CANTON – The relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux now resting in the altar of the church named for her in Canton are physical reminders of the communion of saints which has gathered around altars for 2,000 years to worship the Christ who dwells among his people, said Bishop Joseph E. Strickland.
Bishop Strickland placed the relics in the altar of St. Therese Church in Canton during a Nov. 20 bilingual liturgy on the Feast of Christ the King.
After the Mass, he presided over the groundbreaking for the new parish hall to be built in the coming year. The new hall, he said, will be a sign of community for the people of St. Therese, and a place where faith will grow and flourish in the future.
The placement of relics in altars for veneration is an ancient practice in the Catholic faith, but, Bishop Strickland said, is one that often strikes those outside the faith as odd.
“A lot of people say, ‘That’s a little strange, pieces of people in the altar, what is that?’” he said in his homily. “But this is what we call a ‘sacramental.’ Christ is the sacrament, and he offers us seven expressions of his sacramental presence among us. But a sacramental like this relic of St. Thérèse in your altar is a reminder of the very heart of our Catholic faith, which is the Eucharist. The Lord of the universe is here among us.”
Yet he noted that in “the wisdom of the Church in her liturgy,” the Gospel reading of the Feast of Christ the King from Luke celebrated not the common triumphal image of a king in all his majesty, but recounted Christ’s death on the cross.
“That is where he reigns from,” Bishop Strickland said. “He tells us that, doesn’t he? If we want to be his disciples, we must carry our cross. We could be here the rest of the day giving everybody a chance to talk about their problems. We all have crosses to bear. That is the reality of our human lives.”
But, he said, “the wondrous gift of our Catholic faith” is the knowledge, the assurance, that “the Lord of the universe lives with us and walks with us. He knows more than we know ourselves the crosses we bear. He offers us grace and strength and truth and light to do all the things we have to do in our families, all the things we have to do in our communities, all the things we have to do in our nation, to seek and to live the reign of God right here.”
And that, he said, “is what we celebrate with the relics of St. Thérèse, a presence of your patroness. She was devoted throughout her life, like all the saints, to Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”
As he placed the relics in the altar, parishioners sang the Litany of the Saints. Bishop Strickland urged all present to listen for the names of their patron saints, and to contemplate the litany’s meaning.
“Maybe in centuries to come, they won’t mention our names in a beautiful litany,” he said. “But our names will echo in there if we follow the Lord of the universe. That is the wondrous destiny that this is all about, what we celebrate today on the Feast of Christ the King.”