A Portal to Heaven – Visiting Relics of St. Maria Goretti
by Kaitlyn Clare Elizabeth Mason
The relics of St. Maria Goretti were coming to town, and it seemed like everyone at my Church was planning out their visit. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even sure I was going to attend. I wasn’t even sure I should attend.
God has really been pushing me to embrace every aspect of the Catholic Faith in the past couple of years. Despite having wonderful Catholic parents and a lifetime of attending Mass, religious education classes, and several years in Catholic schools, I’ve still found myself with tons of questions about Catholicism. I think it’s always healthy to question and seek answers.
Lately, I’ve been learning a lot as I have been articulating my questions, taking them to prayer, and seeking God wholeheartedly. Ever since I started searching fervently, I haven’t been able to stop. One revelation and understanding paves the way for the next, and each question has pulled me deeper and deeper into the powerful abyss of Truth that is the Catholic Faith.
I’ve come to embrace and love so many aspects of the Catholic Faith as piece by piece I learn the rich, beautiful reasons why we believe what we do.
Here’s what I’ve learned. Saints are people with amazing stories, and God allows certain stories and examples of charity to shine through the darkness of this world. He gives us the saints to look up to and imitate. There are surely countless stories of wonderful, faithful people who have made it to Heaven, and not all of them are well known or known at all. But God sometimes makes sure we hear about really powerful life stories to illustrate that He is among us and still working miracles today just as when Jesus was walking on the earth.
“Venerate” can be a confusing word, because it now has several connotations just like the word “pray.” While venerating can mean worship, that is NOT what Catholics do when we venerate saints. Venerate also means to respect, admire, and to honor someone. That’s how we are encouraged to venerate saints – by looking up to them with respect, admiration, and honor.
When we pray to God that can be a form of worship, sure. However, the word pray really just means to ask or implore aid. That is how we are encouraged to “pray” to saints and to others in Heaven like Mary – we are encouraged to ask them to pray to God for us and with us! We ask them to pray for us and with us in the same way we ask our friends and our Mothers and our loved ones who are alive with us here on earth to pray for us. We’re all a part of the body of Christ, and parts of the same body are certainly in communion and in communication with each other! Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to eat, or breathe, or have a heartbeat! God keeps all members of the body of Christ connected – no matter where they are – through our care for each other and our prayer for each other. How awesome!
When I heard that St. Maria Goretti’s relics were coming to our town, I already understood the way that Catholics are encouraged to venerate saints and to ask for their intercession. No issues there. But this venerating saints by going to visit their relics – in this case, the body of the deceased St. Maria Goretti – it seemed like a little much, honestly.
So I asked a good Catholic friend who I knew would be kind to my lack of understanding, “Why should we go and visit a dead saint’s body?” She explained. “Well, we believe that when someone dies, their soul goes to Heaven, and that eventually, after Jesus comes back, the soul will be reunited with their body, right? The Church has confirmed for us that Maria Goretti is in Heaven because they’ve declared her a saint, so that means that her physical body is going to be in Heaven someday! We are going to see something that’s going to be in Heaven!”
I was intrigued.
Back and forth I went on my decision whether or not to go. I knew the church would be crowded in the day. I decided that if I went, I would go late at night when there were less people present, and when I could go by myself without little ones to shepherd through long lines.
Finally, the day came, and I decided to stay home. Then I received a text message late at night from another good friend, saying that she was at the Church praying. I had previously told her about my plans to possibly go at night, and she clearly thought that was a good idea. She said the whole thing was awesome, and I realized that I didn’t want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity!
I quickly put on my shoes, kissed my husband goodbye, and pulled out of the driveway into the darkness – to go visit this saint that carried Christ’s light throughout her life.
Churches at night are so beautiful. Most of the time I’ve spent in churches has been in the day, when light streams in from the outside. But at night, light streams out from the inside of the church, lighting up the dark world with light that radiates out from stained glass panels. The church literally is a source of light for the world. I love this.
I entered this glowing church, and immediately felt a serenity and peace that always comes upon entering a church mindfully. People were scattered around the space in prayer. And there, beneath the crucifix, below the altar, was a glass casket. It was much like the glass casket that Snow White lays in at the end of her Disney movie as she lies asleep in death, waiting for a kiss from her prince. Except in this casket, lay the body of St. Maria Goretti – asleep in death, waiting for body and soul to be reunited by the Prince of Peace.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go up to the casket. I was just there to pray and to learn about this saint. I could do that from the pews, right? I watched my friend and her husband go up and kneel at the casket, setting an example for me that this was not something to fear.
Kneeling before anyone or anything but God seemed a little funny to me, too. But I’ve come to realize that I can kneel at a casket, or at the bedside of a loved one who is ill, or at the crib of my little baby, and pray to God. I have also kneeled at my child’s crib and talked to my sleeping child.
“Okay, I’ll go up there,” I thought. “I just won’t make any relics.” You see, there’s this big opportunity to make a relic if you touch something to the glass casket that holds the body of a saint.
Somewhere in my journey, I learned that God used Elijah to bring people closer to Him. He called Elijah to be a prophet – an instrument for spreading God’s message of hope and salvation. God clearly called the young girl Maria Goretti to be an instrument for spreading God’s message of forgiveness. Her story certainly has brought people closer to God! My goodness, she forgave her killer, and eventually because of this, he was overcome with repentance and dedicated his life to serving God!! Did you know that Elijah’s bones brought a dead man to life? Did you know that relics of saints have worked miracles? There is power wherever God wants His power to be known. And often times, He has chosen to make His power known through the lives of holy men and women – and through their relics.
As I sat in the pews, my heart slowly changed and I decided to go ahead and make my veil and rosary into relics.
I approached the casket, knelt down, and thanked God for St. Maria Goretti’s beautiful life – for her beautiful example of mercy and forgiveness. I also asked St. Maria Goretti for her prayers.
I looked inside the casket and saw how small this child was when she was taken up to Heaven. She was just a child. A sweet, little girl. And I realized in that moment that this is what death looks like on this side of Heaven. We see what happened to her and we mourn the loss of her soul on earth. We see that she was brutally stabbed and murdered. We see a body that failed and died. But if we could see into Heaven at this moment, I believe that we would see St. Maria Goretti’s beautiful soul, rejoicing and praising God! We would see that her suffering and pain on earth brought her glory, and it brought her speedily to eternal joy with Christ.
St. Maria Goretti’s body in her casket felt like a little window into another dimension of life that we are unable to see in our earthly state. Kneeling there, I felt tremendous joy, peace, and serenity. It seemed that Heaven and earth were connected right in that spot. Kneeling beside St. Maria Goretti’s body in her casket, I felt like I was kneeling beside a portal to Heaven.
Have you felt peace from visiting a relic? What have you experienced?
Copyright 2016 Kaitlyn Mason