The Man Behind the Arm

I had the honour and privilege to volunteer at the Relic Pilgrim of the incorrupt arm of St Francis Xavier at Saint Albert the Great Parish in Calgary, Alberta on January 21, 2018.  Now you might think that by the title of this article that I am going to talk to you about the man of Saint Francis Xavier, or maybe the man behind coordinating ushers (or uber ushers as I like to call them) for the relic, God Squad’s very own Sean Lynn.  No, I’m going to talk to you about the man who was literally standing behind the relic itself:  Me, or more precisely, I’d like to share with you this powerful experience.

 

I have seen some relics in my life.  Altars have relics.   I’ve seen skulls, bones, and even the head of St John the Baptist in the Church of St Sylvester in Rome.  As a cradle Catholic, I have come to see relics as a normal part of the culture and have come to take them somewhat for granted.  This is not something that I am proud of.  It emanates the stench of skepticism and apathy.  The Council of Trent (Sess. XXV) teaches us that “the holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ [—whose bodies were the living members of Christ and ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit’ (I Cor 6:19) and who are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified] are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men.”[1]  The Church has long since had popular piety towards sacramentals such as the veneration of relics, pilgrimages, scapulars, rosaries and medals.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that sacramentals such as these are sacred signs that “prepare men (read mankind) to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life… Among the sacramentals, blessings occupy an important place.  They include both praise of God for his works and gifts, and the Church’s intercession for men that they may be able to use God’s gifts according to the spirit of the Gospel.” (CCC 1677-1678)[2]

 

After my experience standing behind the arm I found my soul singing:  “Blessed are you, O Lord, merciful God, and blessed is your holy and honorable name. Blessed are you in all your works for ever!”  For the great work of St Francis Xavier continues today, not only through the inspiration he gives the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), but through blessings and intercessory prayers he offers to those who come to him in prayer and in person such as in a time like this.

 

 

Many people came to see and pay homage to the relic.  Close to 5,300 came on January 21st.  I personally saw close to 3,000 of them.  I had the perfect vantage point.  I saw them all so clearly.  They were literally at arm’s length.  I was standing behind the relic.  My mission was to count the pilgrims and ensure no kissing bandit would knock the relic over.

They all came, great and small, young and old, able bodied and infirmed.  Most had filled in prayer cards; many had rosaries, handkerchiefs, medallions, crucifixes or some other religious artifact they wanted blessed by the saint.  They’d approach, some with timidity, others with great piety.  Others would stare like out of curiosity; especially the children.  These were a joy.  They displayed such wonder and awe.  One such girl, about 10 years old, didn’t seem to get it.  She was clearly incredulous.  Her parents (I assume) told her to touch the glass that it would bless her.  “How is this going to bless me?” she snorted with that pre-teen attitude and in all honesty as she left down the centre aisle.   After a half a dozen steps, she stopped, turned around and took a picture with her cell phone.  The look on her face made me think that she didn’t get it but that something was happening and that this arm was too weird not to take a picture of.
People want to touch the relic.  “If only I can touch…” is the hope that lies in every Christian heart. (Mt 9:21) (Acts 19:11-12)  Clearly people were moved by the Saint or by the Holy Spirit or both.  Many had tears in their eyes, some were out right crying.
 

 

An old man was wheeled up in a wheelchair.  The lines parted like the Red Sea.  All had their eyes on him.  He had only one good arm.  He had brown eyes, full of hope and tears.  The attendant awkwardly manoeuvered him so that he could get his good arm and his rosary close to the relic.  He fought back tears and sobs but you could tell he received great joy in this once in a life time opportunity.

 

One lady I’ll never forget.  She was about my age, give or take a couple of years.  She had a number of articles she wanted to touch the relic with.  But that’s not what was so extraordinary about this experience.  She was crying and saying:  “I will complete my mission, I will complete my mission.”  The force and fervour of her prayer moved me and I sense the Holy Spirit move within His Church and act through this woman.  This was a great consolation for me.  I too, even in my older years, can still be moved by the Spirit to do His work:   For no mission of the Holy Spirit is too big or too small, at any age; even if it’s simply to be an uber usher.

 

I want to thank the God Squad and in particular Sean Lynn for the opportunity to serve in the Kingdom of God in this way.  It was a wonderful experience.  I experienced a conversion of the soul; I saw missionaries rise up through this pilgrimage and I saw souls being touched in ways that I believe led to healing; including mine.
Yes, my soul is still singing out:

“Blessed are you, O Lord, merciful God,
and blessed is your holy and honorable name.
Blessed are you in all your works for ever!”
[1] University of Dayton, International Marian Research Institute, “All About Mary” https://udayton.edu/imri/mary/r/relics.php
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church PART TWO: THE CELEBRATION OF THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY; SECTION TWO: THE SEVEN SACRAMENTS OF THE CHURCH; CHAPTER FOUR: OTHER LITURGICAL CELEBRATIONS; ARTICLE 1: SACRAMENTALS http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c4a1.htm