Pope Francis: One Cannot Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Without the Tangible Witness of One’s Life

Pope Francis preached another wonderful homily when he celebrated Mass today.

This pastoral Pope seems to understand us. He is able to preach to us in a way that reaches into our lives and tells us directly how to follow Jesus as we wend our way through life.

His homilies are shot through with theology, but it’s theology that doesn’t announce itself. The Holy Father is able to teach and preach theology in a real-world way that his listeners can comprehend and take home with them to live out. 

Today’s homily was another of this type. Are we capable of bringing the word of God into the environment in which we live? he asks.

We should all ask ourselves: Do I have the courage … to think, to choose, and to live as a Christian, obedient to God? One cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.

In other words, Preach Christ. If necessary, use words. 

Or 

You’ve got to walk the walk before you can talk the talk. 

The Pope also talked a good bit about the need for worship instead of just asking God for things and then thanking Him. 

I’ve pulled out a few quotes, which I will put below. I also will give you a chance to read the full homily for yourself. 

Read it and be blessed. 

Peter and the other Apostles. In response to the order to be silent, no longer to teach in the name of Jesus, no longer to proclaim his message, they respond clearly: “We must obey God, rather than men”. 

And they remain undeterred even when flogged, ill-treated and imprisoned. Peter and the Apostles proclaim courageously, fearlessly, what they have received: the Gospel of Jesus. And we? 

Are we capable of bringing the word of God into the environment in which we live? Do we know how to speak of Christ, of what he represents for us, in our families, among the people who form part of our daily lives?

… we all have to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel.

We should all ask ourselves:

How do I bear witness to Christ through my faith? Do I have the courage of Peter and the other Apostles, to think, to choose and to live as a Christian, obedient to God?

Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.

Do we turn to God only to ask him for things, to thank him, or do we also turn to him to worship him? 

 worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history. 

This has a consequence in our lives: we have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the centre, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others.

I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? 

Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the centre, as the highway of our lives.

Pope Francis: St Paul’s homily (full text)


(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Sunday evening in the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. Proclamation, witness, and worship were the three key ideas on which Pope Francis focused in his homily, with especial emphasis on those who suffer for their witness to the Faith. Below, please find the full text of his homily, in English.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!
It is a joy for me to celebrate Mass with you in this Basilica. I greet the Archpriest, Cardinal James Harvey, and I thank him for the words that he has addressed to me. Along with him, I greet and thank the various institutions that form part of this Basilica, and all of you. We are at the tomb of Saint Paul, a great yet humble Apostle of the Lord, who proclaimed him by word, bore witness to him by martyrdom and worshipped him with all his heart. These are the three key ideas on which I would like to reflect in the light of the word of God that we have heard: proclamation, witness, worship.

      In the First Reading, what strikes us is the strength of Peter and the other Apostles. In response to the order to be silent, no longer to teach in the name of Jesus, no longer to proclaim his message, they respond clearly: “We must obey God, rather than men”. And they remain undeterred even when flogged, ill-treated and imprisoned. Peter and the Apostles proclaim courageously, fearlessly, what they have received: the Gospel of Jesus. And we? Are we capable of bringing the word of God into the environment in which we live? Do we know how to speak of Christ, of what he represents for us, in our families, among the people who form part of our daily lives? Faith is born from listening, and is strengthened by proclamation.

 

