Body, Power, Grace and the Sacred Relic of St. Francis Xavier

The exposition of the sacred Relics of St. Francis Xavier is a moment of grace for every one of us in Goa as well as those of us who will be visiting Goa at this time. Goa  certainly manifests God’s welcome in many ways. The presence of the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier is indeed God’s powerful welcome in our society.   While many of us have narrated his life and his heroic missionary zeal and activities, few of us have reflected on the power and social influence of his sacred relics that embodies God’s presence, grace and welcome in our society. Here I attempt to understand how his sacred relics radiate a power that is both uplifting and liberating.  In order to facilitate our understanding of the profound implications of the presencing of the divine through his sacred relics, I will begin with an short study with a profound reflection on  how the Human body is a locus of power, next we shall examine how body and its politics can be viewed from perspective of Christian faith and finally, we shall attempt to unravel how the bodily dimension of the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier  radiates an empowering embrace that dismantles the walls of division constructed by several regimes of bio-power. 

Body and the Lines of Power 

Aristotle defined us reductively as rational animals and supplemented the political dimension of our life as an additive.  For a long time humans remained what Aristotle said:  a rational animal with an additional capacity for political existence. But today we seem to have become rational animals whose politics has placed our very existence as living beings into question.  These questions are arising from a growing discipline that has come to christen as Bio-politics  

Bio-politics as an Interpretative Key 

 Power operates on as well as radiates from our bodies.   The relation between power and human body is today attentively studied  and Bio-politics has emerged as tool of critical analysis responding to neoliberalism, bio-medical, biotechnological innovations, terrorism and the consequent war on terror. Bio-politics has become an interpretive key that exposes how the protection of life is paradoxically articulated with the proliferation of death and cry for war.  Indeed, human life appears to have lost its sanctity and sacredness and  is reduced to ‘bare life’. Thus, politics is  affecting human biology  very intimately.  We in India are challenged to understand how body has become the locus of power through the oppression of casteism as well as the recent claims of love Jihad. Castiesm has always been a body politics. It had to do with pure and the impure or polluted bodies. Even our food habits draw these caste lines on human bodies besides the metaphysics of three gunas  that  hierarchize the satva, rajas and tamas based on the binary relation of the pure and the polluted.  The politics of body is deeply inscribed into the  sacred hymn Purusha Sukta of the Rig-Veda and sanctioned by the Dharmashastras of one of our great Indian tradition and has legitimated caste discrimination for centuries in our country. This politics of the body has been employed as the gatekeeper of blood purity as inter-caste marriage is vehemently forbidden. In fact, the discourse of love Jihad in  these days only exposes  how  the bodies of our women are used as boundaries to insulate and isolate our communities.   

Bio-politics and Bio-economy 

Bio-politics cannot close its eyes to the consumerism and materialism that converts humans to mere consumers. Indeed, the bio-economy that is celebrated as progress and development certainly chains humans bodies to new regimes of regulations that often bestows on them death rather than life in the long term.  These chains are entangled through the knots of rationalization, civilization, mechanization and technologization of our bodily life that gives us an elevating sense of surging ahead in  triumph  while we are encaged by the hidden shackles of bio-politics. With the developments in  bio-technology,  genetic engineering, cloning, bionic implants, designer babies we are immersed into a brave new world of possibilities that can transform our  bodily life  with real chances that we might evolve into a new species. This transhuman existence is possibly at the cost of liberation from the cage or prison of this body. This means that the future does not want us the way we. We have to transform ourselves even give up our body and join the future. These brave new world promises to overcome the perishbility  of our body and offers to  give physical immortality that promises to give us longevity of live running up to one thousand years. Thus, through the transformation of our biological conditions, there stands the promise of science to take us to a Post-human existence.

