By Father Kenneth Doyle
Catholic News Service
Q. I am a Catholic convert and support all the dogmas of the church. But there is one practice that I must admit gives me pause -- the use of relics, preserving the body parts of deceased saints. I could see honoring robes or rings, but teeth or fingers seems a bit too much, bordering on the macabre. We never covered this in our RCIA program, and I'm hoping that you can explain. (New Middletown, Indiana)
A. The veneration of the relics of saintly individuals has a long history -- dating back to pre-Christian times. The bones of the Old Testament prophet Elisha once brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs 13:20-21).
Then, when St. Polycarp was martyred in the middle of the second century, a contemporary account stated: "We took up his bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom."
In venerating relics, the church is not ascribing to them any magical powers, although they may sometimes serve as occasions of God's miracles. More often, they simply dispose those who view them to strive to live the virtues of that particular saint.
Perhaps St. Jerome, who lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, gave the clearest explanation of relics when he wrote in "Ad Riparium": "We do not worship (relics), we do not adore (them), 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 to better adore him whose martyrs they are."
Q. What would you say to a married woman who has endured verbal abuse in every way possible for more than a dozen years? It is affecting me mentally, spiritually and physically, and I cannot take it any longer. (It is also affecting my young daughter, who receives the same sort of treatment from her father.)
I was married by a priest in the Catholic Church and have sought to live up to the church's teachings. Would it be wrong in the eyes of the church to seek a divorce for the sake of my own health and that of my daughter? (City of origin withheld)
A. The Catholic Church believes that marriage is meant to be a permanent union and that Jesus intended it to be so (Mt 19:3-6). But it is also true that divorce may not always be sinful. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: "If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the care of the children or the protection of inheritance, it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense" (No. 2383).
So it could be that the ongoing emotional violence that you and your daughter have been forced to undergo might justify a separation and divorce. But the wounds from a divorce are wide, and you would want to take every prudent step before it comes to that.
Have you sought out a marriage counselor and encouraged your husband to do the same? My bias, I confess, is for counseling offered by church agencies, since they would share my views of the sanctity of marriage. And have you sought to bring God into the equation by frequent prayer? And please know that you have the promise of my own prayers as well.
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.