Sometime back in December, a friend called and asked me to come to a meeting to discuss the possibility of bringing Treasures of the Church to Philadelphia. I said yes, not knowing what to expect. On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we began our evening in the dimly lit Adoration chapel where pink placards containing our names and prayer intentions lined the steps along with a votive candle in a glass bowl. It was a beautiful sight and a beautiful gesture on the part of my friend. After Benediction and Reposition, we were invited to take our placards and our candles into the friary to lay them at the feet of Our Lady. With such a beautiful start, how could this not be a success?
Last night, this labor of love prayerfully came to fruition. For reasons known only to God, it was decided that I would be one of only two people permitted to unpack the relics and lay them out on 19 tables. I barely had time to come home from work, shower and change and get myself to the friary by 5pm. I was so worried about dropping a reliquary, it never occurred to me that I, along with the lovely woman helping me, would be responsible for keeping them in order. Naturally, I messed up the first two tables and we had to start all over again, but I was fortunate to have noticed my mistake early. Father Carlos was very patient and kind about it. He has an amazing system of keeping the relics organized to the point where he can blindly put his hand into the trunk and know which saint he withdrew based on the position of the relics. Accompanying each reliquary is a plaque that gives a brief synopsis of each relic and the saint to whom it belonged.
Matthew and Rebecca were also enlisted to help with this endeavor but they were coming a little later. I got a text message from Rebecca warning me that Matthew was threatening to show up in shorts, but, little mother hen that she is, she got him in line. While we helped Father set up, the rest of the volunteers were reviewing their instructions and responsibilities in the friary. The plan was to allow most of us to hear Father's talk in the upper church with the understanding that we would leave before its conclusion and return to guarding the relics, one volunteer per table.
Some people picked their table based on the saint whose relics it displayed. I was late picking a table and took one of the three remaining. My company last evening was St. Francis of Assisi, St. Francis Xavier, St. Dominic and .... St. John Vianney. More than once I implored the Cure d'Ars to intercede on behalf my of my pastor, who is slowly recovering from his injuries. Having St. Francis of Assisi near would prove to be providential, but I'll get to that a bit later.
Before we headed up to hear Father's talk, we were given an opportunity to venerate the relics in relative peace and quiet. I joined up with Rebecca since Matthew was assigned to keep an eye on the elevator and prevent people from entering too early. At first, Rebecca was afraid to pick up any of the reliquaries, so I took the one containing St. Therese and touched it to her forehead for her. Then we parted ways for a short bit because I was in Carmelite Heaven. Not only was the Little Flower's relic present, but her parents' as well, not to mention St. Teresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross, and St. Edith Stein. Edith Stein's relic was second-class. Given that the Nazis burned her in an oven, no first-class relic exists.
As we were heading upstairs for Father's talk, Rebecca mentioned that she had a pins and needles sensation that would not go away on her forehead. I didn't think much of it at first, but when she mentioned it again, I asked her if it was bothering her, worrying that maybe a dizzy spell was in the works. She told me it started after I touched the relic to her head and while it didn't hurt, it was a very strange sensation that she could still feel. At this point, the talk had not yet begun. I needed to know if at any point Rebecca had overheard that sometimes, a person will feel a warm or even burning sensation when they venerate a relic. No such discussion had yet taken place because Father had yet to talk about it. The discussion in the friary among the volunteers was solely about their responsibilities. I'm sure you can imagine how choked up I became.
I loved how Father began his talk. He reminded the faithful that though he would be giving a lecture, we were still in God's house and were to conduct ourselves accordingly. He spoke of the Four Handcuffs, those things that prevent us from living in God's good graces.
1. Failure to faithfully go to Sunday Mass
2. Failure to go to confession
3. Failure to make a thorough confession
4. Failure to forgive.
Please visit Father's website for more details from the lecture.
Before the talk ended, I left to take my place at my table. It was fascinating to watch people, and mine was one of the busiest tables. I watched a gentleman take St. Francis of Assisi and touch his relic to a large growth protruding from his head. I watched a woman take a photo of a relative in a hospital bed and touch it to each relic on the table. One young woman in a veil moved methodically, on her knees, to each relic, praying and touching each one to her Rosary.
In my haste to get to the friary on time, I forgot my Rosary. The only sacramental I had was my Brown Scapular, so I touched it to the relic containing what tradition holds is a piece of the Virgin Mary's veil. I must admit to a bit of envy watching everyone else touch their Rosaries to their favorite saints.
Finally, the evening drew to a close and Father beckoned the few remaining faithful to take their leave. Only a handful of volunteers remained so while I took down the relics, the others covered the plaques in their plastic bags and folded the blue linens that had covered the tables. It was just before midnight by the time we got home. On the dining room table was a note from my oldest, who had stopped by to see her dogs. She warned us that a mouse was stuck in the sink, unable to climb out.
With great trepidation, I took a peek and sure enough, a tiny field mouse sat quivering. We attempted to get him out, but being the girl that I am, I shrieked every time he moved. Rebecca's idea was to put him outside, if only we could catch him. I was afraid we'd wind up pulling his tail off, he was so tiny. Finally on his own, he leaped out, except instead of running away, he decided to hang out. He sat on the counter, looking at Rebecca, and every time she'd get close, he'd scamper away a few feet, and then come back and do it again. She tried to scoop him up in a plastic container so we could put him outside, but apparently he was enjoying this little game of cat and mouse.
"If we kill him, Rebecca, St. Francis will never forgive us."
Finally, the little critter got bored and took off, disappearing behind the stove. Time to go to bed. Rebecca told me that during Father's talk, he explained that sometimes people will feel a hot or warm sensation when they venerate a relic. She said it meant that saint was calling you to be their friend. She told me that when she venerated St. Mary Magdalene's relic, she got the same buzzing sensation, except it lasted only briefly. I told her I had a slightly different take than Father Carlos. Both Magdalene and Therese were entirely devoted to Christ. I asked Becca to consider that perhaps they were asking her to join them in that devotion.
I have no idea what any of it meant, but I do know I will treasure what happened in my heart much longer than I will remember what car I drove or how many karats my engagement ring is or how much money I could get for my house. Many times, we travel along the path of faith in a total fog, blindly groping and hoping we're headed in the right direction, and God sends us a gift, just to reassure us that if we put our trust entirely in Him, we will one day be able to do more than venerate the relic of saints. We will join their company and thank them face to face for their heroic example and complete devotion to God.