One of the more unusual spectacles surrounding the faith takes place today in Naples as it has done for centuries. Thousands will gather to walk behind the relic of St. Januarius’s blood. The blood, which is normally solid, will – hopefully – at some point liquefy and the city, so the popular understanding goes, be protected for another year from disaster. Quite how the blood liquefies no one quite knows. And quite what the causal connection is between that event and divine providence the Church has (wisely) never elaborated.
It’s easy for us to feel ourselves above such events and to be a bit ‘superior’ about our understanding of the faith. But we should think again, perhaps we can learn something from it. After all devotion to the saint goes back to his martyrdom in the fourth century, and the citizens of Naples are proud of this aspect of their identity. While this sort of expression of faith may not be ours it does show how religion is and should be part of life in all its richness and colour. We can become too cerebral about our faith. The relics of the saints remind us that Christianity is a material creed. At its heart we believe in the resurrection, and we express our belief by using bread and wine, and oil and water, and physical gestures and signs. We should make more of our patron saints in parishes and schools. Where they are local sons and daughters we should honour their memory, seek their prayers, and perhaps be a bit more enthusiastic in our celebrations?