12 March 2012

A good book for Lent

The antiphon for the Responsorial Psalm for today's Mass sings, "Athirst is my soul for the living God.  When shall I go and behold the face of God" (cf. Psalm 42:3)?  Is this not the driving question of each of our lives?

The Apostle Philip once said to Jesus, "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us" (John 14:8).  In response, the Lord said to him, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).  This is all well and good for the Apostles and those first disciples, but what about us?  Where can we go to see the face of God?

The first place, of course, is the Eucharist.  A wise and prayerful parishioner once said to Saint John Vianney when he asked him what he did before the Blessed Sacrament each day, "He looks at me and I look at him."

Some people, though, want something more tangible, something more observable to the senses and so it seems that in the depths of his mercy the Lord has left us two cloths with the very image of his face: the Shourd of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello.

A few days ago I finished Paul Badde's excellent book, The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello.  Concerning the Shroud in which the body of the Lord was wrapped for his burial, Badde observes:
Initial photos from the year 1898, moreover, made the shroud famous for the fact that in its photographic negative the positive image of a face looks at us.  Naturally, that is puzzling.  Nevertheless, any layman can see that the long linen cloth itself is neither a photo nor the film of a cosmic camera.  If we take a cigar box and prick a tiny hole in the lid and fasten a piece of film inside to the bottom - thus constructing a primitive camera obscura - it would produce a more exact photo of any human being.  Albrecht Dürer proved as early as 1516 that the cloth is not a painting either, when his attempt to produce a copy of it with brushstrokes failed.  What we see has no contours, no drawing, no pigments - absolutely none whatsoever - and it rests only on the upper parts of the fibers.  No one can say what it is exactly and how this image got onto the fabric.  Nevertheless, a huge battle rages over the delicate mysterious image.  Some kneel down before it.  Others are fiercely intent on debunking it as a forgery, over and over again.

Just as fanciful, therefore, is the history of debunkings that accompanies the shroud.  Obviously such exposés try to prove above all that it was supposed to deceive the faithful.  Once the BBC reported that a fourteenth-century French bishop had already found that it was "cunningly and deceitfully painted".  He himself had never seen the shroud.  The first likeness of the shroud is found in a manuscript from the year 1192 in Budapest.  Nevertheless, it is supposed to date to around 1320, as scientiests claim to have determine in 1988 by carbon dating techniques [which have since been proven false based solely on methodology].  Leonardo da Vinci too was "discovered" to have had a hand in producing the delicate image, and he was not born until 1452.  The latest contributor to this series of discoveries was Luigi Garlaschelli from Pavia, a chemist (and self-taught specialist in astrology, as well as poltergeists and similar phenomena) who, at the behest and the expense of a group of Italian atheists and agnostics, had applied various sorts of paint to a student model, whose imprint on a sheet was supposed to serve this time as proof of the forgery of the Shroud of Turin.  Yet genuine traces of blood (belonging to type AB+) can be found on the real shroud but not the slightest trace of pigments (11).
Throughout the book Badde seeks to answer "not the question of whether the shroud is genuine but rather the question: What if it is [emphasis original] (16)?  At the conclusion of such an inquiry, Badde suggests: "If we were in a court of law, the shroud would easily win any circumstantial case.  It would be confirmed officially that it is identical with the 'clean linen' cloth that Joseph of Arimathea bought for Jesus" (17).

At the end of his investigation, Badde concludes:
The mere fact that the cloths are not decomposed is already unbelievable.  Both of them have survived for two thousand  years.  They have withstood wars, sieges, conflagrations, thefts and pillaging - and also all the attempts to denounce them as forgeries.  They were not consumed by moths; they have not fallen to pieces...  The cloths are the work of man; the "images" on them, the work of God...

Only a radical faith in miracles, therefore, allows us to recognize - not understand - the nature of these pictorial miracles.  Much, very much can be understood.  But it would be demanding too much to try to understand everything.  To be able to contemplate these images is already an infinite gain - to see that the cloths that lay together then in the tomb are together again today, in the light of worldwide publicity and therefore now also in this book.  The true images are among us (158).
 I found this book a powerful read during these days of Lent and am confident you will, as well.

You might also consider reading the words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI when he visited the Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello.

I'd provide the respective links for you for the web site of the Holy See appears to be down again.  The intolerance of liberals never ceases to amaze me.

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