A relic is defined as “a part of a deceased holy person’s body or belongings and kept as an object of reverence.” Relics are important not only to Christianity but also to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Shamanism.
In Christianity, relics are believed to possess the qualities of holiness of a saint. Many believe them to have miraculous powers. For example, Acts 19:11-12 says that St. Paul’s handkerchiefs were imbued by God with healing power.
The most sought-after relics are those of Jesus Christ, such as parts of his body, the cloth in which he was wrapped, and the wooden cross on which he was crucified.
In the Middle Ages, the foreskin of the boy Jesus when he was circumcised was believed to have been preserved and venerated by many. How they identified such foreskin as belonging to Jesus was never explained.
The second council of Nicea in 325 A.D. decreed that every altar during Mass should contain a relic. This is still being practiced today by the Catholic and orthodox churches. “The veneration of the relics of saints reflects belief that the saints in heaven intercede for those on earth.”
A number of miraculous healings have been attributed to relics. These miracle stories made relics of saints much sought after, specially during the Middle Ages.
According to one commentator, if the pieces of wood believed to be part of the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified were gathered, they would be enough to build several cathedrals.
The Catholic Church classifies relics into three categories. First-class relics are parts of the body of a saint, such as blood, teeth, hair or fingernails. Second-class are those the saint has worn or used, such as clothing, sandals, etc. Third-class are those the saint has touched such as prayer books, the Bible or even perhaps door knobs.
In 1986 at the Vatican, I personally met Pope John Paul II, who was declared a saint in April 2014. The Pope shook my hand. Am I, therefore, a third-class relic? That’s something for theologians to debate about.
Another much sought-after biblical object, especially by politically powerful men, is the spear of Longinus. If you will recall, in the biblical story of the crucifixion, a Roman soldier, identified later as Longinus, pierced the side of Christ to see if he was still alive. Blood and water oozed out of his body (John 19:33-34).
It is believed that whoever owns the spear of Longinus (also known as the Spear of Destiny) will not be defeated by his enemy. That’s why every head of state since ancient times has been looking for it.
These powerful men included Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, and even former President Ferdinand Marcos.
Nobody knows where the spear of Longinus is, or whether it existed at all. But the legend of this Spear of Destiny lives on to this day.
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