Body as Technology of Power

Tourism is also a body regime dear. The bodies of the tourists are pampered while the bodies of the host communities are often meusemized as some business barons play the role of the hosts for profits. Tourism is based on several regimes that certainly uses body as the technology of power. The bodies of women, children used as sexual objects, the drunken or drugged bodies, eating bodies, voyeurising bodies certainly reveal the bio-politics that constitutes it.  Thus, tourism is marked by a powerful body regime that operates in the world of tourism. Besides tourism, the body regime is alive an active  in the field of demography and democracy. The anxieties of Population explosion led our Government and parents to deal with the demographic tangles both at the community level as well as at the family level that controlled the number of children that each family could have. Thus, tourism as well as our demographic policies are disciplinary and regulatory practices. The perceptual grids as well as physical routines that are constructed oversee the tourism process as well as control the growth of  population. Both the tourists and the citizens are conditioned to acquire a constructed  gaze which leads to a kind of self policing on the part of the citizens concerning the size of their family while similarly the gaze   shapes the expectations as well as colour their touristic  experience of the tourists.  The same is true of religions. Most religions employ rigid body regimes that particularly control and regulate the bodies of women, children and the poor.    

The Body, Power and Christianity 

There is essential relationship between body, power and grace  in Christian faith. Christian faith is every much based Incarnation, resurrection and the belief in Church as the Body of Christ. Though several scholars have shown like any religion Christianity is a body regime and as such becomes a technology of disciplining and regulating human bodies, it is not primarily a body disciplinary regime but a body liberating one.    

Incarnation and embodied Experience of being Human 

The mystery of God becoming human in Jesus Christ has a rupturing effect on the relation between body and power. It certainly ruptures the regime of power that de-dignifies and dishonours the body.  The mystery of God becoming flesh redeems humans body and soul and not merely the soul alone. This means the human body is the locus liberationis. The mystery of incarnation leads us to understand that our bodies are the temples of the God.   Our embodied experience is fundamental to all our experiences of being human. This means all our experiences are mediated through the fundamental experience of ‘being’ a body. Body is the basic site where we experience, hunger, pain, torture, joy, happiness, pleasure and death. Bodies communicate beyond languages.  This is because we experience pain, suffering, and joy ‘in flesh’. Often the mutilated, disfigured and brutalized bodies shake and shock us. Besides love is an embodied experience. All our struggles for justice and human rights cannot be disembodied of their bodily dimension. Our satyagrahas and hope for a better world is not an disincarnated dream. This means a way of being human is intimately linked to the way of being embodied. Hence, the mystery of incarnation is definitely linked but not limited to the bodily life of every human being on this planet earth.   

From the Broken Body to the Risen Body 

The mystery of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is essentially bodily. The suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross has a expiatory value for the entire humanity. We Christians believe that we carry his suffering and  death in our bodily experience. In fact, he too carried our pains and suffering in his body and died in place of us to save us and open us the life of God.  The celebration of the Eucharist becomes both the memorial and the re-enactment of suffering death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the sacrament par excellence where Christians participate in the mystery of faith that moves from a broken body to a resurrected body. The risen body of Jesus Christ embodies the hope of every human person to attained eternal and immortal life. Christians hope for this eternal life is not a disincarnated or disembodied one but, one that celebrates the rising of the fragile and perishable bodily life to immortal life in the resurrected body. This means we are not mere victims in our body but are to become victors in the resurrected body. A  Christian is challenged to offer in their bodies a holy and living sacrifice on the altar of their daily life. There is not Christ without his cross, so too there is no Christian without his/her cross. Following Christ with our cross certainly gives us a share in the glory of his resurrection.   

Church as the Corporate Body of Christ  

Christ is present in the people of God who form the Church. This means we Christians believe that in baptism we become part of the body of Christ. The Church as the body of Christ embodies the love, life and liberation/salvation that Jesus Christ brought to the entire humanity. This means, the  Church as the entire community of the baptized becomes the presence of Jesus Christ to the world. That is,  the Christ-centred Church as a body of Christ is challenged become Christ-like or other –centred. This brings forth the mystery of the Church as a communion. It is a union of God and his people and people among themselves. Hence, the bodily dimension is very constitutive of what the Church is. It is the mystical body of Christ and every baptized is person is it constituent member. This unity that Christians have with Christ is not a mechanical union as in the case of the parts in a computer. It is an organic union. That is every Christian is member of the body of Christ. This means just like a small toe in a human body is important and cannot be cut off, so is every member of the Church is indispensable for theChurch’s corporate identity, being and ministry.  As a body of Christ , the church is a pilgrim living the life of Christ on earth and  moving towards it fuller realization at the second coming of Jesus Christ. 

