I had just visited the shrine of the True Cross when I saw the advertisement on the back of the bus. “Pink Floyd – their Mortal Remains”. Has it come to this, the group that were responsible from kidnapping me away from the parochial wilderness of “Big Tom and the Mainliners” into super cool contemporary Rock could now be relics? Impossible! Back in the early 70’s, Pink Floyd provided a window on another world neigh another universe, hitherto unimagined. The imported music magazines of the day suggested that they represented a diabolical trio of sex, drugs and rock ‘n Roll, but imprisoned on a pre-internet island fastness, I heard only an ersatz, mail order version of Rock ‘n Roll part and could barely conceptualize what delights were offered by the other elements, teenage longings not withstanding. But now, it seems the memorabilia of Roger Waters (He isn’t actually dead -ed) and the rest of the aged heros in my musical pantheon are reduced to being mortal remains; relics which must sit, perhaps a little uncomfortably, beside the finger of St. Thomas and the plaque from above the True Cross.
It may sound that I am being factious, or even dismissive of relics but that is not my intent. Relics are ever present around Rome. Across the river is the grave of St. Peter, next door is the Holy Stairs which Jesus climbed to his interview with Pontus Pilate and down the street splinters from the manger in which Christ was born are honoured. The sheer volume of these relics is disconcerting, the provenance of some, suspect, and a few are even beyond the credible. To really “go for” the relics in Rome would induce “relic fatigue” I fear.
I have no doubts of the capacity of these remnants of former days to connect us to the truths which they represent. I have said Mass at the tomb of Peter, and been extremely moved by doing so, even if there is no 100% conclusive evidence that he is actually buried there. Technically, one could have such an experience anywhere, but we are human, and the connection I felt was reinforced, if not created, by the understanding that Peter’s physical remains were just a few feet away. I will climb the Holy Stairs, on my knees if I can, not because I am wedded to a certainty that the about-to-be- crucified Jesus climbed these selfsame steps, but because, in climbing, them I am connecting with Him who suffered humiliation for my sins. Any stairs would do, but no other stairs can provide the emotional link with Jesus, that in our frailty, we need to support our wavering Faith. I will even pray before the relics of the manger and thank God for the wonder of Christ’s birth, even though I have almost no confidence that those fragments came from a stable in Bethlehem. Why? Because connecting with the events of the first Christmas at this tangible level both stops my faith flying off in to the realms of pure philosophy. Collectively, the relics of the Faith demands that I remain connected to a God-man who was actually born, who really suffered and gave others the strength to carry on his message.
Pink Floyd -the Mortal Remains, can, temporarily at least, transport me back to a moment when to be young was very heaven, but it is an illusion. The nostalgia quickly pales. Any revisiting of 1971 inevitably leads to embarrassing, best forgotten memories of pimples and flared trousers. The relics of the Saints, their mortal remains, on the other hand, though rooted in a moment of history, open on to a universe that is eternally valid. They connect me to a past certainly, but their stories elbow themselves into my present as it now, and encourage me to a future of how things will be. Pink Floyd is now only a vaguely remembered, barely relevant, teenage yesterday. Relics, despite their antiquity, are part of my adult today and my eternal tomorrow. Pink Floyd pointed no further than the “Dark Side of the Moon”, a new horizon then for sure, but, from this vantage point seems quite limited. Relics point to an entire cosmos beyond which, even though no longer a pimply teenager in flared trousers, I am still excited to explore. And That, with apologies to the moral remains of Roger and the boys, makes all the difference.