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Relics: The Sanctity of the Saints

by Brant Pitre May 02, 2019 0 Comments


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And I want you to notice here (look at that), it says that, “they would lay the sick 
on beds and pallets so that if Peter came by, at least his shadow would fall on some of them.” Now why does that matter? Well, remember, Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke. And so if you go back to the Gospel of Luke, you might recall that there were similar miracles of just proximity that took place. The most famous one being the woman with a hemorrhage. So if we look at Luke 8, she says, “If I could just touch the hem of his garment, I’ll be healed.” And sure enough, she is. Power goes forth from Jesus and heals the woman.

Well that’s a pretty stupendous miracle. Jesus doesn’t have to say anything. He doesn’t have to rub soil, rub mud in your eyes, or do any kind of rite or ritual. It’s almost like an involuntary miracle. Just touching him with faith allows power to flow out from him and to heal her.


Well, Peter doesn’t even have to touch the sick. His shadow alone is so powerful and so filled with holiness and so charged (so to speak) with the power of the Holy Spirit that it has this power to heal. I bring this up both because it illustrates the principle I mentioned earlier, which is not from Luke (it’s from the gospel of John but it’s still important). When Jesus says to the Apostles, “Greater works than these will you do.” In other words, You are going to perform greater miracles than I performed during my public ministry. So we already see that truth being brought about here in the book of Acts.


But also, I think it’s important for us as Catholics that it kind of lays the foundation for the notion of the holiness of saints being able to perform miracles. So for example, since ancient times, you can read St. John Chrysostom in the 4th Century Bishop of Constantinople, he has a whole series of essays on the power of the relics of the saints. Whether it be their bones or their clothing. And people (let’s be frank) get a little weirded out by that, like it seems strange to believe that the bones or the bodies of the saints would be so holy as to communicate healings or other kinds of miracles.


But the notion that not just Jesus himself (“the hem of his garment” – that’s his clothing), but the bodies of his Apostles, that their bodies can perform miracles, that they’re able to perform miracles, that goes back to the book of Acts. Because in Acts 5, Peter’s shadow is able to heal, and then later on in the Book of Acts (I can’t remember which chapter off the top of my head, I think it’s Acts 19, but I’m Catholic. I can’t remember where things are in the Bible) they take handkerchiefs and they touch them to Paul’s body and then they bring the sick and the sick are healed. That’s what Catholics would call a second-class relic, some material object that has touched the body of a saint and then through that touch is itself, it becomes holy, it becomes sanctified and it can be charged with the power to heal.


That’s not a medieval notion, that’s an ancient Jewish notion. The Jews actually believe the same thing about priestly vestments. Josephus talks about that, that the vestments of the priests in the Temple were regarded as holy and able to communicate power. The idea that holiness and blessing can be attached to material objects, and communicate through material objects, that’s not a pagan idea, that’s a Jewish idea. It’s a biblical idea. And so, in this case, it’s not even an object, it’s just Peter’s shadow that is able to heal the sick and bring about miracles.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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