        But let us take a further step: the proclamation made by Peter and the Apostles does not merely consist of words: fidelity to Christ affects their whole lives, which are changed, given a new direction, and it is through their lives that they bear witness to the faith and to the proclamation of Christ.
        In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times to feed his flock, to feed it with his love, and he prophesies to him: “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18). These words are addressed first and foremost to those of us who are pastors: we cannot feed God’s flock unless we let ourselves be carried by God’s will even where we would rather not go, unless we are prepared to bear witness to Christ with the gift of ourselves, unreservedly, not in a calculating way, sometimes even at the cost of our lives.
        But this also applies to everyone: we all have to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel. We should all ask ourselves: How do I bear witness to Christ through my faith? Do I have the courage of Peter and the other Apostles, to think, to choose and to live as a Christian, obedient to God?
        To be sure, the testimony of faith comes in very many forms, just as in a great fresco, there is a variety of colours and shades; yet they are all important, even those which do not stand out. In God’s great plan, every detail is important, even yours, even my humble little witness, even the hidden witness of those who live their faith with simplicity in everyday family relationships, work relationships, friendships. There are the saints of every day, the “hidden” saints, a sort of “middle class of holiness” to which we can all belong.
        But in different parts of the world, there are also those who suffer, like Peter and the Apostles, on account of the Gospel; there are those who give their lives in order to remain faithful to Christ by means of a witness marked by the shedding of their blood. Let us all remember this: one cannot proclaim the Gospel of Jesus without the tangible witness of one’s life.
      Those who listen to us and observe us must be able to see in our actions what they hear from our lips, and so give glory to God! Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church’s credibility.
        But all this is possible only if we recognize Jesus Christ, because it is he who has called us, he who has invited us to travel his path, he who has chosen us.
        Proclamation and witness are only possible if we are close to him, just as Peter, John and the other disciples in today’s Gospel passage were gathered around the Risen Jesus; there is a daily closeness to him: they know very well who he is, they know him.
        The Evangelist stresses the fact that “no one dared ask him: ‘Who are you?’ – they knew it was the Lord” (Jn 21:12). This is important for us: living an intense relationship with Jesus, an intimacy of dialogue and of life, in such a way as to recognize him as “the Lord”, and to worship him.
        The passage that we heard from the Book of Revelation speaks to us of worship: the myriads of angels, all creatures, the living beings, the elders, prostrate themselves before the Throne of God and of the Lamb that was slain, namely Christ, to whom be praise, honour and glory (cf. Rev 5:11-14).
        I would like all of us to ask ourselves this question: You, I, do we worship the Lord? Do we turn to God only to ask him for things, to thank him, or do we also turn to him to worship him? What does it mean, then, to worship God? It means learning to be with him, it means that we stop trying to dialogue with him, and it means sensing that his presence is the most true, the most good, the most important thing of all.
        All of us, in our own lives, consciously and perhaps sometimes unconsciously, have a very clear order of priority concerning the things we consider important. Worshipping the Lord means giving him the place that he must have; worshipping the Lord means stating, believing – not only by our words – that he alone truly guides our lives; worshipping the Lord means that we are convinced before him that he is the only God, the God of our lives, the God of our history.


This has a consequence in our lives: we have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the centre, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others.
This evening I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshipping the Lord? Worshipping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the centre, as the highway of our lives.
Dear brothers and sisters, each day the Lord calls us to follow him with courage and fidelity; he has made us the great gift of choosing us as his disciples; he sends us to proclaim him with joy as the Risen one, but he asks us to do so by word and by the witness of our lives, in daily life. The Lord is the only God of our lives, and he invites us to strip ourselves of our many idols and to worship him alone. May the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Paul help us on this journey and intercede for us.

 

Join the Discussions of the Year of Faith

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Dominican Sisters Hear about the Election of Pope Francis

While rehearsing for a new album (which will be coming out this summer) the Dominican Sisters hear that there is white smoke …

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Pope Francis and Spring Cleaning at the Vatican

I don’t usually write about internal Church government. The reasons are simple: I don’t know anything about it, and I don’t really care.

I am a pew-sitting Catholic who mostly takes from the Church rather than gives to it. I take the graces of the sacraments, the support and advice of very good pastors, and teachings which form a moral spine for my life.

All these squabbles about the Vatican Bank and the boys in the Vatican running amok don’t affect my mostly-taking relationship with the Church. However, I’ve been around government of another sort (and I think governments all have some of the same challenges) to have a silent opinion about what has happened inside the Vatican to fuel the situation that led to the recent problems.

I won’t say more than that because, as I said in paragraph one, I don’t know.

