As the people in Iceland are graced with visits by the relics of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, and soon the great Doctor of the Church Therese herself, it brings to mind the importance of keeping the holy souls of the Communion of Saints tangibly present among us. Far from being talismans or tokens, relics are traces of the very humanity of great, living examples of virtue contained within the bones of our ordinary earthly lives. As cemeteries preserve and celebrate bodily memory, reliquaries preserve an additional glimpse of the holiness possible among those who sincerely strive toward knowing God in the beautiful and intimate gestures for which we remember them.
Iceland’s Patron Saint Thorlak once had reliquaries of his bodily remains, preserved in arks adorned with gold and silver and jewels which dazzled the eye and recalled the honor of his achievements as priest, abbot and bishop. These holy relics were both venerated by the faithful and associated with powerful, supernatural miracles of healing and reconciliation. Many perils befell St. Thorlak’s reliquary, including devastating fires in the early centuries of the Church. The greatest assault, however, occurred at the time of the Reformation, when zeal clouded reason to the point of ruthless destruction of any tangible reminder of that which had become symbolic of the moral drift, corruption and failings of church leaders, clergy and stewards throughout Europe. Thorlak’s relics were decimated along with everything else associated with the Catholic Church, and his sacred remains were scattered across the countryside of Skálholt.
To this day, there are no known relics of St. Thorlak, save for a fragment of bone said to be embedded in the wall of the St. Magnus Cathedral in the Faroe Islands. This relic is verifiably present even today, but is regarded as a preserved historical artifact and not specifically venerated. This precious, tiny fraction of the remains of St. Thorlak is reduced to the level of museum-curiosity, but we can take some consolation in knowing it is at minimum purposely preserved.
No, there are no relics of Iceland’s Patron Saint to be venerated as Sts. Therese, Louis and Zelie Martin are celebrated. There is no ark of St. Thorlak to be toured through the monasteries and churches of Iceland to great jubilation and devotion. One might just as well collect a vial of soil from Skálholt, for this is where it is most likely that some microscopic trace of St. Thorlak could be found, if at all; and that simple vial of soil would warrant all the majesty and reverence being shown the bejeweled reliquaries of the other mighty saints who stand with Thorlak and intercede for Iceland before the Heavenly Throne.
Then again, if we focus our reflection on the vessel in which relics are contained, we find to our surprise that St. Thorlak’s remains DO have a defined place in which they rest: Iceland. The birth and death of this saint took place on Icelandic soil, which itself is its own island vessel in the North Atlantic Ocean. Thorlak’s remains were scattered back to the soil from which he sprang, and thus this vessel, Iceland itself, has been crowned his reliquary. Without the physical ark to contain him, Thorlak rests now in physical Iceland… carried at times by the wind across the plain, or buried under turf, or cascading through the cliffs on waterfall’s wings… but never lost, and never far from his people.
Yes, St. Thorlak has his reliquary – his beloved homeland. Iceland is Thorlak’s living reliquary, and Icelanders are his living guard. May we remember this with the same reverence and celebration as we approach his feast day in December.
I don't recognize myself, so I can't imagine that you recognize me, either. Oh, I'm sure you do, but I just can't comprehend how. I marvel at how you pick me out of a crowd. I am amazed that you remember what I like, that you know my birthday, that you still want to be my friend even if we haven't seen each other in a long time.
My prayers have been: Show me, Holy Spirit, why I feel so invisible. Show me why my feelings tell me such irrational things, like how I don't matter to groups or why my value goes down based on the number of friends my friends have. Show me why I get angry when I compare myself to others, no matter how much I love them. Show me why I feel paralyzed if I fundamentally disagree with anyone I love. Show me why I never feel like myself around anyone!!!
It is because I don't recognize myself.
I don't know what my persona looks like to you. I don't know what I look like to me, either. I don't know what you see in me because I can't see it in myself. No matter how hard I try to be the best person I can, I don't know if I ever get there, because I don't comprehend myself. I can only use the feedback of people around me.
