Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Having a Piece of the Pope!

Clothes never go out of fashion, it seems, especially when you're a pope! The Diocese of Rome has been swamped with requests for relics of Pope John Paul II who have been offering small pieces of his white cassock. Things, however, got out of hand when reports suggested that pieces of the robe were available to buy. The Diocese quickly retaliated by saying that the relics have no commercial value and that it was sacrilegious to buy and sell them. "It's only a devotional object," they said. "It's useless to try to collect it or sell it on the internet because we will satisfy any request for this object." It appears that everyone wants a little piece of him!

Some people look on relics with suspicion and cynicism and often a disparaging amount of humour, poorly patronising. But Christians are human, too (a good slogan, methinks!) and with it comes the need for physical touches and reminders, something to have and to hold - whether it's a holiday souvenir or the hand me down of a loved one, long gone. And so to another Pope. In 1966 as Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI were saying their farewells on the steps of St Paul's-outside-the-Walls in Rome, the Pope slipped off his episcopal ring, which was given to him by the city of Milan when he was archbishop there, and placed it in the palm of Ramsey's hand who then slipped it on his own finger. He was visibly moved and later said, 'I felt vividly as if he was giving me a piece of himself.'

Which brings us to the giving of another in the actions of Jesus who, surrounded by his friends and familiar followers, gives himself in bread and wine. Yet even this act of self giving is denied its proper place in the life of some churches, who look upon the regular celebrations of the Eucharist by some with disparaging humour, poorly patronising. In the Eucharist Jesus gives us not just a piece of himself but the whole of himself, perhaps summed up so well in the words of Henri Nouwen who described the Eucharist as ‘the most divine and human gesture imaginable.’ Some things never go out of fashion: including the desire for more than we can imagine, a desire for the divine. Oh, yes, and those simple physical touches for us 'so human' beings.

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