As the director of the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus I come into contact with tens of thousands of people every year. Much of this interaction is via mail or the internet, and while very rewarding, it lacks that personal touch which is so important in ministry. Thankfully, I also meet thousands of people personally at different events sponsored by the shrine. Twice on Thursdays each week I pray the Rosary, enter into our St. Jude devotions, and celebrate Mass at the Shrine in St. Pius V Catholic Church in Chicago. This past year I also celebrated Solemn Novenas to St. Jude in different parts of the country. I’ve gone into grade schools, high schools, and universities to teach students about Catholic devotions, prayer, relics, novenas, and of course, St. Jude Thaddeus. As a Dominican preacher and teacher, this is my favorite part of this ministry.
At the conclusion of our events we venerate one of our relics of St. Jude. Most of the people who attend weekly devotions and novenas are accustomed to traditional devotions like venerating relics, but that is rarely the case when I give presentations to young people. It gives me the opportunity to really see the Holy Spirit at work.
Anyone who has ever preached or taught, anyone who has coached or mentored, any parent knows the fulfillment of seeing the spark of understanding something new gleam in a young person’s eyes. During my presentations I live that moment often. While most of us who have been practicing our faith for years know about the things I teach, it is new territory for the young. To come to the understanding that our great saints were real people just like you and me and are more than simply names on the backs of prayer cards, on medals, or on statues, is an important lesson to learn as a Catholic. To see the spark of understanding that relics are tangible proof real people are in heaven and praying for us is priceless. It is particularly evident at the end of the presentation when we venerate the arm relic of St. Jude.
Whether I am speaking to a group of second graders or graduate students, their reactions and expressions are precious when they venerate the relic. As part of the presentation, I explain there is really no way to venerate a relic improperly, as long as it is done reverently. Some people, as is traditionally done on Good Friday when we venerate the wood of the Cross, kiss the relic. Some simply look and say short prayers. Others touch it with their hand, nose, or forehead. Most of the youth touch a holy card of St. Jude, a Rosary, or some other religious article to the relic. I teach them that touching something to a first class relic or the tomb of a saint not only becomes blessed by that saint but becomes a third class relic itself. While seeing our youth performing these holy devotional practices is an amazing experience, it pales in comparison to the looks on their faces.
If you have ever wanted to see the full gamut of human emotion expressed in the faces of our youth in one place and at one time, picture these youngsters approaching the relic. I do not know if I possess the vocabulary to describe all of the looks on their faces. I get to see what Jesus meant when he said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt 19:14)
I am very blessed to be a part of this 85-year old ministry of the Central Province Dominicans. We are also looking to expand this part of our ministry. If you would like me to visit your local parish, school, or campus ministry to experience one of these presentations, please contact us through our website, The-Shrine.org.