I can see myself in a mirror, and I can describe my face to you. I can tell you my likes and dislikes. I can tell you what I believe in and what I reject. I can report them all truthfully. By myself, I *am* myself, and that never causes any confusion.
Around others, however, I forget. I see you and think me. I assume that I am supposed to be doing what you are doing, talking the way you talk, liking the things you like. If you exist, then I can only exist by being exactly like you. That seems to be my automatic setting... the faulty switch that kicks me into echolalia. The faulty switch that causes kids with "classic" autism to confuse their pronouns. If everyone is talking about a television show I never watch, I feel obligated to act like I watch it too. I automatically feel like I will be doing something wrong if I stop and say that I don't watch that show. It would feel like dividing by zero. *squint* Am I you, or me?
The closer I feel toward you, the stronger the confusion.
The more I like you, the more it would hurt if you forget me... the more I want to make a lot of noise to make sure you remember me. The more possessive I feel. The more I dread other people coming along who could take my place. Not because I think I'm so important... but because I am so scared of being forgotten.
I am a person with great self-control, so I am good at holding back. And when it comes to relationships, boy, do I hold back. Why? Because I despise all those traits I just described. I would die before I act that way toward anyone. I am a nice person, a true friend, a loving friend who would never consciously be jealous or possessive. So how do I reconcile these feelings? Again, it's like dividing by zero. I love my friends enough not to put them through emotional hoops of reassuring me that I will not be forgotten. If I wait long enough, they usually call me again, or act like they like me. If I have just enough patience, I can see that my worst fears never come true.
I exist strongly in my mind. I am introspective. I daydream. I imagine things all the time. I imagine solutions, or stories, or visual scenes, or analogies that help explain the mysteries of God. But is this real, or just my imagination? Will speaking about my ideas to other people cause them -- or me -- to dissipate into the air? How do I trust that my thoughts remain? Or that I remain? Do I exist only in my imagination?
If I put my entire self into what I do, and it is met with disapproval, will I be obliterated? Or, in everyday terms... if someone disagrees with me, does that always mean I am wrong? Does it disprove my self? It does, if I rigidly define myself based only on the feedback of others.
I depend on social feedback the way people use a mirror to check their physical appearance. If I do something and then get no response, I feel invisible. Or, if I get criticism, I feel like I just put myself at risk for being written off forever. On the other hand, if I have your approval, I know I am still here, and I am safe.
-- It makes me angry sometimes when I do not match you. But: I don't want to be you! I want to be me! And sometimes, I can't do what you do, because I am NOT you. But... if I break off on my own, how will I know if I am doing it right? I can't sense myself, so I have no internal check point. Sometimes it is easier just to copy you, because then I can see tangibly that I am doing okay. But that is ripe soil for resentment.
Once I started recognizing these thought patterns, I saw their irrationality and my Aspie logic kicked in. These fears are just fears, not actual outcomes! With the help of my friends, and good spiritual direction, I have been able to notice more often when these irrational fears act up, and I have addressed them plainly with regular logic. All the evidence over my lifetime has shown that friends have never forgotten me before, so I need to trust that they won't forget me this time, either.
For all the excellent work being done with autistic children in helping them blend in, I pray that there is equal work being done to teach them to recognize themselves. This comes well before self-esteem. We can't LIKE who we are before we KNOW who we are. And, like all other things relating to autism, I mean that very literally.
I often feel unable to express the contents of my mind. I can almost always come close when I write... but rarely when I speak. It feels like there are two distinctly divided modes of my existence: one, which is entirely in my mind, and one which interacts with the world. I think non-autistic people are able to experience their internal and external selves without any conscious effort, whereas my wiring renders my self-concept into compartments. The majority of people in the world experience themselves, fully integrated, unconsciously. My healing and growth depends on how well I can learn to consciously integrate all aspects of my existence... interior and exterior.