Humble Weapons for Humble Warriors

Relics and sacramentals—bone, skin, muscle, clothing, salt, water, ash—are all things that ground us, the humblest of spiritual weapons.

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Fr. Carlos Martins is the founder and director of Treasures of the Church, a Vatican-sponsored ministry of evangelization through the promotion of veneration of the relics of the saints. Martins is currently on a 100-city American tour with a relic of the arm of St. Jude, a tour which began in Chicago in September 2023, circumnavigated the country in a clockwise fashion, and is currently making its way through the American Southwest with more than twenty stops remaining. 

We are on the heels of Lent and Holy Week, with the story of the traitor Judas still fresh in our minds. So bitter is this story that the other Judas—another apostle of the same name—has come to be referred to simply as St. Jude, or by his nickname, Thaddaeus. We all know of him as the patron saint of hopeless cases, yet it seems that few of us know his story.

St. Jude and St. James the Lesser are the sons of Mary of Clopas, a blood sister to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and are, therefore, the first cousins of Jesus. St. Jude is incredibly popular and has more shrines than any other saint, save the Blessed Mother. 

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Fr. Martins is a priest of the Companions of the Cross and a well-known exorcist, which is, in fact, his usual full-time job. Upon listening to a homily that he gave at one of the stops on this tour, he piqued my interest when he described the use of relics in his work as an exorcist. 

I have to admit to being, for much of my life, somewhat ambivalent to relics, or to sacramental objects in general—not through any purposeful dismissal of their value, but simply because my approach to the Faith is perhaps a bit too heady. I’m a technical person and always interested in how everything came about and our relationship to our Creator and the universe He created—and, frankly, how everything works.  

Perhaps that is somewhat of a general flaw of our age. Maybe many of us are a bit like Naaman, the leprous army commander of the king of Aram. Naaman came to the prophet Elisha’s home, seeking a cure. Rather than go out of his house to meet the man, Elisha simply sent out a messenger to tell him to “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). 

This solution, however, proved too simple for Naaman, who became indignant at the suggestion (and, perhaps, the perceived snub). His own servants reasoned with him, suggesting that had the prophet asked him to do something extraordinary, he would probably have done it without question. 

Is our generation not of the same mindset? We’re all about doing but unsatisfied with—too proud for—simplicity. Naaman, upon the urgings of his servants, did the washings as prescribed and was cured of his leprosy. 

This ancient biblical story came to mind for me as I delved into the life of Fr. Carlos Martins, who refers to himself as simply “the relic guy.” The renowned exorcist keeps detailed records of the exorcisms he has been involved with and those of other exorcists, a fact that allowed him to head up a podcast project called The Exorcist Files. Upon listening, my wife and I were immediately enamored with this series (she suggests not listening to one of these immediately before retiring for the night).

Fr. Martins describes the use of simple sacramentals that we routinely use, like holy water, and their amazing properties in the realm of demonic possession—for example, as a means of distinguishing a real demonic possession from a fake. As there are far more cases of feigned possession than real, it is an important time saver to be able to weed out the fakes quickly. 

A drop of holy water clandestinely flicked onto the back of a faker will have no effect, but it will send a real demon howling. If a single drop of something we (perhaps somewhat thoughtlessly) plunge our fingers into and sign ourselves with on a regular basis can send a demon howling, imagine the power of relics—or the Eucharist! (Not surprisingly, an episode of The Exorcist Files digs deeply into the phenomenon of Eucharistic miracles.)

The reader is no doubt familiar with the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid. I am in no way trying to discourage contemplation, demean the gift of human reason, or deter the study of the great doctors and thinkers of the Faith. In the words of Chesterton concerning the Church, “There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.” And yet, it is easy to make thinking itself into a sort of God. 

Relics and sacramentals—bone, skin, muscle, clothing, salt, water, ash—are all things that ground us, the humblest of spiritual weapons. We are not disembodied intellects. Scripture and Tradition are in agreement: it is sins of the flesh that loom large as causation in the loss of grace. In sacramentals and in the Eucharist we find the marriage, the integration, of the spiritual and the physical—integration to cure the rampant disintegration of our era. 

Fr. Martins tells of how the truly possessed have been used to verify the authenticity of relics. Just as holy water will make the possessed howl, a true relic will have a similar, but more intense, effect. Scripture tells us that,

So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.

Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those with evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.”

When the seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest, tried to do this, the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I recognize, Paul I know, but who are you?”

The person with the evil spirit then sprang at them and subdued them all. He so overpowered them that they fled naked and wounded from that house. (Acts 19:11-16)

In the Scripture above, we see an example of a second-class relic (something touched to the living or deceased body of a saint) being used to heal. And we also see an example of an attempt, by the sons of Sceva, to commandeer the power of Christ without first embracing Him as Lord and Savior, an error readily discernable by the evil spirits. 

