05 May 2010

On the Shroud of Turin

This past Sunday the Holy Father made a pilgrimage to Turin to venerate the Shroud enshrined there.

Naturally, he preached a homily there, the text of which follows, with my emphases and comments:

Dear brothers and sisters!

I am happy to find myself with you on this festive day and to celebrate this solemn Eucharist for you. I greet everyone present, in particular the pastor of your archdiocese, Cardinal Severino Poletto, whom I thank for the warm address to me on behalf of everyone. I also greet the archbishops and bishops present, the priests, religious, the representatives of ecclesial associations and movements. I turn deferentially to the mayor, Dr. Sergio Chiamparino, grateful for the courteous address and greeting, to the representatives of the government and to the civil and military officials, with a special thanks to those who generously offered their cooperation for the realization of this pastoral visit of mine. I bear in mind those who were not able to be present, especially the sick, those who are alone and those who find themselves in difficulty. I entrust to the Lord the city of Turin and all its inhabitants in this Eucharistic celebration, which, as every Sunday, invites us to participate in a communal way at the twofold table of the Word of truth and the Bread of eternal life.

We are in the Easter season, which is the time of the glorification of Jesus. The Gospel that we have just heard reminds us that this Glorification is realized through the Passion. In the paschal mystery, Passion and Glorification are closely joined; they form an indissoluble unity. Jesus says: “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31) and he says this when Judas leaves the Upper Room to carry out the plan of his betrayal, which will lead to the Master’s death: precisely at that moment Jesus’ glorification begins. The Evangelist John makes it clear: he does not, in fact, say that Jesus was glorified only after his passion, through his resurrection, but shows that his glorification is begun precisely with the passion. In it Jesus manifests his glory, which is the glory of love, which gives its entire self. He loved the Father, doing his will to the very end, with a perfect oblation; he loved humanity, giving his life for us. Thus, already in his Passion he was glorified, and God is glorified in him.

But the Passion is only the beginning. Thus Jesus says that his glorification is also to come (cf. 13:32). Then the Lord, in the moment that he announces his departure from this world (cf. 13:33), almost as a testament to his disciples to continue his presence among them in a new way, gives them a new commandment: “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another. As I loved you, love one another” (13:34). If we love each other, Jesus will continue to be present in our midst.

Jesus speaks of a “new commandment.” But what is new about it? Already in the Old Testament, God gave the commandment of love; now, however, this commandment has become new insofar as Jesus makes a very important addition to it: “As I loved you, love one another.” What is new is precisely this “loving as Jesus loved.” The Old Testament did not give any mode of love but only formulated the precept to love. Jesus, however, gave himself to us as model and source of love. This is a love without limits, universal, able to transform all the negative circumstances and all the obstacles into occasions for progress in love. In centuries past the Church that is in Turin knew a rich tradition of sanctity and generous service -- as the archbishop and the mayor pointed out -- thanks to the work of zealous priests, men and women in both active and contemplative religious communities and faithful laypeople. Jesus’ words thus acquire a particular resonance for this Church, a Church that is generous and active, beginning with her priests. Giving us the new commandment, Jesus asks us to live his own love, which is the truly credible, eloquent and efficacious sign that announces to the world the Kingdom of God.

Obviously with our own power we are weak and limited. There is always a resistance to love in us and in our existence, there are many difficulties that provoke divisions, resentment and rancor. But the Lord promised us to be present in our life, making us capable of this generous and total love, which knows how to overcome all obstacles. If we are united to Christ, we can truly love in this world. Loving others as Jesus loved us is possible only with that strength that is communicated to us in our relationship with him, especially in the Eucharist, in which his Sacrifice of love that generated love is made present in a real way.

I would like to say, then, a word of encouragement especially to the priests and deacons of this Church, who dedicate themselves with generosity to pastoral work, and to the religious. Sometimes being a worker in the Lord’s vineyard can be tiring, duties multiply, there are so many demands, there is no lack of problems: Know how daily to draw from this relationship of love with the Lord in prayer the strength to convey the prophetic announcement of salvation; re-center your existence on what is essential in the Gospel; cultivate a real dimension of communion and fraternity in the presbyterate, in your communities, in relationships with the People of God; in service testify to the power of love that comes from on high.

