Of relics and expectations
WITH the fourth visit of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux in the Philippines, we may expect another surge of devotion for one of the country’s most popular—if not the most popular—Saints. Although claims of miraculous healings or conversions have been made since her relics’ first visit in 2002, visit organizers admit that they have yet to document, gather, investigate, and authenticate such stories for them to hold water as an evangelizing tool for the Church. And that takes time.
Our crowd-drawing events—for instance, the Black Nazarene procession, papal visits, fabulous Holy Week processions—seem to reveal the Filipino predilection for spectacle and drama. (Remember the “EDSA Revolution”?) The long queues to kiss a believed-to-be-miraculous image in shrines (Manaoag, Antipolo, Quiapo, Padre Pio, Divine Mercy, et al) or during the veneration of visiting relics all over the country also present an interesting study of the Filipino’s faith in divine intervention.
But lest we forget that divine intervention does not always come in the form of earth-shaking events, let us remember that St. Therese herself did not ask for miracles but instead walked the path of the “little way”, missing “no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” And let us not forget, too, that Therese’s desire for holiness didn’t come by itself—she was even such a temperamental child that her mother didn’t quite know how to handle her—but instead was unwittingly absorbed through the nurturing of God-loving parents, Zelie and Louis Martin, the first married couple proclaimed as Saints by the Catholic Church.
Indeed it could be said that the Church did not make Louis and Zelie Saints because their daughter is a Saint; rather, the Church acknowledges that their daughter became a Saint because she was raised by saintly parents. I surmise that when Therese wrote “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be”, she must have had her parents in mind. Before they met, both Zelie and Louis had wanted the religious life—he as a monk and she as a nun—but God wanted something else. So they met (curiously, on a bridge) and barely four months later got married. Still, with their consuming desire for sanctity, Louis and Zelie decided they would, while married, live a “celibate” life together—but God didn’t allow that either. A priest soon advised them to do as married people normally do, have children, and raise them for God. They obeyed the priest, but prayed for sons with the noble intention of offering them to the Lord as priests—but again, God had other plans. They had nine children, and the only two boys God took back in their infancy, along with two girls in their childhood, leaving the couple five girls who grew up into adulthood and became nuns, all of them. For decimating all of their dreams, did Zelie and Louis balk at God’s alternatives? No, they would go with the flow.
About the pain of losing her children to death, Zelie would write in one of her letters: “When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and when I buried them, I felt great pain, but it was always with resignation. I didn’t regret the sorrows and the problems I had endured for them. Several people said to me, ‘It would be better to never have had them.’ I can’t bear that kind of talk. I don’t think the sorrows and problems could be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children. So they weren’t lost forever. Life is short and full of misery. We’ll see them again in Heaven.” And in another letter, she summed up the essence of parenthood: “When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat. We lived only for them. They were all our happiness, and we never found any except in them. In short, nothing was too difficult, and the world was no longer a burden for us. For me, our children were a great compensation, so I wanted to have a lot of them in order to raise them for Heaven.”
Perhaps this is one value to be learned from the fourth visit of the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the Philippines. Returning to our shores at a time when we are losing our children due to disasters, human traffickers, war, or a contentious vaccine, could Therese be hinting that we befriend and imitate her parents so that we may alsocherish and raise our children as gifts from a loving God?
Relics bring the presence of Saints in our midst. No doubt there will be more stories of miracles or favors granted during the six-month duration of the relics’ visit; churches again will overflow with people pleading for succor, even those who hardly go to church. As we queue up to kiss or touch these holy remains and pray for favors through the Saints’ intercession, may we realize that our Church presents Saints to us not only for our edification or comfort but more so for our imitation. What would we do if we do not receive the miracle we hope for? We take a cue from St. Zelie Martin who, dying of cancer, went on pilgrimage to Lourdes (France), praying to be cured. Denied her request, she wrote in a letter: “The Blessed Mother didn’t cure me in Lourdes. What can you do, my time is at an end, and God wants me to rest elsewhere other than on earth.” A faith that does not hinge on miracles but aims for surrender to God’s will—perhaps that is what we should pray for. And that’s the truth.