relics of St. John Paul II and St. Faustina. As you probably already know these two saints were the biggest promoters of our time on the message of Divine Mercy. St. Faustina received the messages from our Lord about fostering a devotion to God’s Divine Mercy, and St. John Paul II worked to spread the devotion throughout the world, even declaring the Sunday after Easter (the 8th day in the Octave of Easter) as Divine Mercy Sunday.
The use of relics is found in sacred Scripture. “In 2 Kings 2:9-14, the prophet Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah after Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. With this, Elisha struck the water of the Jordan, which then parted so that he could cross. In another passage (13:20-21), some people hurriedly bury a dead man in the grave of Elisha, "but when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet." In the Acts of the Apostles we read, "Meanwhile, God worked extraordinary miracles at the hands of Paul. When handkerchiefs or cloths which had touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases were cured and evil spirits departed from them" (19:11-12). In these three passages, a reverence was given to the actual body or clothing of these very holy people who were indeed God's chosen instruments—Elijah, Elisha and St. Paul. Indeed, miracles were connected with these "relics"—not that some magical power existed in them, but just as God's work was done through the lives of these holy men, so did His work continue after their deaths. Likewise, just as people were drawn closer to God through the lives of these holy men, so did they (even if through their remains) inspire others to draw closer even after their deaths. This perspective provides the Church's understanding of relics.
The veneration of relics of the saints is found in the early history of the Church. A letter written by the faithful of the Church in Smyrna in the year 156 provides an account of the death of St. Polycarp, their bishop, who was burned at the stake. The letter reads, "We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together as we are able, in gladness and joy, and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom." Essentially, the relics—the bones and other remains of St. Polycarp—were buried and the tomb itself was the "reliquary." Other accounts attest that the faithful visited the burial places of the saints and miracles occurred. Moreover, at this time we see the development of "feast days" marking the death of the saint, the celebration of Mass at the burial place and a veneration of the remains.
Here we need to pause for a moment. Perhaps in our technological age, the whole idea of relics may seem strange. Remember, all of us treasure things that have belonged to someone we love—a piece of clothing, another personal item, a lock of hair. Those "relics" remind us of the love we share with that person while they were still living and even after death. Our hearts are torn when we think about disposing of the very personal things of a deceased loved one. Even from an historical sense, at Ford's Theater Museum for instance, we can see things that belonged to President Lincoln, including the blood-stained pillow on which he died. More importantly do we then treasure the relics of saints, the holy instruments of God.”
In the peace of Christ,