The Shroud of Turin on Display (and an odd canonical case against it)
“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is contradicted…that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
These are the words of Simeon when he encountered Mary and Joseph presenting the child Jesus to the Lord in the Temple (Lk 2:34-35). What calls these words to mind is the new display of the Shroud of Turin—the burial cloth of Jesus Christ—which will begin in Turin’s cathedral on April 19th in anticipation of a visit of Pope Francis in June, when he will venerate the Holy Shroud.
The Shroud is the lead story in the biweekly print edition of the National Catholic Register. The story recalls the careful scientific studies that have been done of the Shroud, which has resisted all attempts to disprove its authenticity. It also notes the conversions that have taken place among those who have studied it.
The Shroud is another sign of contradiction, in a double sense. First, it is clearly a sign of the “contradicted” Christ, by which I mean Our Lord in death. Second, the evidence is very strong that it is a miraculous sign, created by a power within Christ Himself that completely transcends death.
But the point of a sign of contradiction is that there are those who oppose it. Unfortunately, I cannot any longer think about the Shroud without remembering the rather peculiar gentleman who emails me from time to time to update me on his (alleged) canonical process against those who oppose his efforts to debunk the Shroud in Catholic churches around the United States.
I won’t mention any names because it is uncharitable to pass along the identities of those who, as we used to say when I lived for a few years in North Carolina, “ain’t wrapped too tight”. This gentleman is not just one beer short of a six-pack; he’s a six-pack short of a case. Besides, I can’t remember his name, because I do not save his emails.
Anyway, this anti-Shroudite first contacted me a few years ago to request assistance in gaining access to Catholic churches to make presentations proving the Shroud to be a fake. The obstacle, he asserted, was the unconscionable resistance he met from pastors when he tried to make arrangements to speak at the various parishes. I replied that I could certainly understand why pastors did not want to make a point of encouraging Shroud-debunking presentations.
I explained that the literature on this topic is widely available and the evidence is overwhelming that the image of Christ on the Shroud cannot be explained by any natural means currently known to us. I also noted that, while acceptance of the Shroud’s authenticity is not at all required of Catholics, and no Catholic’s faith should depend on the Shroud, it was unreasonable to expect priests to place a high priority on presentations that, for whatever reason, seemed designed to weaken the faith of those who would attend.
This response failed to satisfy. Later, in another email, the anti-Shroudite stated that he had spoken to Cardinal Dolan of New York about this problem and had mentioned the appalling advice he had received from Jeff Mirus. Frankly, I have severe doubts that such a conversation ever took place. But he said that Cardinal Dolan’s response was simply that he agreed with Jeff Mirus. (I like to think this is always a grave risk when my name is mentioned.)
In any case, the upshot was that our odd anti-hero claimed he had initiated a canonical process against the two of us. At least once during the past few months, he has emailed me again to threaten that this process is proceeding.
All of this is highly doubtful and no cause for concern either way. It is the price of communicating with people whose proverbial screws are proverbially loose. But the story proves my point. The Shroud really is a sign of contradiction. You may want to see it for yourself while it is on display between April 19th and June 24th. Viewing the shroud will be free, but crowds will be large, so reservations are required. Here are two helpful links:
An internet search for Shroud of Turin Tours 2015 [country name] should turn up a number of organizations which are running tours to see the Shroud from your region of the world. But you will have to act fast to make arrangements to get to Turin before the end of this year’s exhibition, and to find a place to stay.
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