Although I can’t possibly match the venerable gravitas of the severed, withered forearm of St. Francis Xavier, I have given some devout thought, nevertheless, to relics in my possession that connect me in a direct — even a profound way, in some cases — to my spiritual past.
Now, needless to say, there will be no ceremonial procession to see or touch any of these relics, as there was the week before last at the Basilica in St. John’s when true believers ignored what I’m sure they thought of as blasphemous ridicule in some social media circles of their conviction that merely a glance at, a moment with, what appeared to resemble a leftover prop from an episode of “The Walking Dead,” would enhance the stature of their souls.
A piece I read on the CBC website, written by Wanita Bates, revealed (at least for an agnostic like myself) that St. John’s residents are, after all, far from the first staunch Catholics to achieve a Godly belief buzz after being exposed to a relic of St. Francis. During the centuries, parts of his body have been exposed to pious crowds around the world. My good God — a Portuguese woman even bit off one of poor old St. Francis’ toes, actually drawing blood from the corpse! (Unfortunately for her, the cannibalistic act — performed, I am sure, for the most righteous of reasons, undoubtedly to provide a visceral link to a saint — left a bloody trail for officials to track down this thief of toes).
But I digress, necessarily though, to make the point that my little batch of relics pales in comparison to the significance of that 465-year old appendage that drew the kind of adoring crowd you might only see locally if Great Big Sea were to stage a reunion performance at Mile One.
As I say, those busted up poles will never cause a lineup of fishermen, heads bowed, mumbling prayers, into my shed/chapel.
But I do have relics that can prompt an immediate bond to the past, even to my spiritual past, as I’ve noted — if you are willing, for example, to accept my word that fly fishing alone on a small, isolated Newfoundland pond at dusk is as close to heaven as one can get, at least as close as I can get.
There are seven or eight of those relics, in fact, fly poles — or “rods,” as a snobbish purist corrected me, once upon a time — nestled in the corner of my shed. They weren’t actually severed, in the manner of St. Francis’ arm, but have been broken and made useless during various trouting trips over the decades by being carelessly positioned in the truck’s tailgate as it was being closed or stomped on by an over-zealous fishing buddy rushing to be the first to cast a line or being unable to withstand the downward plunge of a three-pound trout (OK, a slight fib there).
As I say, those busted up poles will never cause a lineup of fishermen, heads bowed, mumbling prayers, into my shed/chapel. And I know I should bring them along during my next trip to the Robin Hood Bay dump with the rest of the formerly useful items now rendered as junk.
But they remind me of the past: each pole — oops, rod — helps paint a picture of a fishing excursion, from Radio Range Brook outside Gander to the gullies of Butlerville. Wonderful trips with an eclectic assortment of relatives and friends.
Now, let’s see. What other relics did I think about as I watched on television that steady stream of arm observers last week?
Well, I have an old black-and-white picture, taken by my father, of a relic; two relics, in fact: our 1955 Meteor on board the old wooden barge that would take us across the Exploits River during our regular trips from Gander to Grand Falls. The wooden contraption looks as decrepit as I remember, a single life-preserver hung on a nail outside the hut to the left of our car. And there I am, beaming, a smile from ear to ear, looking out the front windshield, letting my imagination conjure up an episode of “Davy Crockett,” a band of Indians on the shoreline, trying to pick us off with their lethal bows and arrows.
It’s clear from my gleeful puss that I’m oblivious to the fact that stringent safety precautions were not uppermost in the minds of the operator or the users back then. Those 15-minute rides could have been disastrous, dumping me in the raging Exploits, placing me on a fast trip to Heaven (St. Peter’s Pearly Gates would surely have been the upward destination at the time, the many and varied Mortal Sins paving my way to Hell having been committed long after that picture was taken; even an up close and personal moment with the arm of St. Francis could not wipe out my devilish and often pleasurable past).
There’s more. How about those seven or eight frozen rabbits who’ve taken up residence in our freezer? A couple of the bunnies from this fall are at rest there, the remainder from last season, relics of glorious hunting trips, trying to send Bugs and his cousins to animal heaven (after all, another Catholic Francis, Pope Francis himself, has told us that all animals, all God’s creatures, will join us in the hereafter).
So, there you have it: I may not have made it down to the Basilica to take in the
arm-viewing ceremonies, but I have my own relics to contemplate and to give me a spiritual lift.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org