Touched by a roseBy Simeon Dumdum Jr.
Cebu Daily News
For years I had prayed to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower, for an opportunity to visit her shrine in France. I had been a devotee of the saint since my teens, and so far had received from the Lord all that I had prayed for through her intercession. (There was, by the way, always the sudden appearance of a rose whenever I asked for it as a sign of her favor.)
Truth to tell, I was not straightforward with the Little Flower. A visit to her shrine meant a trip to France, and my real motive was to see the Tour Eiffel, the Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and other famous places in Paris.
To my surprise, my prayer was granted, but I did not get to visit France. In the year 2000, as part of its worldwide tour on the occasion of the centenary of the saint’s death, St. Thérèse’s reliquary came to Cebu, affording me the same experience I would have if I visited her shrine in Lisieux.
I recall lining up for the chance to touch the reliquary with a rose I had received at the church entrance, and, when my turn came, thanking St. Thérèse for answering my prayer, although it was not in the manner I had hoped.
Anyway, the subject of relics brings to mind Mark’s account of a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had spent her money and had gone to many doctors for a cure, all for nothing. And so, hearing of Jesus, and finding him in the crowd, she came up behind him and touched his cloak, believing that if she could do so she would be cured. True enough, she was. Immediately, her flow of blood stopped and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Sensing that power had gone out from him, Jesus turned around and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
Seeing as the crowd was pressing upon Jesus, his disciples were puzzled that he should ask this question. The woman approached trembling with fear, fell down before Jesus and told him what she had done. But instead of rebuking her, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
Whenever someone asks me about relics, I mention this anecdote, which for me validates the veneration of the bones or the objects that had come in contact with the saints. In fact, the Bible does not lack for stories of God’s action through a part of a deceased holy person’s body or belongings.
In 2 Kings, we read that, seeing the approach of Moabite raiders, the Israelites threw a dead man they were burying into the prophet Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up.
It is written in the Acts of the Apostles that the people would carry the sick out into the streets and lay them on cots and mats in the hope that they would recover when Peter passed by and his shadow would fall on them. As regards Paul, face cloths or aprons that had touched his skin were applied to the sick, whereupon their diseases would leave and the evil spirits would come out of them.
Of course, it was not the objects themselves that accomplished these miracles but the power of God, which manifested itself in response to the faith of those who sought it. As St. Jerome said, “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are.”
I was fortunate, however briefly, to have made the acquaintance of William Stafford. We wrote each other for a few years. Together with his last letter (he died in 1993), he sent me a copy of his poem, “Hummingbirds,” which he himself typed.
I treasure this as a relic from a revered American poet. Surely, its power does not come from the copy per se, but from the poem itself, and from the friendship that put the copy into my hands.
For somewhat the same reason, which hopefully is deepened and enlarged by faith, I have preserved the petals of the anonymous rose, which I had laid on the reliquary of St. Therese, between the pages of a book of poems.
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