Exemplary life important than incorruptibility

Extraordinary lives of saints must inspire us to become witnesses to the world of the Good News


The incorrupt body of St Francis Xavier that now rests in a casket in the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa does evoke awe and reverence. We raise our prayers and petitions with great devotion every time we visit these holy grounds and rightly so because many of our prayers have been granted through the intercession of this august saint. Every 10 years when the incorrupt body is taken down for exposition, we see millions of people attending the event and paying a visit to the great saint. The life of St Francis Xavier continues to inspire us and we believe that he protects us from all harm. But is it his incorruptibility that drives us closer to him or is it his extraordinary passionate life?

On October 1, 2020, the tomb of Carlo Acutis who will soon be beatified on October 10, 2020, was opened for public veneration. And the pictures of the reassembled body went viral on social media proclaiming its incorruptibility. Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi confirmed that the body was in its normal state of transformation that any cadaver would undergo. Although the Church has stopped considering incorruptibility as the criterion for sainthood, incorruptibility signifies that the body is miraculously preserved from decay. One cannot scientifically prove how the body has not undergone the process of decay and continues to be intact. In the case of Carlo Acutis his body was in the process of decay and some of it has been reconstructed with the help of silicone as it is going to be displayed for public veneration. 

The Medieval Church believed and considered it important in the process of a person’s sainthood that his or her body remained intact. Because the medieval mind correlated the bodily integrity with virginity and chastity, the physical integrity meant that a person lived a perfect life when alive. The decay of the body meant that sin has erased it from the earth and its preservation meant that it is pure perpetually.

There are a few fraud cases that exist of incorruptibility that bring to our mind that it is possible to preserve a body from corruption with correct and specific embalming of the body. At the same time, we are spellbound with the incorrupt existence of a few saints without any embalming of the bodies. Like Saint Catherine of Bologna who died in the year 1463 and is seated at the present in the Poor Cares chapel since 1500 among candles is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. She was buried without any casket and her body was found intact when exhumed.

Another example is that of St Silvan a martyr of the 4th Century. St Silvan’s incorrupt body rests in the Church of St Blaise, Croatia. Another splendid example is that of St Bernadette of Lourdes who died at the age of 35 and all the three times that her body was exhumed it was found incorrupt.

Amidst these there are others too whose bodies are incorrupt, for instance, St Vincent De Paul, St John Mary Vianney, St John Bosco, St Zita, St Veronica Giuliani, St Teresa Margaret, St Vincent Pallotti, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), etc.

More than the incorrupt state of their bodies what must inspire us to become witnesses to the world, of the good news, is their exemplary extraordinary life. The fact that all of them decided to choose God over everything else. Carlo Acutis, our contemporary who was definitely tempted by the internet didn’t succumb to its enticement. He decided to use it for his benefit to proclaim Christ. To make the Eucharistic Lord known to the world.

The Catholic author Joan Carroll Cruz in her book, ‘The Incorruptibles,’ considers that the incorrupt bodies are consoling signs of the victory of Christ over death. Certainly, it is, but this should not be the only sign. We need to embrace the reality of their lives. They were as human as we are and that they were susceptible to sin, but they tried their best to overcome it with the grace of God. 

The criterion to following their lifestyle, therefore, shouldn’t be whether they are incorruptible or not, but whether their life inspires us to follow a certain path. Whether their life motivates us when we are faced with difficulties and trials. Whether they give us a hint as to how we can surrender our lives to our God. It is quite interesting to notice that all of these incorrupt saints or otherwise lived their lives in love. 

Love was the centre of their action. They motivate us to do the same irrespective of the state and situation of life we are in. Their incorrupt body may be a legacy we can treasure for long. But their life is a book we can read and reflect upon. Their life is an outline as to how we can lead our lives at best in the service of our God.

(The writer belongs to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallotine) and currently studying for an MA in English Literature at Parvatibai Chowgule college)

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