However, if what I think is true, then Pope Francis is doing exactly what needs to be done to set things right. Deacon Greg, as always, has the story. What it boils down to is that the Holy Father is getting ready to clean the Vatican house. He has appointed a new committee to help him run things. Only one current Vatican official is on it.

That doesn’t mean that everyone he’s giving the old heave-ho was a bad actor. But it certainly is the only real way to clear out the entrenched and what appears to be, ingrown, situation that created the previous bad acting.

I would guess that the change will be welcomed by some of the people who end up leaving. After all, the Pope isn’t killing them. He’s giving them new and different jobs. That will probably blow a fresh new breeze through their lives as well as the corridors of the Vatican.

Pope Francis is bringing in people from all over the world to run things in Vatican City. This, in my opinion, is a reflection of what the Church is. The Roman Catholic Church is not so much Roman as it Catholic. By that I mean that it is universal. It speaks every language and has every color, inclination and face that humankind presents.

It is, like Jesus Himself, incarnated human in order to speak for all humanity. Church governance needs to reflect that fact. The ingrown situation in the Vatican up to now is a relic of earlier centuries when transportation and communication with the various limbs of the Church could take months, or in some cases, even years. It was the functional solution for Church administration in those times.

Pope Francis is moving the Church forward without changing it one whit. It is and will always be the same Bride of Christ that it has always been. It’s just that this bride wears the face of all humankind.

From The Deacon’s Bench:

Pope Francis marked his first month as pope on Saturday by naming nine high-ranking prelates from around the globe to a permanent advisory group to help him run the Catholic Church and study a reform of the Vatican bureaucracy — a bombshell announcement that indicates he intends a major shift in how the papacy should function.
The panel includes only one current Vatican official; the rest are cardinals and a monsignor from Europe, Africa, North and South America, Asia and Australia — a clear indication that Francis wants to reflect the universal nature of the church in its governance and core decision-making, particularly given the church is growing and counts most of the world’s Catholics in the southern hemisphere.
In the run-up to the conclave that elected Francis pope one month ago, a reform of the Vatican bureaucracy was a constant drumbeat, as were calls to make the Vatican itself more responsive to the needs of bishops around the world. Including representatives from each continent in a permanent advisory panel to the pope would seem to go a long way toward answering those calls… (Read the rest here.)

Pope Francis: Do Not Get Into this Game of a Life of Complaints

Pope Francis gave a homily at morning mass a few days ago that hits this lady right between the eyes. 

It was about one of my favorite hobbies: Complaining. 

My husband and I sometimes joke about a former member of the Oklahoma House that we both know. If you gave this guy a check for a million dollars all he would do is gripe about the taxes. One of my husband’s jokes is that you can walk outside with this guy and remark that it’s a beautiful day and he would reply, “Yeah, but that makes for darn dark nights.”

I’m not in this man’s league when it comes to complaining and looking on the dark side, but I do have more than a small dose of the same disease. It can seem that focusing on the bad that might happen is a way to ward off disappointment when it really does happen. But in truth, all it does is ruin the good times you’re having now. If something bad happens, worrying about it ahead of time won’t make it hurt one bit less.

As for complaining, you can beat people down with too many complaints. You can blight their happiness and take away their joy. Constant complaining dampens initiative and makes people feel helpless when they’re not. You can push them down to their emotional knees and them hold them there with your carping and complaining and hand-wringing and whining.

I once knew a woman who was never able to just say “Thank you.” If her husband worked all day painting the house for her, when he was finished she would look at it and say, “We really need to re-seed the lawn” She didn’t mean to be a Debbie downer. In fact, I don’t think she knew what she was doing. It was habitual; something she probably learned as a child. But how sad for her that she wasted so many good moments by focusing on the negative, and how destructive to her relationships that she complained when she should have been complimenting.