The first reading that we heard indeed presents a special way of glorifying Jesus: the apostle and his fruits. Paul and Barnabas, at the end of their first apostolic trip, return to the cities that they have already visited and reanimate the disciples, exhorting them to remain solid in the faith, because, as they say, “we must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations” (Acts 14:22). Christian life, dear brothers and sisters, is not easy [I like to say, "The Christian life is simple, but it is not easy. Love is simple, but it is often difficult]; I know that there is no lack of difficulties, problems, worries in Turin: I think in particular of those who concretely live their lives in precarious conditions, because of the scarcity of jobs, the uncertainty of the future, physical and moral suffering; I think of families, young people, of old people who often live in solitude, the marginalized, immigrants. Yes, life leads to many difficulties, many problems, but it is precisely the certainty that comes from faith, the certainty that we are not alone, that God loves everyone without distinction and is near to everyone with his love, that makes it possible to face, to live through and to overcome the toil of daily problems. It was the universal love of the risen Christ that moved the apostles to go out of themselves, to spread the word of God, to spend themselves without reserve for others, with courage, joy and serenity. The Risen One has a strength of love that overcomes every limit, that does not stop at any obstacle. And the Christian community, especially in the situations that are the most pastorally demanding, must be a concrete instrument of this love of God.

I exhort families to live the Christian dimension of love in simple daily actions, in family relationships, overcoming divisions and misunderstandings, in cultivating faith, which makes communion still stronger. Also in the rich and diverse world of the university and culture, witness to the love that today’s Gospel speaks of is not lacking, in the capacity for attentive listening and humble dialogue in the search for Truth, certain that it is the same truth that comes to meet us and draws us. I would like also to encourage the effort, often difficult, of those who are called to look after the public sphere: Collaboration to pursue the common good and make the city ever more human and habitable is a sign that Christian thought about man is never against his liberty but in favor of a greater fullness that finds its realization only in a “civilization of love.” To everyone, in particular the young people, I want to say never to lose hope, that which comes from the risen Christ, from God’s victory over sin and death.

Today’s second reading shows us precisely the final outcome of Jesus’ resurrection: it is the new Jerusalem, the holy city, that comes down from heaven, from God, prepared as a bride for her husband (cf. Revelation 21:2). He who was crucified, who shared our suffering -- as the sacred Shroud also reminds us in an eloquent way -- is he who is risen and wants to reunite all of us in his love. It is a stupendous, “powerful,” solid hope, because, as Revelation says: “[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death will be no more, nor will there be any mourning or lament anymore, because the former things will pass away” (21:4). Does the holy Shroud not communicate the same message? In it we see, as in a mirror, our sufferings in the sufferings of Christ: “Passio Christi. Passio hominis.” It is because of this that the Shroud is a sign of hope: Christ faced the cross to put up a wall against evil; to make us see, in his passion, the anticipation of that moment in which for us too, every tear will be wiped away, when there will be no death, no mourning, no lament anymore.

The passage from Revelation ends with this statement: “He who sits upon the throne says: ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (21:5). The first absolutely new thing realized by God was Jesus’ resurrection, his heavenly glorification. It is the beginning of a whole series of “new things” in which we also have a share. “New things” are a world full of joy, in which there are no more suffering and destruction, there is no rancor and hate, but only the love that comes from God and transforms everything.

Dear Church that is in Turin, I have come among you to confirm you in the faith. I would like to exhort you, firmly and with affection, to remain solid in that faith that you have received and that gives meaning to life; never to lose the light of hope in the Risen Christ, who is able to transform reality and make all things new; to live God’s love in a simple and concrete way in the city, in the neighborhoods, in communities, in families: “As I have loved you, love one another.”

After venerating the Shroud, His Holiness offered a few more words which follow, again with my emphases and comments:

Dear Friends,

This is a moment that I have been waiting for for quite some time. I have found myself before the sacred Shroud on another occasion but this time I am experiencing this pilgrimage and this pause with particular intensity: perhaps because the years make me more sensitive to the message of this extraordinary icon; perhaps, and I would say above all, because I am here as Successor of Peter, and I carry in my heart the whole Church, indeed, all of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this pilgrimage, and also for the opportunity to share with you a brief meditation, which was suggested to me by the title of this solemn exhibition: “The Mystery of Holy Saturday.” One could say that the Shroud is the icon of this mystery, the icon of Holy Saturday. It is in fact a winding sheet, which covered the corpse of a man who was crucified, corresponding to everything that the Gospels say of Jesus, who was crucified about noon and died at about 3 in the afternoon.

Once evening came, since it was Parasceve, the eve of the solemn Sabbath of Passover, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and influential member of the Sanhedrin, courageously asked Pontius Pilate to be able to bury Jesus in his new tomb, that he had made in the rock not far from Golgotha. Having received the permission, he bought linen and, taking the body of Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the linen and put him in that tomb (cf. Mark 15:42-46). This is what is related by the Gospel of St. Matthew and the other evangelists. From that moment, Jesus remained in the sepulcher until the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, and the Shroud of Turin offers us the image of how his body was stretched out in the tomb during that time, which was brief chronologically (about a day and a half), but was immense, infinite in its value and its meaning.

