During my time inside St. Monica’s Church, I learned the reason why people were willing to cross hundreds or thousands of miles to venerate the body of a saint. Prior to this, I rather agreed with the opinion of Reynard the Fox, the great trickster of medieval folklore: why travel hundreds of miles on a pilgrimage when one can pray and repent at home just as easily?
Then again, I did not expect the tangible sensation of holiness after Mass as I walked up to the St. Maria Goretti’s relics. While advancing through the line, I prayed the prayer of forgiveness the priest had told us to say during the homily: “Jesus Christ, in imitation of St. Maria Goretti, I forgive N.” As I thought of the people I ought to forgive, I felt so strongly the presence of St. Maria Goretti and Our Lord, a presence filled with peaceful love, that I could hardly credit it. How can one describe accurately the love and presence of persons so holy? One could almost imagine oneself on the threshold of heaven! If people always feel such love when approaching a saint’s relics, no wonder so many used to undertake pilgrimages! Religion is no dead ritual, but acts of connecting again to the Source of Life Eternal.
Near the front of the line, I received two prayer cards: one for St. Maria Goretti and the other for Alessandro Serenelli. The former had a portrait of the saint which her mother said was a near perfect likeness. (No photographs exist of the saint.) Unfortunately, the line was now moving at full speed, and the ushers found the old Korean lady ahead of me too slow, since she spent seven or eight seconds by the relics. Conversely, I went to the middle of the casket, touched the two prayer cards and my rosary to it–thus making them third class relics, and walked on. The ushers actually thanked me for my speedy efficiency. The moment was enough, however, as I again felt the presence of the saint when I touched the reliquary.
Leaving the worship space, I headed to the stall where they sold prayer cards, books, and other merchandise related to St. Maria, the proceeds of which would go toward the long overdue renovation of her house in Nuttuno. I purchased two books at $12 each, which I intended to eventually pass on to my brother and our parents. I was tempted to approach the relics again, but I feared lest the ushers thought I would be trying to obtain more than the allotted two prayer cards. Also, the lateness of the hour dictated that I make my way back as soon as possible.
The scenery, covered by darkness, held fewer charms than during the day. Though, I’ve found that I love crossing the Tennessee River at night. I doubt whether I’ve ever driven through fog covered mountains before this, and doubt whether I shall do so again. Surprisingly, a level stretch of road proved the most dangerous as my attention wavered enought that I almost drove off the side of the road. Little else of note happened on the drive. Lilith held my interest even more on the drive back than on the way there.
I at last arrived home with five new treasures from this experience. Four I would give away, but God assures us that what we give away we own more securely than what we keep. And, I shall never forget the experience of the pilgrimage to Duluth.
Has this series of posts influenced the way my dear readers perceive the Catholic practice of venerating relics, or does the practice appear as strange and medieval as it has to you prior to this? 🙂