Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Return of the Holy Face

The Shroud of Turin is back in the public eye in a big way these days.

The face of a man presumed to be dead and bearing the marks of torture and great suffering appears mysteriously on a large cloth in the northern Italian city of Turin. It is believed by millions of people to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ.

The shroud was the focus of a History Channel program during Holy Week two weeks ago. And Catholic News Service reported that the Nazis in the 1930s expressed “unusual and persistent” interest in the shroud, so it was secretly hidden in a church altar in southern Italy. When German armies in 1943 combed the area and the abbey in which it had been hidden, a German officer told his soldiers not to disturb the monks gathered in prayer around the altar. It was inside the altar that the shroud remained protected until after the war, when it was finally brought to Turin safely. A page from an Indiana Jones story!

If you’re making your way to Italy, a must-visit will be to Turin where its most famous artifact will be on public display for the first time in a decade through May 23. Pope Benedict XVI will inspect the shroud during a visit to the city May 2.

Here in Philadelphia, a replica of the shroud is currently on display at Philadelphia’s Byzantine Ukrainian Cathedral on Orthodox Street in the Northern Liberties section through June 29. Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 1-6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.

What is it?
Plenty of investigations and speculations of the shroud and its origin have been offered over the years. None definitively answer whether Jesus is actually depicted on the shroud. A 1988 investigation dated the cloth to 1260, presumably making it a medieval forgery. But left unexplained is exactly what the image consists of – it is not a painting, nor an etching or any other artistic representation – or how it got onto the cloth.

Some questions have been raised in recent years that dispute the dating to the medieval period.
Regardless of the lack of consensus on the science of the authenticity of the shroud, it continues to have a positive effect on the faith of people who view it.

Who is it?
At first photography, and now with three-dimensional modeling, images of the man of the shroud invoke a strong response of faith in Jesus. (Check this link and this one.)

Is it the Lord? Perhaps. What's sure is that people still seek the face of Jesus. Maybe that is because in an age reliant upon only that which can be measured and proven, people may find God distant and unknowable. The image reassures that Jesus lived as one of us, among us, with all the joys and sufferings as we (and more).

What does the shroud mean?
The shroud shows that even in our time of great scientific and technological advances, science stumbles in seeking answers to the deepest longings of the human heart. These include seeing the face of God and knowing we are not alone but united with Him.

In this, the Shroud of Turin suggests that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, lived, suffered and died in order to redeem all humanity because of His father’s great love for us.

The story of the Shroud may never be fully explained. But neither is it an end in itself. The image is of a dead man bearing the marks of great suffering. The central truth of the Christian faith, the resurrection of Jesus, means that our Lord did not remain in the tomb but rose to new life. That ultimate gift from the Father of Jesus and Father of all creation extends to all each day.

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