This is where Pope Francis’ homily comes in. He preached on the Gospel story from St Luke about the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These men were bereft and broken-hearted because of Jesus’ death on the cross. I have not been able to find the full homily on the Vatican web site. But here are a few quotes that resonated with me:

“And they stewed, so to speak, their lives in the juice of their complaints and kept going on and on and on with the complaining,” the pope said. “I think that many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints.”

When all people can think of is how wrong things are going, Pope Francis said, the Lord is close, “but we don’t recognize him. He walks with us, but we don’t recognize him.”

Like the disciples joined by the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, people can hear beautiful things, but deep down, they continue to be afraid, the pope said.

“Complaining seems safer. It’s something certain. This is my truth: failure,” he said.

But the Gospel story shows how very patient Jesus is with the disciples, first listening to them and then explaining things step by step, until they see him.

“Jesus does this with us, too,” the pope said. “Even in the darkest moments, he is always with us, walking with us.”

Complaining and griping — about others and about things in one’s own life — is harmful “because it dashes hope. Don’t get into this game of a life of complaints,” he said.

“Do not get into this game of a life of complaints.”

I need to print that out and put it on my bathroom mirror. The Holy Father is exactly right when he says that “when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints.” At least, he certainly is about me. My most public cross has been the many attacks I’ve endured for being a pro life Catholic Democratic elected official.

When I speak of deliberate slander and character assassination for gain, I am describing what was done to me.

instead of remembering that Jesus told us to “rejoice and be glad when men say all manner of evil against you falsely on my account,” I complained and whined and focused on my hurt and anger. “Great is your reward in heaven,” Jesus told us, but I concentrated on how much it hurt me at the time.

Pope Francis’ words cut right across my own behavior like a giant x mark. God gave me the opportunity to suffer just a little bit for Jesus, and for the babies. It was never a punishment. It was always a gift. I saw that some of the time. But far too often, I looked right past the honor of taking a hit for Jesus to my own anguish about how much it hurt.

Part of stepping out in faith means laying aside our complaints about the way the world reacts to us when we do it. In truth, when they attack us and revile us for standing for Jesus, they are handing us the Kingdom of Heaven. 

If we can just remember that, we’ll realize that there is nothing for us to complain about.

 

 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus Christ

Pope Francis and the Orthodox: We are going to Be a Christian Family

This interview with the Metropolitan Tarasios Primate of the Greek Orthodox of South America. The interview sheds light on Pope Francis, as well as the gracious personality of the Primate himself.

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Popes Benedict and Francis: Differences in Style, Continuity in Teachings and Faith

Pope Francis is an outgoing informal man, while Pope Emeritus Benedict is shy and introverted. But don’t let those differences in style confuse you. Both are holy men of fidelity to the truth of our Catholic faith. To learn more, watch the video below.

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Father’s Reaction to Pope Francis’ Blessing of His Disabled Son

His name is Dominic Gondreau. He is eight years old and he has cerebral palsy. 

His father, Professor Paul Gondreau, is living in Rome with his wife and five children while he studies theology. Dominic was allowed to sit up front in the seating for disabled people. His mother was with him, but since there were only two seats available, Dominic’s father stayed back in the crowd with Dominic’s brothers and sisters.

Dominic’s father has written an essay about the event. You can also see an interview with Dominic’s dad, here.

The essay by Dominic’s father from Catholic Moral Theology:

“Small acts with great love,” Mother Teresa was fond of saying. Yesterday, Pope Francis bestowed an extraordinary Easter blessing upon my family when he performed such an act in embracing my son, Dominic, who has cerebral palsy. The embrace occurred when the Pope spied my son while touring the Square, packed with a quarter million pilgrims, in the “pope mobile” after Mass. This tender moment, an encounter of a modern Francis with a modern Dominic (as most know, tradition holds that St. Francis and St. Dominic enjoyed an historic encounter), moved not only my family (we were all moved to tears), not only those in the immediate vicinity (many of whom were also brought to tears by it), not only by thousands who were watching on the big screens in the Square, but by the entire world. Images of this embrace quickly went viral, and by Easter Sunday afternoon it was the lead picture on the Drudge Report, with the caption, “Change Hatred into Love” (a paraphrase of Pope Francis’ Urbi et Orbi message that followed shortly thereafter), where it remains even as I write this. Fox News, NBC Nightly News, ABC Nightly News, and CNN all showed clips of it. Lead pictures of it were found in Le Figaro, the New York PostThe Wall Street Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirerinter alia.