It is such revealing behavior by demons that prompts Fr. Martins to refer to the devil as “the fifth evangelist”—because every time Satan wins, he loses. In his damning pride, he inadvertently ends up showing his hand, and when he has been cast out, souls come to Christ. 

We casually go about living without beholding the celestial battle taking place all about us. We casually dip our fingers in holy water and cross ourselves, not seeing the cowering demons on the sidelines. The great cathedrals of Christendom were built with gargoyles perched about the peripheries of the building, there as a reminder of unseen realities: the demons kept at bay by the humble weapons of Christ. 

Like a beautiful sword, all weapons possess a beauty of purpose, a simple elegance. A two-edged sword, in the mouth of Christ, is the biblical symbol of truth and, by default thereof, justice. Chesterton, perceiving it his duty to protect his new bride, stopped and bought a revolver on the way to his honeymoon, an act he considered to be “the most natural thing in the world.”

When it comes to weapons, ours is a puritanical age. Not unlike the purveyors of alcoholic beverage prohibition, weapons prohibitionists are absolutists, an absolutism that they extend to spiritual weapons as well. 

The weapons of Christ are humble and, for the most part, devoid of bling. A Consecrated Host in a monstrance looks glorious; without the monstrance, any beauty is lost on the nonbeliever. And relics are leftovers of a life and death, and in and of themselves, they are certainly not eye candy. To the damned they are torturous, to the worldly they are trash, but to the saints they reveal the glory, the love, the humble omnipotence of our God. As weapons go, what could exceed the humility of the Eucharist: God offering His lowly creatures the gift of Himself as food? To the damned they are torturous, to the worldly they are trash, but to the saints they reveal the glory, the love, the humble omnipotence of our God.Tweet This

The disappearance of holy water during Lent in some parishes or entire dioceses, and during the Covid era, are sure indicators that a lot of Catholics, both in the pew and in the chancery, underestimate, or reduce to the symbolic, the profound power of simple sacramentals. 

Luther—ignoring the biblical example of the power of relics cited above from the book of Acts and citing examples of potentially fake relics and the abuse and competition for their possession that has been known to occur—deprived the Protestant community of such simple and effective weapons. The often-mismanaged attempt at ecumenism of the last century has certainly not gained any ground for restoring them to their rightful place. 

We have no power; God has it all. We can’t think ourselves into Heaven. St. James, the brother of Jude and cousin of our Lord, tells us that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly, for we all fall short in many respects” (James 3:1-2).

It’s easy to fall in love with the sound of one’s own voice; that is, to become compromised by the praise of others that can come with being a teacher, an authority, an expert of sorts. None of us are immune to it. If pride is, as we are assured, the root of all iniquity, then surely humility is the root of all integrity. One of the most difficult prayers to recite—well, not difficult so much as potentially painful—is the “Litany of Humility” (composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val y Zulueta, Secretary of State to Pope Pius X). 

The litany, a bit lengthy to fit within this essay, begins with a list of desires or fears one might naturally possess answered by the refrain, “Deliver me, O Jesus.” Each such desire listed begins with the preface, “From the desire of being,” and then names the desire. Here are some examples named: loved; extolled; honored; praised; of being preferred to others; of being consulted; of being approved; of the fear of being humiliated; the fear of being despised; etc.

The second part of the litany consists of positive statements followed by the refrain, “Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.” Among the seemingly most extreme of them is the prayer, “That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.” The litany concludes with St. Paul’s well-known lesson on love taken from 1 Corinthians 13. 

As a younger man, I must admit that, perhaps like many, I thought of ambition more as a virtue than a vice and therefore thought this prayer a bit excessive. I recall my parents saying, about certain individuals, “The man just has no ambition,” by which they meant to say that he lacked ample desire to meet his ordinary fiduciary duties. 

However, the Litany of Humility does not suggest that being loved, extolled, honored, or praised are evil things. I think that the most common of all misquotes is the incorrect admonition that “Money is the root of all evil.” That misquote leaves out the most important element: love. It is the love of money, just as it is the love of being extolled, honored, and praised, that bears the danger. 

Perhaps no one knows that better than the Church’s exorcists. They revere the Church’s humble weapons; and to be successful exorcists, they need to know that it’s not about them. Like the rest of us, they need to know their own place: simple beggars at the foot of the Cross. 

Keep it simple. 

Author

  • Jerome German

    Jerome German is a retired manufacturing engineer, husband, father of eleven, and grandfather of a multitude. He contributes articles to Crisis Magazine and Catholic Stand. A singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he has recently (under the pseudonym Jerome Linus) taken up the long-overdue task of recording and publishing songs that he has been writing for most of his life. His first effort, In God We Trust, hit stores worldwide on January 12.

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