One of the things I love most about the Catholic Church is its earthiness. We are very down -to-earth, you might say, a very material church. The things of this world are very much a part of our piety. We have the sacraments, all of which involve substances – water, oils, bread and wine – and/or words and gestures. But we also have the sacramentals, substances, objects of many different kinds, statues, sacred images, rosaries, and many more. Sacramentals are all those things that “prepare us to receive the grace of God and dispose us to cooperate with it….There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be directed to our sanctification and to the praise of God.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1670). In the period following the Second Vatican Council, the clergy tried to clean things up a bit, empty the Church of much of these things that are unique to our Church. It was probably necessary for the Church to undergo a certain purification of its practices, but the “sensus fidelium”, what we can translate roughly as the “faith-instinct of the laity in the Church” has refused to abandon completely the use of sacramentals.
Perhaps the “Cadillac” of sacramentals is the relic, especially what we call the “first class relic”, a part of the body of the person whose relic it is. It just so happens that a very precious relic is coming soon to a church near you: the right arm of St. Francis Xavier is coming to town. The sophisticated, the refined, the intellectually and academically inclined might react spontaneously: “How gross!” But the faith instinct of the ordinary person in the Church tugs at our hearts and whispers to us that where is the relic of a holy person, there also is God. St. Francis Xavier is a most holy person, extremely graced by God. He is, together with St. Paul, among the greatest apostles that ever lived, and certainly the greatest missionary that ever lived. He brought the gospel and the Church to India, to Sri Lanka, to what is now Malaysia and Indonesia, and to Japan. He died on the island of Sancian, waiting for the fishing boat that was to smuggle him into China. He never set foot in China, but his life, and his death on this island, made known to all Europe, elicited a wave of missionaries that was to ensure the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the Church in this country. And so St. Francis Xavier can truly be called the apostle of Asia. This very fact makes him of high relevance to us, the Church in Vancouver, since a huge proportion of the Church in Vancouver is Asian.
The coming of the arm of St. Francis Xavier to Vancouver is therefore a joyful, happy, important event, and there is no doubt in my mind that there are graces to be reaped by anyone who makes a pilgrimage to see, to touch, and to pray in the presence of this precious relic. The arm of St. Francis Xavier will be, fittingly, at the church of St. Francis Xavier in Vancouver on Wednesday January 24 from 9:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., and at the church of All Saints in Coquitlam on Thursday January 25 (feast of the conversion of St. Paul) from 12:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. You can find the address for these two churches, as well as information on the programme of activities in these two days on the archdiocesan web-site: rcav.org May the coming of the relic of St. Francis Xavier to the Church of Vancouver obtain for our Church the extraordinary graces that the organizers are anticipating: conversions, the raising up of missionary disciples who are abandoned to God’s will, and healing.