It is often difficult to try to express to people who do not have special needs children what kind of untold sacrifices are demanded of us each and every day. And as for Dominic, he has already shared in Christ’s Cross more than I have throughout my entire life multiplied a thousand times over. What is the purpose in all this, I ask? Furthermore, I often tend to see my relationship with Dominic in a one-sided manner. Yes, he suffers more than me, but it’s constantly ME who must help HIM. Which is how our culture often looks upon the disabled: as weak, needy individuals who depend so much upon others, and who contribute little, if anything, to those around them.

Pope Francis’ embrace of my son yesterday turns this logic completely on its head and, in its own small yet powerful way, shows once again how the wisdom of the Cross confounds human wisdom. Why is the whole world so moved by images of this embrace? A woman in the Square, moved to tears by the embrace, perhaps answered it best when she to my wife afterward, “You know, your son is here to show people how to love.” To show people how to love. This remark hit my wife as a gentle heaven-sent confirmation of what she has long suspected: that Dominic’s special vocation in the world is to move people to love, to show people how to love. We human beings are made to love, and we depend upon examples to show us how to do this.

But how can a disabled person show us how to love in a way that only a disabled person can? Because the Cross of Christ is sweet and is of a higher order. (Read the rest here.)

Parents: Moved to Tears After Pope Hugs Their Disabled Son

The parents of a disabled little boy were speechless and moved to tears when Pope Francis cradled the child and kissed him.

I watched the video, and it brought a lump to my throat as well.

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This is a Catholic Blog. I am a Catholic Woman.

They should be ashamed. 

I watch The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson at some point during Holy Week each year. The movie, whatever the much-publicized weaknesses of its producer, is deeply meaningful to me.

This year I ended up watching it late, late Good Friday and early, early Holy Saturday, after my family had gone to bed. Earlier in the day I had shared a meal with one of my dearest friends. This lady is a cradle Catholic who doesn’t analyze the Church, she just believes it. She also uses her computer for work and turns it off. She’s not an internet junkie. Since we are blessed to live in a diocese where the bishops have always allowed women’s feet to be washed along with men on Holy Thursday, she had never encountered the discussions about this that float around the internet.

During our conversation, I told her about the happenings on Public Catholic, including the debate about washing women’s feet on Holy Thursday. When I mentioned that some people don’t think that women’s feet should be washed, she stopped and stared for a moment, then said, “Reaalllllyyyyy?”

It was the first time in all the years I’ve known her that I’ve ever seen this woman, who once thought about becoming a nun, angry over her faith. Why? Because she understood instantly that this attitude put her, as a woman, outside the circle of grace that the servant priesthood and the eucharist are meant to create for all humanity.

I explained it as best I could and moved on to other topics.

Later that night, as I was watching Jesus, standing before the Sanhedrin, something changed in me. Specifically, it was that moment in the film where He is condemned to death and the mob begins spitting on Him, hitting him and pummeling Him. He is surrounded, almost lost in the mob, fists coming at him from every direction. It was, as He said earlier that same evening, “Satan’s hour.”

I wasn’t thinking about my conversation with my friend. I wasn’t thinking about the outrageous attacks on the Holy Father because he had the temerity, by his actions, to include women in the whole of the humanity the Church serves. It was as if all the pieces clicked together by themselves with an almost audible snap.

This blog is a Catholic blog. I am a Catholic woman. 

If you want to put the “teachings” of self-annointed internet magisteriums ahead of the legitimate authority of the bishops and the pope to determine the order of the mass and the liturgy, I can not stop you. But I will not publish you. This behavior is harming my Church, and I will not open my house to anything that furthers it. 