Holy Saturday is the day of God’s concealment, as one reads in an ancient homily: “What happened? Today there is great silence upon the earth, great silence and solitude. Great silence because the King sleeps … God died in the flesh and descended to make the kingdom of hell (‘gli inferi’) tremble” (“Homily on Holy Saturday,” PG 43, 439). In the Creed we confess that Jesus Christ “was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried; he descended into hell (‘negli inferi’), and the third day he rose again from the dead.”

Dear brothers and sisters, in our time, especially after having passed through the last century, humanity has become especially sensitive to the mystery of Holy Saturday. God’s concealment is part of the spirituality of contemporary man, in an existential manner, almost unconscious, as an emptiness that continues to expand in the heart. At the end of the 18th century, Nietzsche wrote: “God is dead! And we have killed him!” This celebrated expression, if we consider it carefully, is taken almost word for word from the Christian tradition, we often repeat it in the Via Crucis, perhaps not fully realizing what we are saying. After the two World Wars, the concentration camps, the gulags, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our epoch has become in ever great measure a Holy Saturday: the darkness of this day questions all those who ask about life, it questions us believers in a special way. We too have something to do with this darkness.

And nevertheless, the death of the Son of God, of Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite aspect, totally positive; it is a font of consolation and hope. And this makes me think that the sacred Shroud acts as a “photographic” document, with a “positive” and a “negative.” And in effect, this is exactly how it is: The most obscure mystery of faith is at the same time the most luminous sign of a hope without limits. Holy Saturday is the “no man’s land” between death and resurrection, but into this “no man’s land” has entered the One, the Only One, who has crossed it with the signs of his passion for man: “Passio Christi. Passio hominis.” And the Shroud speaks to us precisely of that moment; it witnesses precisely to the unique and unrepeatable interval in the history of humanity and the universe, in which God, in Jesus Christ, shared not only our dying, but also our remaining in death. The most radical solidarity. In that “time-beyond-time” Jesus Christ “descended into hell” (“agli inferi”) What does this expression mean? It means that God, made man, went to the point of entering into the extreme and absolute solitude of man, where no ray of love enters, where there is total abandonment without any word of comfort: “hell” (“gli inferi”). Jesus Christ, remaining in death, has gone beyond the gates of this ultimate solitude to lead us too to go beyond it with him.

We have all at times felt a frightening sensation of abandonment, and that which makes us most afraid of death is precisely this [abandonment]; just as when as children we were afraid to be alone in the dark and only the presence of a person who loves us could reassure us. So, it is exactly this that happened in Holy Saturday: In the kingdom of death there resounded the voice of God. The unthinkable happened: that Love penetrated “into hell” (“negli inferi”): that in the most extreme darkness of the most absolute human solitude we can hear a voice that calls us and find a hand that takes us and leads us out. The human being lives by the fact that he is loved and can love; and if love even has penetrated into the realm of death, then life has also arrived there. In the hour of extreme solitude we will never be alone: “Passio Christi. Passio hominis.”

This is the mystery of Holy Saturday! It is from there, from the darkness of the death of the Son of God, that the light of a new hope has shone: the light of the Resurrection. And it seems to me that looking upon this cloth with the eyes of faith one perceives something of this light. In effect, the Shroud was immersed in that profound darkness, but it is luminous at the same time; and I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to see it -- without counting those who contemplate copies of it -- it is because in it they do not see only darkness, but also light; not so much the defeat of life and love but rather victory, victory of life over death, of love over hatred; they indeed see the death of Jesus, but glimpse his resurrection [too]; in the heart of death there now beats life, inasmuch as love lives there. This is the power of the Shroud: from the countenance of this “Man of sorrows,” who takes upon himself man’s passion of every time and every place, even our passion, our suffering, our difficulties, our sins -- “Passio Christi. Passio hominis” -- from this moment there emanates a solemn majesty, a paradoxical lordship. This face, these hands and these feet, this side, this whole body speaks, it is itself a word that we can hear in silence. How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, and blood is life! The Shroud is an icon written in blood; the blood of a man who has been scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified and wounded in his right side. Every trace of blood speaks of love and of life. Especially that large mark near the side, made by blood and water that poured copiously from a great wound caused by a Roman spear, that blood and that water speak of life. It is like a spring that speaks in silence, and we can hear it, we can listen to it, in the silence of Holy Saturday.

Dear friends, let us praise the Lord always for his faithful and merciful love. Departing from this holy place, we carry in our eyes the image of the Shroud, we carry in our heart this word of love, and we praise God with a life full of faith, of love and of charity.

Thank you.
Translations via Zenit.

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