Dear Friends at St. Catherine's Church,
Well, I returned home from Italy having seen wonderful historic things, eaten wonderful traditional Italian delicacies, and having experienced the greatest tradition of all: the 8 km Stau at the Brenner tollroad exit. Did you know you must pay to leave Italy? Venice, Verona, Trent, and Bolzano [Bozen] were all lovely and I would gladly go again, soon. There was one aspect of the trip, however, which was rather macabre. It seems that everywhere we went there were bones....
First we visited the museum in Bolzano where the mummy known as Oetzi is keep in a frozen display case. Over 5000 years old, this frozen body of a bronze age man was found atop a glacier. Honestly he doesn't look a day over 4500.
In Venice we saw the 1600 year old body of St. Lucy kept in a glass case in the Church of St. Jerome. She has not aged so well. I'll spare you the grisly details, but it is not a pretty picture.
In the Cathedral of St. Mark, one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen, the altar is built over a stone casket containing what are supposed to be the bones of St. Mark the Evangelist, "liberated" from Alexandria, Egypt in the 10th or 11th century by Venetian "merchants". [a revisionist historian would probably say stolen from Alexandria by Venetian pirates...] But at least one does not see the bones of St. Mark. Instead one pays 1.50 euros extra to see the gold and jewel encrusted Palla D'Oro, similar to an altar frontal, which for a thousand years has decorated the altar... indicating that the Venetians considered those holy bones of the evangelist more precious than gold or earthly treasure.
It seemed that every church we went to had relics, bits and pieces of known and unknown saints. Often they were displayed in ornate glass and gold frames of the highest artistry.
Why? Why would the greatest craftsmen of the their day be pay vast sums of money to use the highest quality and most valuable things of earth to encase these "bits and pieces"?
A cultural anthropologist might be able to answer better than I, but I do have a theory. It was an answer to doubt. Someone in the ancient days might doubt that St. Mark was real. Someone else in those ancient days would answer... "Of course he's real. I've seen his very bones." Or some child would ask, "Is the Santa Lucia we sing about in December real?" And a patient Venetian parent would take that child's hand and guide them through the narrow cobbled streets and across the Rialto bridge into a massive stone church where that child could see for herself that St. Lucy is indeed real.
Relics were intended to be the "proof" that these saints were not the stuff of myth and legend,... but rather real flesh and bone people through whom the Holy Spirit did great things. Sadly superstition got out of hand, and unscrupulous Middle Eastern merchants started producing and selling gaboodles of fake relics... so that it all got out of hand.
At least that is my theory.
In our day, we find all that bone business a bit off-putting. But we still need to be able to deal with doubts. What do you say when a child asks, "Did Jesus really live and do all those things in the Bible?" What do you do when your child asks, "Did the saints really do those miracles?" Instead of showing them a bone... show them your faith. "Did Jesus really live?" Your faithful answer could be as simple: "I believe He did." "Did the saints really do those miracles?" Your faithful answer could be: "God did miracles through the lives of the saints, and still does."
Do we need bones to prove it true? Dead bones? No we need a living faith that is visible, honest, and sincerely part of our own flesh and bone bodies. Instead of gold and jewels, let your "faithful bones" be decorated with joy, sincerity, and good works.
I think that a life well-lived, full of the Peace of Christ, full of the Light of Christ, and filled with the Spirit of Christ, is the best proof of all. Okay,...everyone sing along: "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes they'll know we are Christians by our love."
That being said,..[or sung] ...let me just add that I am glad to be home in Stuttgart, even if just for a short time. Thursday, I travel to Hamburg for our CAECG [Council of Anglican / Episcopal Churches in Germany] meeting, and next week I travel to Koeln for our Diocesan Clergy Conference. I will, however, be here Sunday.
Where else would I be?
This is where I see the "proof,"...right there in the faces of all you faithful people of St. Cat's.
The Parish Council has the duty to elect a replacement for the remainder of Paul's term. May the Holy Spirit guide them to select the right person. Amen.
See you Sunday, Ken +