You do not have to love the Holy Father to comment on Public Catholic. But you do have to refrain from disrespecting him, including posting links to those who are trying to make themselves his teachers in the rubrics of the mass.

I am not expert on this, but I’ve read that the girm that these people claim cancels out the teaching authority of the pope and bishops (not to mention the Gospels) was written around 50 short years ago in the 1960s. If I understand it correctly, the bishops have clear authority to modify certain things (including this one) in the girm, as part of their pastoral calling. I’ve read that Cardinal O’Malley of Boston specifically queried the Vatican about this issue after he was appointed to the Archdiocese of Boston and that this was the answer. He subsequently allowed women’s feet to be washed on Holy Thursday.

Presumably, other bishops, who had years more experience in this office than the Cardinal did at this time, already knew this. I know that (then) Bishop Bevilacqua asked the USCCB to clarify this issue as long ago as 1987, and got the same answer as Cardinal O’Malley received from the Vatican later.

I would guess that if I’m aware of this, the self-annointed internet magisteriums of which I speak are also aware of it. Since they’re making what is probably a very good living based on their supposedly superior knowledge of what they imply is the absolute and infallible dogma of the girm, they certainly should.

This fixation on one word and the obvious misogyny that fuels it are both serious problems for the people who are encouraging it. I mean they are serious spiritual problems for them. They are leading people away from obedience to their bishops and the pope in the name of the girm. They are appealing to the dark temptations of self-righteousness and clannish cliquishness that destroy community, limit faith and — worst of all — deny the core message of the Gospels.

I’ve been warned that by criticizing these people I am making myself the target of on-line attacks and defamation. If that doesn’t tell you that they are not of the Lord, then what does? 

They should be ashamed of themselves.

Here is an excerpt from a Washington Post article describing the picayune grievances against the Holy Father by these people. Read it and weep.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has won over many hearts and minds with his simple style and focus on serving the world’s poorest, but he has devastated traditionalist Catholics who adored his predecessor, Benedict XVI, for restoring much of the traditional pomp to the papacy.

Francis’ decision to disregard church law and wash the feet of two girls — a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic — during a Holy Thursday ritual has become something of the final straw, evidence that Francis has little or no interest in one of the key priorities of Benedict’s papacy: reviving the pre-Vatican II traditions of the Catholic Church. (More here.)

Is the Shroud of Turin the Burial Cloth of Christ?

I first read about the Shroud of Turin when I picked up a book about it in the library. I was deep in my anti-religion period at that time, struggling to find arguments against the existence of God.

I read most of the atheist literature, both of that time and of earlier decades. I wanted to be convinced. But the things I read just weren’t all that convincing. Since I’m neither a scholar nor an intellectual, I usually employ a vacuum cleaner approach to learning about a subject that interests me.

I read everything I can get my hands on, then track down the original sources that the first books referenced and read them. It’s a process that can go on for a while. I plumbed through atheist thinking all the way to its bottom in my search to prove there was no god and found nothing but the authors themselves.

I’m not a scholar or an intellectual, but I’m also not flat-footed stupid. The arguments by the old atheists are like the arguments of the new atheists. They don’t hold up if you think about them. Most of them are self-refuting. In fact, based on the books by the so-called “new atheists” that I’ve read, I don’t see their thinking as thinking. It’s just a rehash of what has been said before, topped off with insult and rudeness.

I did not want to believe in god back in those days. I was so cynical about god and so disappointed in him and his people that I would have preferred it if I had been able to not believe in him in some absolute and rock solid way. I wanted to cast god and what I saw as his failure out with the orange peels and old paycheck stubs in my trashcan. He seemed as spent and meaningless to me as they were.

However, reading atheist thought was not a convincing exercise. If my understanding of god made me cynical about him, my exposure to the thoughts of those who denied him actually made his existence sound almost unavoidably possible.

One thing that sharpened my understanding was my propensity to go back and forth. I would read the arguments against, then read the documents these arguments were critiquing.