The Bodily dimension of the Sacred Relics of St. Francis Xavier 

The sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier break all boundaries constructed by bio-politics in our society. It remains an enduring presence of otherness that raises our hearts and minds to our hope in eternal life in some tangible way because it is fully attained  on the other side of the grave. This hope of eternal life always fascinates us. But it remains always open and never closed by our totalizing quest of its mastery. The sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier bear witness to this elusive yet attainable eternal life promised to us by God in Jesus Christ. 

Body as a locus of Immanent Power

The sacred relics of the body of  St Francis Xavier is a locus of immanent  power that disrupts, interrupts and dismantle the borderlines that are constructed by a plural bio-politics that is operating in our society.  There is a collapse of the East and West dichotomy, as well as the break downs of the walls of nationality, region, religion, gender, caste, rich and poor, young and old.  There is sense of being at home in the presence of the sacred relics and we can feel a spiritual embrace that dissolves every form of division, discrimination and exclusion. It confronts the world we inhabit and brings about a sense of equanimity and peace.  We experience a counter yet liberative gaze of the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier that calls us to peep into our life into our life  and move away from the culture of Thanato-politics (politics of death) to the  culture of life or vital politics.  This means the life affirming immanent power and grace emanating from the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier challenges us to rethink the process of subjectification that we are undergoing even without our conscious consent. That is, we feel the imperative to interrogate the social process and conditioning that renders us subjects. This means it brings about a realization that we are subjected subjects and triggers it contentation. St. Francis realized this quite early in his life through his life turning encounter with Jesus Christ through St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Following his example, we are often inspired to confront the subjected self in us and work to liberate the same in the power of God as he did.    

The Counter Gaze of the Sacred Relics  

Often several people among us visit the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier with the gaze of the tourist. The tourist gaze converts the sacred relics into a spectacle. This means our looking practices are not pure and innocent. In a way gaze objectifies and reifies the dynamic relational experience that we might otherwise receive through our encounter with the sacred relics and we become mere consumers of a gaze that is packaged and constructed by the tourism industry.  But the hegemony of this constructed gaze can rob us the dynamic relational experience of the symbolic power  and grace of the sacred relics if he are not open to the oppositional gaze that is emanating through it.  This oppositional gaze can rupture the craftily designed gaze manufactured by the tourism barons. This rupture of the received gaze can open a world of possibilities for us and we might feel an inner call to refuse to allow reality to be defined by the received gaze for us.  Hence, the counter gaze of the relics of  St. Francis Xavier can give us profound insight into our life and our world and lead us to an experience of with freedom at multiple levels of our life. This will certainly give us a critical understanding of the dominant gaze and we might be enabled to see our life, our world and our role within it with the eyes of faith. 

The sacred Relics of Francis Xavier as God’s Welcome

God manifests God-self in most unexpected ways and the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier have certainly channelled God’s presence to several people in the past.  The sacred relic of St. Francis can become the point of God’s welcome for every human person. Indeed, the bio-power that it radiates is all embracing and inclusive of all people without any discrimination. Hence, it certainly become a space were we can experience God’s welcome. Just like our beautiful Goa is embodying God’s hospitality through our People and culture so to our ‘Goycho Saib’ is an epitome of God’s welcome. He has steadily become a symbol of encounter for our different religions and  cultures. Indeed site of his sacred relics has become a powerful locus of East-West, Inter-religious as well Ecumenical dialogue. His sacred relics have evolved over period of time into a dialogical locus that embraces every shade of otherness and diversity. Hence we are challenged to awaken ourselves to God’s welcome that is emanating and radiating through the sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier. This heighten awareness of God’s welcome mediated by St. Francis Xavier has the power to open the possibilities of experiencing a mutual welcome wherein we are led to welcome God, humans and his wonderful creation in our life.         

Conclusion 

Our short reflection on the empowering presence of God in the Sacred relics of St. Francis Xavier  has opened several possibilities for us to respond to the call of the Divine that we can feel deep in our hearts. It challenges us to interrogate the bio-politics that subjects us and work to dismantle the boundaries that build walls of divisions among us. It invites us to feel the welcome of God and work to create an atmosphere of mutual welcome for God, humans and his creation so that very one has a legitimate space and freedom to grow and blossom. Finally, it exhorts us to see everything with the eyes of faith so that we are enabled to discern our role in the world that manifests God’s welcome.  

 

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GREETINGS

Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao