Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Word Became Flesh

The city in which we ended our pilgrimage was almost the opposite of the city in which we began it, in more ways than one. From Roma in the South, we had traveled to Torino in the North; and if Rome was a city of faith and art, of beauty and history, then Turin was, quite literally, the reverse of the Eternal City. Turin was a place of business, of industry, and of politics, all things that shift and change and pass like all the other works of man. I suppose it had its share of history, as any city must that has been around a few centuries; but Turin's history seemed oddly unimportant. There were government buildings where meetings had been held, where statues are erected to famous statesmen and soldiers. One building seemed to be a conglomeration of all Italian history; the foundation was Roman, and at each age some level, wing, or tower had been added in a new style. All eras were pieced together in that one awkward building; individually, each part might be interesting for a particular feature or design, but taken as a whole it lacked any meaning or continuity.

All of the city was like that. It was a typical city: buildings that looked big and important, such as government offices and museums, industries and pricey stores, crowded streets and a public transit system. But no one thinks Turin is important for having those things.

In the center of this very secular city is the one thing that makes Turin really remarkable, and it is not the work of man. Just outside of Turin there is a church on a mountaintop, high and lofty and beautiful even from a distance: but the famous Shroud of Turin is not kept there. It is kept in the heart of the city. The church that houses the Shroud is just to the side of a great secular square, where even the smaller church in which we held Mass seemed to blend into the monotonous facade of official buildings. (On our way to try and locate the entrance to the room where we could have Mass, we passed some of the darker stores one finds in city alleyways, and I shuddered to be reminded that Turin, like all cities, probably has its uglier side in addition to its dull modern side.) The Shroud of Turin has been kept in that city for hundreds of years; tradition indicates--and faith confirms--that it is the Shroud of Christ Himself. I believe it; and, more importantly, so did the millions of faithful who flocked to Torino this past May to venerate what has been described as the nigh-photographic image of the body of Jesus Christ.

No photograph or detailed high-definition image I had studied previously had really shown me what I saw that day with my own eyes. Stretched out in the dim light of the church was the full sixteen-foot strip of cloth with the unmistakable figure of a man upon it--a tortured and murdered man. Gazing at it, one gets a very strong impression of the physicality of the Man on the Shroud; it is almost as if one could see the very weight of his body. You get a very real sense of his height, his strong build, his hands and feet, his bleeding wounds--his bleeding face.

His sorrowful, gentle, bruised face explains the painful truth of it far better than words. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and this is what we did to Him. Jesus Christ became man and entered a world full of all the problems man faces: political turmoil, religious conflict, Pharisees and Pontius Pilates wielding earthly power, God's house being turned into a marketplace. He came into the heart of the human race, right in the middle of our suffering, and took it for His own. And that is why, as strange as it may seem, it is right for the Shroud to be in so secular and mundane a city as Turin; in the heart of the city, in the heart of humanity. Jesus is here with us, dwelling among us, saying to us, with the silent witness of His Passion recorded on the Shroud: I suffer with you, I suffer for you, because I love you.

There is one, final note to be made about the Shroud. It is not just a testimony to Jesus' Passion and Death. It is a testimony to His Resurrection. The image on the Shroud is the image of a man in the repose of death, but His body is not decayed and did not decay; it only left this luminous image behind, because He conquered the grave and rose from the dead.

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