I invariably found that those arguments against that I had read were based on partial quotes taken out of context and given meaning they did not mean, or facts that were likewise taken out of context and given meaning they did not mean. Atheist arguments fell apart when I traced them back to their original sources.

I had never heard of the Shroud of Turin when I plucked that book off the library shelves. i didn’t expect to be impressed by the book. But, well, my vacuum cleaner mind sweeps up everything, including the trivial. I took it home, and since it was a short book, read it before bed that night.

The book was written by one of the members of a group of scientists who had examined the Shroud in the 1970s’ STURP investigation. It didn’t claim the Shroud was the burial cloth of Christ. It simply described the experiments. The thing about the book that impressed me the most is that I didn’t see any hint that its author was lying. I didn’t know what to make of the Shroud itself. But I felt that if the author of this book was telling the truth — and I thought he was — then the Shroud was a lot more than a fake miracle made with pigeon’s blood and a shadow box.

I returned the book to the library and thought no more about Shroud until I heard that carbon dating experiments indicated that it was a fake from the Middle Ages. I had experienced my conversion to Christ between when I read the book and when these results were announced. But that wasn’t why the carbon dating results perplexed me. I believed almost immediately that the results were inaccurate.

I felt this way because I still believed that the author of that original book I had read was telling the truth about his experiments on the Shroud. I just didn’t see how the artifact described in that book could be a Medieval forgery. Forgeries of that era were crude compared to the Shroud on so many levels. In fact, the Shroud would have been a poor forgery by the standards of that day, with its faint negative image. From what I’d read, you can’t even really see the thing until you see it as a negative from a camera. And the anatomical details, including those of the damage done to the man in the Shroud’s body went way beyond what a Medieval forger would need or even have the knowledge to fake.

Add to that the simple fact that no one could figure out how to re-create the Shroud using the tools of any century, much less tools from the technologically weak past of 800 years ago, and I simply did not believe that the carbon dating results were accurate. I didn’t think they were forged or deliberately falsified. I didn’t think the protocols used in doing the dating had been bad. But I still didn’t think things added up.

All this led me, for the first time, to stop and think, Is this cloth really the winding sheet of Christ? Is the face on that cloth the face of the Lord Jesus as He lay in the tomb?

The thing that brought me to this question was that I thought I could see the logic behind obscuring the truth about a genuine Shroud from a Divine viewpoint. I think proof of this simple type would obviate faith for a lot of people. It could also lead many of us to fall into superstitions about the Shroud instead of a dynamic faith in Christ.

These thoughts went through my mind and then I stopped speculating and went on with my life. I didn’t need the Shroud to prove anything to me. The conversion experince I’d had was enough proof for my lifetime.

When I first read that Pope Benedict XVI had granted a televised viewing of the Shroud on Holy Saturday March 30, I thought it was nice. Then, the Pope resigned and everything he had done or said seemed outlined in high-lighter for me. I read a lot about him, and during the reading I learned that Pope Benedict had come just about as close as he could to saying that he believed the Shroud was genuine without actually using those precise words. I also kept seeing comments about “new evidence.”

Ok, I thought. New evidence. What is it? I’m still trying to get sufficient information to answer that question. I need more information than a scientist would, simply because it takes more information for me to understand what I’m reading,.

All I know for sure is that Pope Benedict seemed to be leaning heavily toward a belief that the Shroud is genuine and that Pope Francis, while more circumspect, did not gainsay him. 

I don’t think it matters whether you believe that the Shroud is the burial cloth or not. The only danger would be if  you fell off the horse and started regarding it as an idol and a superstition. Faith in Jesus does not need the Shroud; not if you’ve encountered Him personally.

On the other hand, it is tantalizing. I look at the photos of the man in the Shroud, at his torn body and the obvious torture he suffered, and then I contrast that with the serene expression on his face. I can look at that face for quite a while and, despite it’s swollen eye and battered condition, I never see anything but peace.

Who are you? I wonder.

So far at least, there is no answer.

 

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